Built to Last

Jim Bishop Frechette has made a career creating one-of-a-kind furnishings

October 12, 1995
By JOAN GUNIN, Correspondent, Asbury Park Press

photo of Jim's tools

From oversize built-in cabinets to bedroom suites to entire conference rooms, Jim Bishop Frechette has built them all.

An interest in woodworking sparked as a youth led Frechette – a Holmdel Township native and a grandson of noted author and syndicated newspaper columnist, the late Jim Bishop – to pursue a career as a cabinetmaker.

Frechette's one-of-a-kind installations have included fireplace mantels, banisters, platform beds, furniture reproductions and built-in shelving. His finely crafted detailing extends to wood beams, crown moldings and dentils, and hand-carved embellishments.

"I'm more of a traditional cabinetmaker," Frechette said, "I actually do woodworking. Why order cabinet doors from outside, when I have to build the rest of the cabinet anyway?"

He resists shopping at do-it-yourself home centers for such basics as mortise and tenon joints, preferring to make his own fuller, deeper-grooved versions. "In the end", he said, "the client has a better quality product."

Frechette often works with architects or interior designers to create customized built-in furnishings for new or existing homes or offices.

He can create any furniture style but has found, "Most people lean toward traditional."

While some people discover woodworking by chance, Frechette, 36, has been preoccupied with it since adolescence. By the time he got to Holmdel High School, he was working on projects independently.

"I was in 7th or 8th grade when I decided that this is what I wanted to do for a living," he said.

In an ironic twist, the showcases added to his alma mater's "wall of excellence" two years ago were crafted by Frechette whose work has been exhibited at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair held at New York's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

Following high school, Frechette completed a two-year program in cabinet making and woodworking at a small college in Decatur, Ala., noted for such programs.

"They covered every aspect of woodworking and helped me to start out on the right foot and develop good habits," he said.

After college, he worked in Massachusetts, building waterbeds for a commercial mill.

He returned to Monmouth County two years later and signed on with a local woodworker.

Five years ago, Frechette launched his own business. Last year, he moved his shop from Holmdel to a 1,600 square foot space in Red Bank.

photo of Jim with project

Serious and soft-spoken, he's basically a one-man operation. "I'm very particular," he admitted, "I don't like to make mistakes."

Frechette's preliminary work requires him to visit a client on-site and to measure the interior space related to the project.

The initial discussion may center around an idea, prevailing space or a photograph.

"I like to have customers involved in the design process," he said.

Back at his shop, Frechette typically spends four to eight hours drafting an architectural drawing before presenting it for approval.

"That's when the client can add or detract from the design," he said.

The final cost of an installation is determined by the materials, time, labor and familiarity with the work involved, he said.

Once he gets the go-ahead, he orders the rough-cut lumber and the real work begins. He planes the wood to the required thickness and then "machines" it to the desired specifications.

"Everything is built here (in the shop) and then installed," he said.

Poplar works best with painted installations, while cherry, mahogany or oak are standard for stained projects.

"Mahogany is one of my favorite woods, as well as walnut or cherry," Frechette said. "Mahogany just does anything you want it to. It doesn't fight you. It's a very machinable wood. It's been a favorite with woodworkers for ages. Walnut is pretty similar in workability and characteristics. Cherry is a little more difficult because the grain changes. It's a little difficult to machine but it's very beautiful wood."

photo of Jim in workshop

Frechette's trappings include serval types of saws – an imposing radial arm saw, a table saw, hand saws – as well as joiners and surface planners.

To maintain a dust-free environment, his work area is outfitted with a built-in vacuum system.

As he works, the harsh buzz of the blades is tempered by the lilt of taped classical or jazz music.

Frechette fully immerses himself in creating a piece, but not necessarily in painting the final installation. "I don't especially enjoy it (painting), so I bring someone else for the finishing work. Someone expert in finishing can bring a whole new aspect to a job." Besides, Frechette confesses, "I'm a good cabinetmaker but a messy painter."

Frechette is available by appointment a (908) 224-9299.

Transcribed from original print article from Asbury Park Press.