Down East 2013 ©
Every living room needs a conversation piece. Maybe it’s a framed portrait of the family, a watercolor of Yellowstone National Park, or an oak grandfather clock. Chuck Lakin, a retired research librarian from Colby College, and accomplished woodworker in Waterville, has a different idea to get a dinner party talking: coffins.
Lakin designs and builds made-to-measure coffins to be used first as a bookshelf, coffee table, or entertainment center before it becomes your eternal resting place. The Bookcase Coffin, for example, hinges two seven-inch deep boxes together and comes with adjustable shelves. Spread the case open, place it against a wall, and simply adjust the shelves so they meet the height needs of every book. When the time comes to relocate six feet under ground, the two boxes close together, and, voilà! You’re ready for the afterlife.
Lakin hopes people appreciate his ingenuity, but ultimately he wants the products to jumpstart a larger conversation about death. “Too often in this country we ignore that we are all going to die someday,” he says. “I’m trying to get people to plan ahead, think about it more, and talk about it openly.” Lakin himself started thinking about the so-called “death care industry” after his father died. He found the whole burial process to be too distant, formal, and cold. Now, through his Web site lastthings.net, he guides people who want to circumvent funeral homes and perform a home burial (which is legal in Maine under certain conditions) on their own terms. “Families can get torn apart, and siblings never speak again because they’re all fighting about how their parents would want to be buried,” he says. “But if the coffin is in the middle of the room, it’s a hard subject to avoid.”
Lakin understands that eating a cheese and vegetable platter off a coffin during a cocktail party may unnerve some sensitive souls, but so far his customers have been happy with the product. “One woman loves to point out her Bookcase Coffin during a lull in dinner conversation,” he says. “Another had me put three shelves into my Wedge Coffin model. She stores quilts in it and keeps it in her bedroom.” Unfortunately, Lakin adds, that woman’s husband made her move it from the bedroom because it creeped him out. Maybe he’s just more of an Entertainment Center Coffin kind of guy. —Will Bleakley
Photographs Courtesy Last Things