Coffee with Corey: A legacy of woodworking

By Corey Poole

Olivier Woodworks, LTD is in its 6th year of business after Chalon Ahbol took over operations after her father’s passing. 

“Most days I think my dad would be very pleased with how we’re progressing,” Chalon shared. “We’re using his methods and sticking to his vision of true, Louisiana styled furniture. However, we have introduced some new designs with some added features like soft close hardware for our dresser drawers. So, we’re changing little things but staying loyal to the artistry and the craftsmanship.”

In the fall of 1960, a young student left his home in New Orleans to enter the agriculture program at Northwestern State College. While he had no experience in carpentry, George Olivier soon took on the job of remodeling the Catholic student center at NSU, now Holy Cross Catholic Church. Impressed by the young man’s natural abilities, the priest at Immaculate Conception Church commissioned him to make an altar, which George carefully crafted by hand.

By the time the altar was completed, NSU had lost a student and Louisiana had gained a gifted furniture maker.

Growing up Chalon was crafty and would make things in the shop, including Christmas ornaments for the family. Growing up “underneath the table saw,” she has fond memories of always being in the sawdust and playing with her brothers in the cemetery next door.

There’s a lot of deep rooted ties in the wood shop. In elementary school Chalon remembers being excited to take her classmates on a field trip to tour the shop. 

As life happens, we grow up and move away to live our own lives. Chalon returned between college semesters to help in the finishing room. She graduated from Philadelphia College of Textiles & Sciences. Through a move to Shreveport and a marriage in the 90s, Chalon continued to visit her dad when she could. Around 2015, Chalon started coming down twice a week to work with George in the shop.

It was primarily about spending more time with her dad, but this meant she was nearby whenever he’d start on a project. One thing led another and today Chalon can’t think of anything else she’d rather do than continue her father’s legacy.

On her bi-weekly trips Chalon started stockpiling scrap pieces of wood to practice on. On two separate occasions, Chalon arrived at the shop to find her wood scraps had disappeared. George patiently explained that if she wanted to practice, she could do so on the real thing…the furniture.

“I became his right hand,” Chalon explained. “If he had an order, I was there helping him. While we have some patterns, there was no manual left behind. Five years later, I have a much better idea of where the business is headed. My dad’s goal was to continue the legacy of handmade Cypress furniture and I think he’d be proud of us today and I hope to continue his legacy through to the next generation.”

Challenges Chalon has faced through the past few years include not having that manual. From ordering supplies to how things are built, Chalon had to figure it out daily. One of George’s former apprentices, Mike Wilson, ended up coming back to the shop after George’s passing. He now works as the primary builder alongside Chalon. 

Mike completed a 5-year apprenticeship at Olivier Woodworks while he earned his degree in fine art at NSU. The two actually met in a sculpture class. George was talking to the professor about the shop and Mike overheard.

During his apprenticeship Mike worked alongside George in making many of the signature Olivier pieces and has a true understanding and appreciation of George’s methods and styles. 

What’s in the cards for the shop’s future? Continuing the legacy. Chalon loves Natchitoches for its small town atmosphere, Southern hospitality, and the beauty of the Historic District.

Ask Chalon what her favorite Natchitoches memory is and it’s always the stories she hears from other people about their encounters with her dad. He was known as a character who always spoke his mind.

Chalon and her family, her husband Rob and their daughter Olivia, officially relocated to Natchitoches in 2022. They’re excited to become more involved in the community. In their free time, the Ahbols like to travel and kayak. They also have a few chickens that have become part of the family, each with their own name, and Muffin the cat.

The best piece of advice Chalon has ever received comes from her dad. Whenever a customer would ask how to care for their furniture, he’d reply, “Use the hell out of it.”