When Bob Blanchette began working with acrylic furniture, he soon was staying up all night, so immersed in projects that his wife had to phone and remind him to come home. Eleven years later, Blanchette's passion has simmered down to an absorption that keeps him happily creating seven days a week in the workshop of his business, DelCraft Acrylics.
In his showroom, transparent Z-shaped tables, cocktail arms and nesting tables-even a lectern-show off gleaming planes and taut angles and curves. While DelCraft also supplies the Ringling Museum and Mote Aquarium with displays and showcases, Blanchette most enjoys designing and making the airy acrylic furniture and accessories he ships worldwide.
"It's such a neat material," he says. "It makes things almost invisible but still functional. Your imagination and expense are the only limitations."
Blanchette hesitates to describe himself as an artist, preferring instead the term craftsman. Rather than thinking up an abstract form and forcing a function upon it, Blanchette treats each piece as a complex problem that has to be solved-a research and development project. When he recently started to make a chair, for example, he spent hours finding the perfect angles at which to incline the back. Now that chair, which sits in his showroom, is so comfy you can lean back without using a cushion. As well as furniture, Blanchette occasionally creates quirky pieces, such as a water-filled chess set or colorful crinkle bowls that sell out every Christmas.
Blanchette came to acrylic after trying his hand at industrial painting and coatings, his father's line of work. But that didn't really click with the young man, whose brain was churning out creative ideas a mile a minute. That's when he hooked up with Del Dring, whose son ran the sign shop where Blanchette worked. Dring was interested in acrylics and had started a small operation where he made interesting furniture and accessories out of the material. He took Blanchette under his wing, and, over the years, became a father figure of sorts to the younger man. In his honor, Blanchette has not changed the name of the shop, which he purchased from his mentor in 1992.
Although business is good enough to keep him busy seven days a week, Blanchette keeps the company small and relies on word-of-mouth advertising, saying that most old-timers have told him they were happiest with their businesses before they expanded and lost the personal touch. His only employee is his brother-in-law, who has worked for him for nearly six years. On the rare occasions when he's not working, Blanchette-who is married with a college-age daughter-keeps busy with skydiving, scuba diving (his newest passion), the Discovery Channel and frequent gigs with his local band, Acoustic Improv.
"I could make more money working for other people, but I'd never feel as good about it," says Blanchette. "Here, I make all the decisions. They may not always be right, but they're mine. Even after 11 years, I can't wait to get to work."
DelCraft Acrylics is at 2128 17th St. You can reach Blanchette at (941) 955-0095. Furniture prices range from $9 for a simple shelf to $365 for a television cart.