From sketch to reality; Paul Febvre at work

Paul Febvre is a doodler, but he is a doer as well. An engineer by training, he has been building things all his life. Yet for him, the most exciting part of the process is what takes place in his mind, and on scraps of paper, as he imagines a project and sketches it out. Bringing it to life is secondary for him.

His home, in a rural area north of Fort Collins is filled with stunning examples of his mastery with wood from lamps, tables and bookcases to towering armoires. And wherever there is an opportunity, he gleefully inserts secret compartments into his work.

“It all started years ago when my children were young,” Febvre says. I built bookcases and desks for them that had secret compartments. “I became compulsive about secret compartments. In the house where the children grew up, I built in a secret place where we kept the family valuables. A later owner of the house was robbed and regretted not making use of that secret space to store her valuables.”

Today Febvre has an expansive workshop in a building separate from his house where the noise and dust of his work are contained. His latest endeavor, still in the design stage, is the construction of a pipe organ. Perhaps the most challenging project he has ever contemplated, he is in the process of figuring it all out.

He already owns a two-level keyboard, given to him by a dealer in used organs and parts. He has decided that he does not have the technological expertise to use metal, the material most commonly used for organ pipes. Instead he will most likely make the hundreds of pipes that will be required from wood. It has a more limited range than metal, but he’s willing to settle for that. He has also experimented with pipes made from plastic and even cardboard in his search for the best material.

And where do you keep an organ, once you’ve built one? “In my basement, of course,” Febvre says, leading the way down a long flight of stairs to a place where there is more than enough room.

Now in his early eighties, Febvre takes delight in having the time to indulge his imagination in his home surrounded by open space, a lovely small lake and mountain views. His wife Marian, a long-time French teacher at Fort Collins High School, is enjoying her second career as a psychologist with Child Safe in Fort Collins. Febvre says he’s happy to hold down the fort at home, tinkering with his projects and most nights making sure there is dinner on the table.

A native of Grenoble, France, Febvre has spent nearly all his adult life in Fort Collins. He arrived almost by accident with a degree in engineering and not sure what he wanted to do with it. He learned about a grant to study in the U.S. and because his father knew Maury Albertson, Colorado State University engineering professor, Febvre ended up studying at CSU. When the year was over, he went home to fulfill his military obligation in the French Air Force. But he left a girl behind in Fort Collins.

After his military service, he and Marian married in France and planned to spend the rest of their lives there. But the job he found was not a good fit for him. By the time they were expecting their first child, he had an assistantship at CSU to complete his masters degree. Then followed a job with Hewlett Packard, a transfer with the company when HP opened a plant in Grenoble, and eventually a return to Fort Collins and a job with HP in Loveland as a project manager.

The family’s two sons and daughter had the advantage of a few years in France where they attended school and became bilingual. But Colorado called. “One day we all agreed that we wanted to be back in Fort Collins,” Febvre explained. “I came to town, arranged a transfer with HP, bought a house without telling the family and in the fall of 1975 we were back in Fort Collins for good.

Febvre loved his work as project manager but in 1993, as soon as he could manage it financially, he retired. “I’ve always been a frustrated artist,” he admits. “I love design. Aesthetic issues are important to me and I wanted to pursue those things.”

He started a small business building furniture and while he had some success and made some money, he found it difficult to compete pricewise with manufactured furniture. These days he’s happy being able to decide exactly what he wants to build and just how he will build it.

Perhaps, one of these days, the strains of organ music will waft up to the main floor of his home. If not, that will be okay with Febvre. He will have had the pleasure of imaging the organ in his head, pondering the technical aspects of how to build it and then creating the final project or maybe not, whatever seems right.

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