Home & Garden: Red Barn Crafts

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A sure sign of spring is when the door of the red barn at the top of town slides open to indicate Allan Austin’s workshop is open for business.

Austin says he spends about four or five hours in his workshop most days from spring until fall, listening to old country music on the radio and working on his latest woodworking project.

Why? He does it to stay sane, he says, preferring to putter in his workshop than watch TV all day.

The 77-year-old has been retired from the banking business for 20 years and now lives with his daughter and son-in-law, who have handed over the keys to their little red barn at the corner of Mill Street and County Road 9. His operation spills out onto the sideyard, where Austin can often be seen throwing up a plume of sawdust with his saw.

Austin took up woodworking in his retirement, back in his hometown of Bracebridge.

“I started putting stuff out, and it sold,” he said with some surprise. “I had walking sticks going by the dozens.”

He started making burnt letter signs for cottages, benches, plant stands, bathouses and lots of different bird houses, and feeders.

Austin says he doesn’t really promote himself as a custom woodworker but he does get some unusual requests, which he may or may not accept. He has in the past made houses for hamsters and parrots.

He prefers to take a creative approach, making things that are inspired by pieces he sees on his travels or things people have brought to his attention. The fence adjacent the barn is adorned with Austin’s birdhouses, and the tikis hesawwhenhewasatatikibarin Florida. When he sees something that inspires him, a familiar refrain goes through his mind: “I can make that.”

Austin repurposes a lot of his material and upcycles found objects. An offcut from a wooden bunny will become a moustache for a tiki, and an old ceramic bowl makes an ideal vessel for birdseed.

He said he likes variety and enjoys taking on a new challenge. When a friend brought him a wooden fish with hooks, he made a couple to sell. When his daughter’s garden angel began to deteriorate he made her a new one and several others for his gallery. The whimsical inverted birdhouses with faces are inspired by something his granddaughter saw. Some are in tribute to local sports teams – the Raptors and the Leafs – but there is usually a Boston Bruins one on the wall (his son-in-law is fan, hence the name of the barn, Bruins Den.)

Red Barn Crafts is located at 247 Mill St., Creemore. For service, it’s best to drop in when the doors are open. Austin is always willing to take a moment away from his work to chat and make a sale.

Clockwise from above: Allan Austin surrounded by a plume of sawdust at Red Barn Crafts; some of his creations – inverted face birdhouses; a paint booth made out of cardboard; cheeky cottage sign; tikis.

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