Labbe moved shop from Vermont to Norristown in July. The tree-dotted countryside of the Green Mountain State would seem like a woodworker's dream for a fellow who spent his boyhood frolicking in the forests of the Ardennes, near the Belgian border.
But the population was too sparse and the work too sporadic to make a living, Labbe said.
At least in Norristown, where the rent is cheap, he has a sea of potential customers stretching out across the Philadelphia region, he said. Here, at Yves' Specialty Woodworks Inc., work will be more steady.
Labbe, 58, makes custom cabinets, shelves and furniture, employing the old style of joinery that artisans used before the Industrial Revolution.
"I love 18th century because it is the summit of hand work. After that . . . things started to be badly made," he said.
Take the ornate and increasingly mass-produced furniture of the Victorian era, Labbe said. "The design is way out of line with the function."
"But the 18th century - the vastness, the proportion," he said, gesturing with his hands and adding another kudo, this time for the influence that nature and animal life had in the designs.
"There is something aristocratic that we have lost, something very noble," ventured the self-described "little bourgeois" who attended l'cole des Beaux Arts in Tours, the city where his family settled after leaving Montherme.
Labbe's first professional jobs were in that most French of industries, food. After earning his certificate from Beaux Arts, he studied painting for a year, but then his brother invited him to sign on as cook on the crew of a sailing yacht.
It was the beginning of a period of wanderlust that Labbe now bemoans as his "wasted youth." Warm seasons on board the yacht, sailing all over the world. Winters in the kitchen of a Cannes restaurant.
"I just fell in love with that kind of life," he said.
He was breaking with family tradition by choosing manual work, Labbe said, but "at the time I needed to do something with my hands. Cooking was second nature for me."
Labbe went home only after he heard the army was looking for him. After two years in the service, he headed to the United States to work as a chef in a Boca Raton, Fla., restaurant called la Vieille Maison.
"I took that restaurant from three star to five star," he said, noting how he added Provenal flourishes to the fresh ingredients already on hand in southern Florida.
Business was good enough that he built a home, Labbe said, but he soon tired of the long hours and the pressure to keep up with food trends. In 1988, he went north to Vermont and opened his own inn and restaurant, le Cheval d'Or and became more serious about his hobby, woodworking.
The restaurant went well for a while, but business was never steady and overhead was high.
"I thought I could do it like in France," he said. "People would come in for dinner and get a room. . . . But it was too far from things."
Labbe began to think more about woodworking and less about cooking. He closed Cheval d'Or in 1996 to turn his attention to woodworking full time.
Woodcraft is practiced differently in the United States than in France, where a formal apprenticeship is still the principal method for advancement, Labbe said.
While there are lots of wood artisans in the Philadelphia area, he said, his shop has gotten busy enough that he recently hired a part-time assistant.
He said he does not mind the competition.
"I believe there is room for many people like me," he said.
Send Arts news to Cynthia McGroarty, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 800 River Rd., Conshohocken, Pa. 19428; e-mail it to PAarts@phillynews.com; or fax to 610-313-8243. Contact Cynthia McGroarty at 610-313-8113 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hometown: Montherme, France
Schools: Lyce Descartes; l'cole des Beaux Arts de Tours.
Family in France: His parents, two brothers and two sisters.
He once cooked for: Georges Perrier. It was at a dinner celebrating the five-star rating at la Vieille Maison. Five-star chefs from around the country ordered la carte from the menu, a chef's nightmare. "I will never forget it for the rest of my life."
Celebrity status: His restaurant, le Cheval d'Or, once was featured on the TV show "Great Chefs of the East." He once appeared on one of Julia Child's television specials.
Favorite piece to make from wood: He doesn't have a favorite. "I love everything. I have yet to do two things the same."
Favorite part of the job: "The design and the figuring out of how it's going to be done. That's where my Beaux Arts training comes in."
Woodworking as therapy: "I am never as happy as when I am in my shop, doing what I do with my tools."
Arts & Things to Do
Carousel Village & Tree Farm Rte 413, Wrightstown; 215-598-0535 www.carouselvillage.com. Christmas Wonderland Station, Christmas Fantasy Light Show, Country Shops, Santa's Workshops. Various times/days through Dec. Call for times & costs.
*FREE* Christmas Festival Santa & Mrs Claus visit, parade, entertainment, live music & gingerbread house competition/display. Peddler's Village, Rte 202, Lahaska; 215-794-4000. http://peddlersvillage.com. Santa visits. Noon-7 p.m. Sat; noon-5:30 p.m. today & 12/22; 5-8:30 p.m. Fri.
*FREE* Colonial Christmas Historical reenactment of Christmas 1777. Janny Plantation, 80 Lower Silver Lake Rd, Newtown; 215-968-0276. www.crossing.org. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. today..
Festival of Christmas Music Bucks County Choral Society & orchestra perform Christmas portion of Handel's Messiah, choral arrangements, English carol sing-alongs. Lenape Middle School Auditorium, W State St, Doylestown; 215-598-6142. $20, $18 seniors, $5 students. 4 p.m. today.
*FREE* Helping Hands Toy Assembly Workshop Help with your "assembly required" holiday purchases. 215-345-1110, 5764. Thompson Service Centers, Rtes 313 & 611, Doylestown; Thompson Collision Center, Rte 611, Plumsteadville.
*FREE* Peddler's Village Display of 500,000 lights. Rtes 202 & 263, Lahaska; 215-794-4000. After dusk, village hrs through 1/2.
*FREE* Pottsgrove Manor W King St & Rte 100, Pottstown; 610-326-4014. www.montcopa.org. Yuletide Tour of Manor, decorated for the holidays. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues-Sats & 1-4 p.m. Suns; runs Fri through 12/30. Closed 12/24-25. Colonial Candlelight Open House. 1-7 p.m. today. Home of John Potts, colonial ironmaster & Pottstown founder. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues-Sats, 1-4 p.m. Suns.
Raffle Raises funds for Salavation Army's Eviction Protection program. Prizes include dental-care packages, karate lessons, massage, tanning. 215-945-8222. Tickets available at office of dentist Jffery A. Sibner, 333 S Oxford Valley Rd, Fairless Hills; The Tanning Zone, Glenwood Shopping Center, 395 W Lincoln Hwy, Penndel; Action Karate, Makefield Rd, Yardley. Tickes are $1 for one or $5 for 6 to 12/31..
Santa Sightings Santa & Mrs Claus visit Warminster neigborhoods; check Township website & Channel 13 for information. www.warminstertownship.org. Sat & 12/22.
*FREE* Santa Visit Bring wish list to Santa; photos, giveaways. King of Prussia Mall (Bloomingdale's Court), Rte 202, King of Prussia; 610-265-3353. During mall hours to 12/24.
*FREE* Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center 105 Seminary St, Pennsburg; 215-679-3103. www.schwenkfelder.com. "Happy Birthday, Teddy!": Teddy Bear exhibit celebrating bear's 100th anniversary. Closes 1/25. Dedicated to preservation of Schwenkfelders (German Protestant group) history; with 6,000 artifacts on PA German migration & assimilation 18th-20th centuries. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues-Fris (til 8 p.m. Thus), 10 a.m.-3 p.m Sats, 1-4 p.m. Suns.
*FREE* The Christmas Church Memorial Church of the Holy Nativity, Rte 232 & Church Rd, Rockledge; 215-663-9903.
*FREE* Tree of Hope Dedication ceremony features music, testimonials & light refreshments. Sponsored by Bucks County Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence. Bucks County Courthouse, E Court St, Doylestown; 215-345-6644. 6:30 p.m. Wed.
Craft Shows & Sales
Holiday Bazaar Food, crafts. Langhorne Gardens Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, 350 Manor Ave, Langhorne; 215-757-7667. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Fri & Sat.
Theater & Dance
Christmas Concert With David Bilger, trumpet; Randy Gardner, horn; Daniel William, horn; Eric Carlson, trombone; Blair Bollinger, bass trombone; Jennifer Cole, soprano; New Church Chamber Choir. Glencairn Museum, 1001 Cathedral Rd, Bryn Athyn; 215-938-2600. $8; $4 students. 8 p.m. Tue.
International Dance Music Jams Open to musicians, singers. 200 Anderson Rd, King of Prussia; 610-688-3284. $3. 8-9:30 p.m. 3d Mons.
Professional & Community Theater
Annie Musical comedy. Bucks County Playhouse, 70 S Main St, New Hope; 215-862-2041. www.buckscountyplayhouse.com. $20-$22. Thus-Suns. Closes 12/22.
Beau Jest Comedy. The Playmasters, Neshaminy State Park, State Rd (N of Street Rd), Bensalem; 215-245-7850. www.playmasters.org. $6 & $7. Closes today.
Dance Theatre of Pennsylvania The Nutcracker. Bucks County Community College, Library Auditorium, 275 Swamp Rd, Newtown; 215-348-7175. $24; $18 seniors, students; $15 ages under 13. 7:30 p.m. Fris; 11 a.m. & 3 p.m. Sats; 1:30 p.m. Suns. Closes today.
Fully Committed Comedy; Act II, Philadelphia Theatre Co present. Act II Playhouse, 56 E Butler Ave, Ambler; 215-654-0200. www.act2.org. $19-$23. Weds-Suns. Closes 12/22.
Killjoy Interactive mystery/comedy musical. Cock n'Bull Restaurant, Peddler's Village, Rte 202, Lahaska; 215-794-4010. www.peddlersvillage.com. Fris-Sats. Closes 1/31.
Painting It Red Holiday musical comedy. The Main Street Theatre, 10 S Main St, Quakertown; 215-536-3545. $16 & $20; $18 seniors; $16 students. Thus-Suns. Closes 12/22.
Spirit in Motion Ballet Theater With American Repertory Ballet members, The Snowman. Bucks County Community College, Library Auditorium, 275 Swamp Rd, Newtown; 215-968-8087. $17; $13 seniors, students. 7 p.m. 12/20.
ChildrenSong Auditions St Mary's Episcopal Church, White Horse Pike, Audubon; 856-216-1140. 6:30-9 p.m. Tue-Wed.
Greater Philadelphia Honors Orchestra Perkiomen Valley High School, 509 Gravel Pike , Graterford; 610-489-3676. Open to intermediate-advanced instrumental students, ages 11-18. $10 application fee; deadline 12/1.
Main Line Ecumenical Choir St Thomas of Villanova Parish, Lancaster Ave, Rosemont; 610-356-9368.
Players Club of Swarthmore Fairview Rd off Rte 320, Swarthmore; 610-328-4271. www.pcstheater.org. Two Rooms (opening TBA). 7:30 p.m. 1/15.
The Newtown Arts Company Newtown Middle School, Rtes 413 & 322, Newtown; 215-860-7058.
Yardley Players Theater Company Kelsey Theater, Mercer Co Community College, 1200 Old Trenton Rd, West Windsor; 215-968-1904. www.yardleyplayers.org.
Museums & Attractions
Elmwood Park Zoo 1661 Harding Blvd, Norristown; 610-277-3825. $7.25, $4.95 ages 2-12, $5.50 seniors. 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. daily. Zoo closed on severe winter weather days.
Glencairn Museum 1001 Cathedral Rd, Bryn Athyn; 215-938-2600. www.glencairnmuseum.org. Christmas concert with horn players from Philadelphia Orchestra. $8; $4 students. 8 p.m. 12/17. Permanent collection: ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, Near & Far East, Native Americans; medieval collections of Raymond Pitcairn. $7; $6 seniors; $4 students; under age 5 free. 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mons-Fris by appt. $8; $4 students; under age 5 free. 2-5 p.m. 2d Sun of month.
*FREE* Goschenhoppen Folklife Museum Rtes 29 & 63, Green Lane; 215-234-8953. www.goschenhoppen.org. Depicts the local Pennsylvania Dutch culture prior to 1870; weaver's shop, cobbler's shop, turner's shop. Donations. 1:30-4 p.m. Suns April-Oct & by appointment.
Mercer Museum 84 S Pine St, Doylestown; 215-345-0210. www.mercermuseum.org. Silhouette-cutting demonstration. By appt 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Sat. Tile manufacturer Henry Mercer's castle with pre-industrial American furnishings, implements, tools. $6; $5.50 seniors; $2.50 students & ages 6-17; free ages under 6. Joint admission, Michener/Mercer Museums: $10 (adults only). 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mons-Sats (to 9 p.m. Tues), noon-5 p.m. Suns.
*FREE* Sellersville Museum 120 E Church St, Sellersville; 215-257-5253. www.sellersvillemusuem.org. Permanent: History of Sellersville: church, school, commerce. Noon-4 p.m. 2d Sat-Sun of month.
Winding Brook Farm 3014 Bristol Rd, Warrington; 215-343-8880 or 215-348-5514. Working dairy farm with 250 cows, corn, strawberry & wheat fields, weekly hayride tours. 11 a.m. Mons-Sats. $5.
For Kids & Teens
Borders 2343 E Lincoln Hwy, Langhorne; 215-943-6600. Story times; all ages. 11 a.m. Thus & Sats.
Holiday Entertainment All ages. Willow Grove Park Mall (First Level Elevator Court), 2500 Moreland Rd, Willow Grove; 215-657-6000. Santa Claus visits. During mall hours through 12/24. "In-line" entertainment with balloons & clowns. 1-4 p.m. Sats & Suns to 12/22.
Jewish High School Choir Hazamir: The National Jewish High School Choir seeks new members grades 8/12 from local area. Rehearsals at Gratz College (Mandell Education Campus), 7605 Old York Rd, Melrose Park; 215-635-7300, Ext 138.
Tamanend Park Farmhouse, Second Street Pike, Southampton; 215-355-9781. Sponsored by Upper Southampton Twp Parks & Recreation.
Winter Break-Away 5 fun-filled days of ice skating, skiing, snow tubing, trip to Broadway. Kaiserman JCC City Line Ave & Haverford Aves, Wynnewood; 610-896-7770 ext 123. 9 a.m. exect 8 a.m. 12/25, 12/23-27.
Winter Vacation Camp Activities, indoor & outdoor play, Mad Scientist visit; grades K-5. Community Park Barn, Langhorne-Yardley & Woodbourne Rds., Middletown; 215-750-3890. www.middletowntwpbucks.org. $96; $28 per day; non-residents add $10. 9 a.m.-3 p.m. 12/26-12/31. Extended care available.
American Singles Golf Association Phila-area chapter. 610-935-1021. www.geocities.com/philadelphia_asga. Call for times and full schedule. Meetings: Nouveau, 140 Moorehead Ave, W Conshohocken. 6:30 p.m. 2d Wed of mth.
*FREE* Christian singles Trinity Lutheran Church, Fellowship Hall, Hood Blvd & Queen Anne Dr, Fairless Hills; 215-788-3130. Meets 2 p.m. 2d & 4th Suns of month.
Common Bond For widowed, divorced, over 40. St John's Lutheran Church, 505 N York Rd, Hatboro; 215-675-3947. Free. Reservations required. Orientation (new members) 7 p.m.; discussion 7:30-9:30 p.m. 1st Sun.
Just Singles Singles, separated, divorced or widowed; 50 plus, but all welcome. Breakfast: Michael's Restaurant, 3340 Street Rd, Belsalem. 8:30 a.m. Sats. Brunch: Stock's Waterfront Inn, 4 Mill St, Bristol. 1 p.m. 3d Suns. Reservations required. Phone: 215-943-7525.
Outdoor Singles For singles from Bucks, Montgomery & Phila counties. Group plans outdoor and social activities. 215-672-2706. Sunday afternoon walk. Meet: Tyler State Park, Boat Pavilion, Rte 413 & Swamp Rd, Newtown. Free. 1 p.m. today.
Parents Without Partners Valley Forge Chapter. 610-688-4829. www.pwp214.org. Regular meetings, events, socials. Call for full schedule.
Single Volunteers of Bucks County Singles help with events; sign up at meetings (6:30 p.m. Tues). Churchville Nature Center, 501 Churchville Ln, Churchville; 215-527-9488. www.singlevolunteers.org/buckscounty.
Yardley Singles 215-736-1288. www.yardleysingles.org. Regular dances, dinners, picnics, other outings & activities. Call for full schedule.