Even the worst occurrences imaginable can have silver linings. For Chris Capdeville, the strange times after Hurricane Katrina led him to find the craft that he would eventually make his occupation. Chris is the proud owner of a millwork and furniture design and fabrication shop called Atelier Woodworks, an LCI member.
Chris grew up in Mandeville, and he moved to New Orleans’ Lakeview neighborhood to study anthropology at the University of New Orleans. He also wanted to move because he preferred to be closer to the action of the city. The Northshore was too “sleepy” for him as a young man. His time in New Orleans, however, was cut short due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “When Katrina came, I went to Hammond to my brother’s house to ride out the storm. When we evacuated, I had just gotten a puppy. I had the puppy on my lap, and she wasn’t potty trained yet. That made for a couple of interesting stops,” he said with a smile.
Knowing that he couldn’t go back to New Orleans anytime soon, Chris went all the way to Colorado. He also would not remain there for long as fate had other plans for him back at home. He continued, “A buddy of mine called and said that they were looking for people in a woodshop that he was working in. So I came back and went to work in that woodshop for 11 years.” Chris didn’t know anything about millwork or carpentry before going to work in a woodshop, but he quickly realized that he enjoyed learning about the ancient craft. “I went into the woodshop purely as a helper and worked my up to an apprentice then eventually a carpenter.”
Moving On And Up
Just after a decade of working in that woodshop, he made the decision to open up a shop of his own. Atelier Woodworks came into existence in 2015, and it’s been going strong since opening day due in part to customers singing its praises. Chris said, “We do a fair amount of furniture build outs. That’s where you can really get creative. It’s nice when you have clients that will trust you to pursue your vision so to speak. I would say 90% of the work we do comes from word-of-mouth about those projects. Clients that we’ve done stuff for in the past tell people what we’ve done for them. That’s generally how it works. Also how it works is people will come to us with an idea, and we’ll fine tune the idea and put our two cents in and get rolling on it. “
Atelier Woodworks also specializes in historic renovations which can be challenging for any woodworker. “We do a lot of historic restoration stuff. You’re pretty much matching an existing piece of millwork. You can get creative on how you’re going to build something, like making a tool do something that it wasn’t necessarily designed to do. For sure there’s an art to it.”
Honoring The Past
There’s no shortage of historic buildings to renovate in New Orleans, particularly in the French Quarter. Atelier Woodworks was asked to do work on the LeMonnier House at 640 Royal Street; the house is often referred to as “The Skyscraper.” The gorgeous building was erected beginning in 1795 at the behest of local notary Pierre Pedesclaux before it was sold unfinished to Dr. Yves LeMonnier and pharmacist Frances Grandchamps in 1811. The new owners added a fourth floor to the three-story building, something uncommon at the time. ”All historic renovations are different. They continue to be interesting no matter how many you’ve done. We’ve done a few bigger projects including ‘The Skyscraper.’ A lot of the buildings have rich histories which keeps it interesting. We’ve heard some ghost stories, but I personally haven’t seen any yet.”
Chris and his team happily service the greater New Orleans area, but the shop itself is tucked away in Chalmette. Chris explained, “This is where Atelier has been for its whole life. We weren’t necessarily looking in Chalmette, but when we found this, it seemed perfect. Now we really like Chalmette. It’s quiet, traffic is never too terrible, and the people are nice. I guess people are expanding out of New Orleans especially with the new levee walls that are out here post-Katrina. It’s relatively safe for flooding as far as south Louisiana is concerned.” The shop, the machinery, the tools, and the wood were safe from flooding during 2021’s Hurricane Ida thanks to that levee system. The storm’s winds did damage a garage door, however.
Although Chris “swore [he] would never go back” to living on the northshore, he made his home there to more fully enjoy activities like fishing, hiking, and being a dad. “Going back now, it’s not so sleepy over here anymore!” Chris does take his wife’s dog with him to the shop because the shop dog loves being out in the fresh air with all of Chris’s workers.
Atelier Woodworks invites everyone to bring in a project that seems impossible to accomplish. “We always a good challenge. Anything you think can’t be built, we can try to build it,” Chris concluded. The team is ready to take on anything ranging from “ordinary to outlandish.”
You can find out more about Atelier Woodworks at https://www.awwnola.com/.