William Robillard of Lawrence has spent the last several weeks making sure pieces of American history continue to look good.
The furniture restoration specialist is in the middle of a two-month stint restoring historic furniture for the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.
Although restoring historic furniture in a high-profile office like the House has some similarities to what he does in his Lawrence workshop, there are distinct differences.
"The margin for error is approaching zero," Robillard said Wednesday afternoon in a phone interview from northern Virginia. "There's an expectation that the work you are doing is of the highest level. This is the House, and these are historical items."
Highlights so far include a day working on House Speaker John Boehner's desk with Tredway Childress, a senior restoration specialist and finisher, and work in roughly 39 other congressional offices. Restoration has ranged from repairing long scratches and re-creating moldings and missing elements on furniture to refurbishing bookcases and desks.
The House restoration crew is based out of the lower level of the Rayburn House Office Building.
Robillard, a Green Bay native, retired from IBM and went back to school to learn the trade.
That included nine months at the National Institute of Wood Finishing and instruction through the Marc Adam's School of Woodworking.
He opened Encore Restorations in 2008 and has built it into a 40-hour-a-week business the last few months.
"We're taking that family heirloom and preserving its integrity and the character of the piece," Robillard said. "There's a lot of satisfaction in that, because people bring (a piece) in on life support hoping you can do something and you return it looking the way it looked at Grandma's house."
The business builds on his longtime love and interest in woodworking and furniture.
Robillard credits much of his success to the institute, run by Mitch Kohanek, a key individual in spurring his interest in furniture restoration.
"Restorers take historical work and bring it back," he said. "It's part history, part chemistry, part woodworking and part art."
Relationships, educational sessions and exchanges of tips and ideas with other professionals landed Robillard the temporary (but paying) slot at the House of Representatives — a once-in-a-lifetime chance he couldn't pass up.
"With the new Congress and the large changeover, they reached out to me and asked 'Would you like to come out and help us?'" he said. "It's certainly not something that happens every day, and I was thrilled. … I knew there were some very strong artisans and craftsmen at the House, and the opportunity to work with them was one I couldn't resist."
At the same time, he's learning new techniques with the House restoration crew that can be applied to his own business.
"I will not only have this opportunity, but I'll go back even better, if you will, at what I do," he said.