Why does Chuck Lakin make coffins that double as bookcases and entertainment centers? The short answer is that he’s always loved “clever” things.

But what really got Lakin thinking about making coffins as furniture was his own father’s funeral in 1979.

“None of us had thought much about it beforehand, so one minute the funeral director is coming in and taking the body, and four days later we had a box of ashes,” said Lakin, 65, a retired Colby College librarian who lives in Waterville. “The disconnect was very unsettling to me. I wanted to be more involved.”

After his father’s death, Lakin became interested in the idea of home funerals, which allow families to be more involved and add lots of personal touches.

That led him to start making coffins that can be used for home funerals or at funeral parlors.

And because he’s a woodworker who loves clever things, he decided to make several of his wood coffins into furniture. This way, he reasons, families can get some added use out of them.

Lavin makes a bookcase coffin, for a base price of $900, which is basically two boxes hinged together. When it’s time to use it as a coffin, the shelves are laid on the bottom.

His multi-purpose coffin, which sells for $1,200 without any stain or finish, can be used as shelving or a display case, or laid on its side to double as an entertainment center housing a TV, a stereo system — whatever.

“It’s easy to make a box, but much harder to make a coffin that’s also an entertainment center,” said Lakin. “With this one, the shelves become the lid.”

Lakin also makes coffins that aren’t furniture, but are clever in that they can be taken apart and stored, and quickly re-assembled when needed.

Plus, he leaves his coffins unadorned and smooth, so people can add their own touches — paint on them, for example, or write notes.

Lakin has been making coffins since 1998 under his business, Chuck Lakin Woodworker. But it’s not a booming business. He says he’s probably made about 20, and started by basically giving them to people for the cost of materials.

He displays information and pictures about the coffins at www.lastthings.net, a Maine-based website offering information and resources pertaining to home funerals. (Home funerals must comply with state regulations about what a person must do to be authorized to hold a funeral.)

Although he champions home funerals, Lakin’s coffins can be used anywhere.

Laurie Fenlason of Winslow used one of Lakin’s coffins for her mother’s funeral, at a funeral home, earlier this year. Even though the coffin could have been used as shelving, Fenlason didn’t pick it out for that purpose.

She wanted a coffin that allowed for personal touches. Because the coffin was smooth — no fancy carvings or ridges — Fenlason encouraged family and friends to write notes to her mother on it, which they did.

And because the coffin was built to be reassembled quickly and easily, Fenlason and her husband put it together themselves in the funeral home. She found that very gratifying.

“It was so comforting for us to know that we were the ones making her final resting place for her,” said Fenlason. “That blew me away.”

Lakin is happy to hear his coffins add a personal touch to a funeral.

He’s also glad that his coffin/furniture creations seem to be appreciated by many people.

“I get a lot of positive feedback about some of my coffins being multi-purpose,” said Lakin. “People are delighted when I show them my bookcase coffin.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]