Always a strong art student, Steve Burgess found his life's work because of his work with local carpenters and craftsmen. He took commercial art in college, but wasn't sure how all of his art training would lead to a career.
"During college I worked with my my uncle, Jim Burgess, who had a cabinet shop in the LeMay area. We made kitchen cabinets with laminate countertops, which were the style in those days. Later, I worked for Dressel Woodworking in Affton. They made beds for ship's galleys, picture frames, furniture—all real wood with fine finishes. That's when the lights came on for me; I decided that this was what I wanted to do," said Burgess.
He opened his own business, Burgess Mantels and More, in 1978 and then relocated it to Wildwood in 1992, settling into a roomy building just west of Pond Elementary School. The building serves as both an office and workshop.
On a recent weekday, Burgess stopped by the home of his clients, Tom and Karin Smith of Wildwood, where he is doing a kitchen remodel.
"Steve does exceptionally good work," said Smith. Burgess has done many projects in the Smith's 17-year-old Portland Crest home. Custom cabinets, built-in bookshelving, wainscoting, and other projects make this a really unique house. The handcrafted mantel is a focal point, with an antique look and lots of period detailing.The Smiths looked at several designs and components of mantels, and Burgess presented a scaled drawing and designed it to to their tastes.
In the kitchen, what appears to be a fine English sideboard features custom designed doors and drawers that hold table linens and serving platters. It is a new piece, designed to match the nearby table.
While Burgess's specialty is mantels and bookcases, his clients ask him to do many other projects, such as furniture repair and restoration work. These are found in various stages in the workshop.
"Antique furniture can be a real challenge, since they are often times made with one wood, while the veneer will be a different wood. They shrink and expand at different rates as they age," said Burgess.
Burgess also is completing a set of columns that will be installed on the front of a client's home. "This is a typical problem—the bases of the columns have decayed. We're fabricating new bases, which will be matched perfectly with the existing columns. We had to match not only the fluting style, but the diameter of the column, which is not the same on each part of the column."
Burgess and his wife, Connie, have three grown sons and one grandchild. They enjoy traveling and camping in their VW camper. "Volkswagens have always been a special interest of mine, and they are fun to camp in," said Burgess. "I've had several of them and I like overhauling the engines and transmissions. I camped with my sons and now I'm hoping that we can continue the tradition with grandchildren."