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San Clemente Journal

Custom Craft, To Do, or To Re-Do...

Oct 12, 2020 11:04AM ● By Donia Moore

Larry Novak, founded Custom Craft in 1965.

by Donia Moore

What are you going to do with that wonderful old heirloom from Aunt Matilda? You love it dearly but it just doesn’t go with anything in your house. Who ya gonna call? Larry Novak’s Custom Craft of course; they can match it, change it, renew it or even re-old it if you want a particular vintage style.

Larry has been furniture-fixer to some pretty picky people since 1965. Larry’s artistic skills are amazing. Some workers of a client came to pick up an antique chair from Foam and Fabric in a pick up truck after it had been reupholstered. They didn’t get it quite tied down well enough. Shortly after they left, the truck swerved, knocking the beautiful old claw footed piece out of the truck, but not entirely disengaging from the ropes holding it. It pranced along El Camino Real just long enough to ruin the knuckles on the claw feet. The client was distraught but luckily Foam and Fabric owner Dave knew Larry and suggested his shop for restoring the decimated knuckles. It’s a story Larry loves because the client could never tell where the damages had been repaired. 
In addition to redoing Hollywood star Loretta Young’s dining room furniture; Larry also became a regular at the Western White House during Richard Nixon’s tenure. “President Nixon had a special treat for his favorite diplomatic guests. With a plethora of guest rooms, Nixon delighted in having one specially redone in the guest’s favorite colors and fabrics each time a guest came for a stay,” he shared. 

Larry started his business by doing favors for family and friends, using a then popular do-it-yourself furniture painting kit. He was such an artist with it that his fame spread like wildfire from one satisfied customer to another. From his aunt’s old table to armoires, to lighting fixtures and mantels, the list of items needing repair seemed endless. But every piece got the same careful, loving attention, just as they do today.

 Although he has lived in San Clemente most of his life, he recalls some very happy times with his cousins on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona, His aunts and uncles owned a trio of trading posts along Route 66, about 12 miles apart. He drove his yellow ragtop 1946 Willy’s Jeepster alongside Route 66 when he went to visit his cousins. “Alongside” is correct because Larry wasn’t old enough to drive on the pavement and traffic there was flying low and fast. So he’d carefully drive on the dirt shoulder alongside of the famous road, removing his neighbors’ fences and then carefully replacing them as he drove across the reservation.

“I’d go to visit my cousins, They’d all clamber into my jeep and we’d drive out into the desert on the private reservation lands to dig for old pots and arrowheads,” remembers Larry, “I used to have a pretty good collection of arrowheads, Once we even found a whole, unbroken pot with old corn inside it. That was pretty rare, even in those days. My cousin thought the corn smelled really bad so he dumped it out of the pot, I always wondered if that corn might have grown if we’d planted it.”

Before his sojourn to Arizona trading posts, young Larry graduated from Las Palmas Kindergarten here in San Clemente. In his miniature cap and gown, clutching cookies and milk, he joined about 20 other tiny tykes for their special day.

“No internet, no wi-fi – life was good and our favorite pastime was watching the big graders work on all the new roads in San Clemente when we weren’t playing in San Clemente’s first Little League team games,” said Larry. 

When Larry’s Mom and Dad decided to join the rest of the family in the trading post business in Arizona, Larry ended up going to Rincon High School in Sterling City. There were 1500 kids that attended there and only six of them, including Larry, were seniors. Larry was on the football team – all 5’8”, 140 pounds of him, as the star linebacker. The football team was always short of players and they never scored any points as long as Larry was there. They had to borrow players from the surrounding high school teams, just to play their Friday night games. “Those other guys were always the best players, but even so we couldn’t even up the scores.”  

The family moved back to San Clemente, where his Dad bought the Flying A Gas Station at the south end of town and his grandparents owned the next-door San Clemente Café. Larry was still in high school and remembers his shock at suddenly being in a school with over 2,000 kids.
Baja Bugs and Nascar stock cars began to feed Larry’s need for adventure.

On a Baja pre-running race, his Baja Bug crashed, spilling their precious water supply all over the Sonoran Desert and leaving them stranded 15 miles from anywhere. 
If Baja supplied the adventure, Nascar stock cars provided the speed. “Driving 170 mph on a short rectangular track is a trip. Even though there are four corners, you only turn twice because you are going so fast you’re basically just drifting around the corners.”

These days, drifting is the furthest thing from Larry’s mind. He and his wife still live in San Clemente, but they are far from “retiring”. “Life is good, “says Larry. “I like to work and I’m proud of my craft. There’s just nothing else I’d rather do.”  
Just like a true San Clementean!

Custom Craft Furniture Refinishing,
124 Calle de Los Molinos, San Clemente,

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