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Retirement to rebirth: Colmesneil man rediscovers passion

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Larry Sonnier in his sanctuary – the lathe room of his shop. CHRIS EDWARDS | TCB Larry Sonnier in his sanctuary – the lathe room of his shop. CHRIS EDWARDS | TCB

By Chris Edwards
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COLMESNEIL – On paper, as well as on the computer screen (or smartphone screen) Wood Designs by LDS might be a relatively recent business venture, but that belies the lifelong passion and determination of the man behind the brand.

The business offers an incredible array of beautiful works of functional art, all crafted from wood, and many pieces, with the fusion of epoxy, and occasionally with elements such as turquoise. From bowls that look as though they could adorn a display in a metropolitan fine arts museum to gorgeous dining room tables that would look as elegant on the farm as they would in a penthouse suite, Wood Designs by LDS can take an idea, on commission, and render a most excellent object.

While woodworking is an ever-popular hobby, with one estimate from the Craft & Hobby Association putting the number of American households doing some sort of woodworking at more than 16.8 million, the combination of natural aptitude and finely honed skills can make it a profitable venture.

Wood Designs by LDS, which is headquartered in a 3,800-square foot workspace off a county road near Colmesneil, is all about the lifelong passion of a man who experienced a sort of rebirth through re-discovery.

Larry Dale Sonnier is the “LDS” in the business name. Sonnier, a well-travelled fellow with a booming voice and a friendly disposition, exudes passion when discussing his efforts and lifelong love of woodworking.

The 76-year-old Sonnier, who says he has to pinch himself almost daily when he walks through the door of his shop to go to work, has experienced a rebirth of sorts.

Sonnier, who retired 15 years ago from a successful contracting business, rediscovered a passion that first appeared to him when he was a second-grader.

He found his niche in taking a block of wood and turning, on a lathe, that raw material into a striking bowl. Sonnier still has that first piece, crafted from walnut and maple, and he recalls the teacher who led him to his art all those years ago, the appropriately named Mr. Woodruff, who he recalled as “a very nice guy.”

“I loved it from the beginning,” Sonnier said.

Another mentor and close friend Sonnier spoke about was renowned craftsman Lyman Frugia, who lived in the Beaumont area. Frugia, who died in 2017 at the age of 93, was extremely skilled with a lathe, Sonnier said. Several of Frugia’s intricate, small pieces of wooden art are on display in Sonnier’s home, and on the wall of his shop, is an article that highlights Frugia’s craftsmanship. “That’s my buddy,” Sonnier said, as he spoke about the late friend and mentor.

Flash forward to 2023, and Sonnier estimates he has turned between 800-900 wood pieces for various aspects of home décor, and recently he shifted his focus to designing and creating custom solid-wood tables.

A recent project, a prototype tabletop made from pecky cypress is a project he referred to as his “biggest challenge and biggest nightmare,” but could potentially put him and his creations on the proverbial map. The challenge, he explained, is in trying to seal the table without getting the sealant into the wood, for it has a lot of holes.

Knowing the medium in which an artist works is paramount, and for Sonnier, respecting the medium is equally as important. Sonnier said he does not have any one favorite type of wood, and has worked with just about any type of wood one can imagine. He said he loves to work with different types of burled wood, for the aesthetic properties, and said mesquite is a nice, hearty species to utilize.

“You have to look at the wood and see something in it,” he said. “The piece of wood I’m working on any given day is my favorite when I’m working with it.”

The woods Sonnier uses are sourced from all around the country, and many pieces from his various travels and places he’s lived, including several pieces of furniture in his home created from aspen taken from a ranch he owned in Colorado.

Sonnier had more than 35 years in the construction business, and once he retired and sold his business, he knew he needed something to do. “I think anybody that retires ought to have them something to do; somewhere to go, or have a hobby,” he said.

Another frontier Sonnier is adjusting to in today’s hyper-connected world of commerce is that of social media. Sonnier admits he doesn’t have a lot to do with that aspect of promoting his labors, but to that end, has enlisted the aid of a local web designer and businessman Sal Baldovinos, who has built a website for Wood Designs by LDS, through which customers can commission pieces and see examples of the many incredible works coming from Sonnier’s shop. Baldovinos has also taken to learning aspects of the craft from Sonnier, and helps out on pieces.

Baldovinos called Sonnier an “incredibly creative, meticulous woodworker,” and “a wonderful teacher and mentor for anybody who is interested.”

“Finding a hobby at my age is like a rebirth,” Sonnier said with a smile. “I hope I’m still in here in my eighties, running my mouth,” he added.

For all that he has accomplished and the ability he has to create beautiful works of art from wood, Sonnier, a man of faith, credits it all to a higher power. “None of this would be possible if it wasn’t for Him,” he said, pointing upward.

The respect and passion Sonnier has for his craft extends to the world around him. He and his wife Tina have a great love of animals, and Sonnier told a story about a recent cat he rescued, that someone had dumped near his property. The cat jumped off his roof and broke a leg, but fortunately Sonnier found an emergency veterinarian to see to the wounded kitty, and now the Sonniers are looking after him as he recovers in their living room.

Giving back to the world around him extends beyond the animals around his house, too. Sonnier is able to use his craftsmanship to do some good in the world, and not just by getting folks sturdy and beautiful furniture and works of wooden art. The proceeds from the sale of the bowls and vessels Sonnier produces are donated to Girls’ Haven, a Beaumont-based non-profit that seeks to provide a safe environment for young girls who are victims of various forms of abuse.

Giving back is something Larry Dale Sonnier values, and he said he wants to share his craft with as many people as are interested, especially retirees.

At the end of the day, Sonnier said he realizes he is blessed every day to be able to work at doing what he loves, and said “If you love what you’re doing, you’re going to be successful at it.”

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Raymand Landry · 9 months ago
    I've had the opportunity to see and hear the passion this man has for wood. When you see that spark in the eyes, you know good things are forthcoming. 

    Dammit Woodworks