Orcas woodworker creating custom coffins: first to look like Cole Haan shoebox

As a man whose says his bread and butter is making custom cabinets and furniture, Mark Padbury’s most recent project veered into unknown territory.

“I originally had the idea to make coffins 25 years ago while visiting a museum in Turkey that had beautiful sarcophagi,” he said. “It hit me that the funeral process in the West is equal to something out of the Munsters. We should be celebrating someone’s life and telling their story through the vessel that carries them over.”

The woodworker, who has been in business on Orcas for 17 years, told his good friend in California about the idea. More than two decades later, she remembered the conversation and called on Padbury to build her ailing mother a custom casket.

He was asked to design the coffin after a Cole Haan shoe box, as the family was in the shoe business. Padbury took a green approach to the materials, using “plyboo,” a 100 percent bamboo sheet. He and his employee Randy Jezierski worked on the project over several months.

“We had to get over the macabre aspect of it and find the humor in it,” Padbury said.

The light bamboo casket is complimented by Honduras mahogany and bubinga burl accents on the top and sides. Beth Baker sewed the deep chocolate satin lining, and Greg Busher of New Horizon Painting gave the figured maple inside the coffin the same shade of iridescent blue used for the instruments in “Blue Guitar” project. That touch is a surprise to Padbury’s client, who is a guitar player.

“We wanted an ethereal, cloud-like feel to the inside,” Padbury said.

Another special touch to the casket is the finish.

“My client met Sam Maloof, the elder statesman of woodworking, a year before he died,” Padbury said. “She attended his funeral, where he was buried in a custom casket made by his sons. We used the ‘Sam Maloof Finish’ to honor her having met him.”

Padbury says he welcomes more coffin commissions.

“I like the idea of helping people prepare for the next life,” he said.