James Kroll Handmade Fine Furniture, Biddeford Maine

About James Kroll

James Kroll Fine Furniture is created in a restored 19th-century carriage shed located next to our 18th-century home in rural Biddeford, Maine. We live on what was once a farm in colonial days and to a degree, still is very much a farmlike place, all of which contributes to the look and feel of my work which has focused largely on various periods, historic furniture styles all made to order, one at a time..

Many people who have stopped by have remarked that this old place is lucky to have someone like my wife and me living here and looking after it and doing much needed renovations and improvements without ruining the character of the place. Conversely, we feel very fortunate as well as this old unique place in many ways, is looking after us. Seasonal chores that need doing around here, the gardens to plant and maintain, firewood to split and stack, fields to mow, the many hundreds of woodworking projects I have done over the years, meeting so many interesting characters who have come through the doorway and have become friends, all have contributed to a unique, rare and satisfying way of life, which has evolved into a lifestyle.

As for the actual James Kroll, you may wonder, I was introduced to some of my inclinations by my grandfather who was a skilled, old-world master craftsman and interior decorator who made a living all through the depression years working on big houses around the midwest and east coast. I’ve had a lifelong interest in the arts, antiques, architecture, literature, history, and especially music. I consider myself a musician although I don’t make my living at it. There were a couple of opportunities to pursue music in the distant past, but I went on to college instead and graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in liberal arts and went on to a year in graduate school.

While I worked at various, unremarkable jobs, I took numerous courses in woodworking, boat building, cabinetry, furniture design, and construction and I read just about every book I could find on the subject of historic furniture design and construction. I worked briefly for a wooden boat shop, and saw how things were done with old hand tools and techniques working alongside an 87-year-old boat builder. What I learned there contributed to the methods and the use of traditional tools to make what you see on my website.

I also worked on several restoration projects on period homes in the Newburyport, Ma area. In addition, I had a short career as supervisor of a Massachusetts furniture factory which did show me various methods of making contemporary furniture. I rejected most of them and I chose instead to do things the old way using old techniques and employing period tools. I thought I’d give it a try on my own back in 1987. After a rocky start, it worked out. I worked in Hollis, Maine as Riverrun Woodworks, then as James Kroll Fine Woodworking here in Biddeford for 24 years, and most recently I changed my business name and website to James Kroll Fine Furniture.

What is shown on my new website is just a fraction of the work I have made over the years. If you have something in mind regardless if it’s not shown here, let me know- chances are I have made something similar. Better yet, stop by. Good idea to call first.

Thanks for taking the time.

About The Old House

And a word or two should be mentioned about this old house itself since it is such a big part of our lives and my business and has been another teacher of mine. You can learn a lot living in a place like this one.

From an 1870 written family history and my own research at the county courthouse, the house was built sometime in the 1770s by Moses Wadlin Sr., 1720- 1804, on about 360 acres. The farm stayed in the Wadlin family until 1904 when it ceased being a family farm when the last of the Wadlins passed away and left no heirs. The land deed seems to go back to 1640 when the local Indian chief signed a document allowing a Robert Wadleigh (a spelling variation of Wadlin, common for the time) to also live in this general area including the land where our house was eventually built. The Indian chief didn’t actually sign anything but instead drew a picture of what appears to be a nose and Wadleigh simply made a W. Wadleigh also threw in a bushel of clams to close the deal which was to go on until the chief’s wife was alive. She died the very next year so the agreement ended. How things have changed.

Moses Wadlin Sr. was a farmer, of course, but he was also a deacon, a partner in a coastal trading schooner, and a prominent member of the community. His son, Moses Wadlin Jr., and his father were in the Massachusetts militia during the Revolutionary War, Maine being a part of Massachusetts in those days. We found a cannonball dating back to those times in our cellar and a brick inscribed in old script, W. Sr. among other historic items. Moses Jr. inherited the farm around 1778 and it stayed in the Wadlin family until 1904 when the last of the Wadlins passed away without an heir.

This home is typical of a Maine center chimney cape and there were a lot of them throughout the state, but many have not survived. But old Moses had the means to have really fine Federalist woodworking installed in the house which still retains its original moldings, handmade doors, fireplace surrounds, windows, Indian shutters, all kinds of working fireplaces, dutch ovens, and rare, brick nogging throughout the post and beam construction. Just living in a place like this is an inspiration to do the best work I can and build it to last for centuries like our home. I think of the people who built this place- no power tools, no power at all except by their own exertion and who did such fine and precise work that stands to this day, some 250 years later. They knew what they were about. It has been an inspiration and privilege to live here and, I’ll add, to live in the state of Maine that recognizes places like ours as a piece of the past worth keeping.

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