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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Handcrafted home: Retired teacher and coach has filled his home with tables, vanities, shelves and more that he’s created himself

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

The first two pieces of furniture that Joe Espinoza built were born of necessity.

After graduating from the University of Idaho, where he played quarterback for the Vandals, he accepted his first teaching job.

“When we got married 63 years ago, we moved to Cusick, Washington,” he said.

The tiny town offered limited shopping and his wife, Alice, was expecting their son.

“I built his crib and highchair,” Joe said.

Alice was amazed by his craftsmanship.

“They were things of beauty, they really were,” she said.

He’d honed his skills as a kid, growing up in Wapato, Washington.

“The school had a great industrial arts program – that’s where I learned to use the tools,” Joe said. “I give a lot of credit to my upbringing in Wapato.”

Those first two items are long gone, but his handiwork is everywhere you look in the Spokane Valley home, where he and Alice have lived for 50 years.

Though he coached multiple sports and taught Spanish at University High School for 36 years, he still found time to make beautiful things.

“Everything in this house is custom-built and made to fit the space,” said Alice, pointing to a table and a small cabinet in their entryway.

He even made the large granite-topped kitchen island with matching stools.

“And he refaced all the kitchen cabinets and put glass in the doors,” Alice said.

Their dog also benefits from Joe’s talents. A wooden cabinet holds Cowboy’s food and water dishes.

“He came up with the original ‘Doggy Diners’ and made them for lots of people,” she said.

One of her favorite pieces – a large buffet – was made with wood from an old barn.

“It’s yellow pine,” Joe said. “I’m always looking for wood when I’m driving in the country. I think I’m a pretty good scrounger.”

He pointed to a television stand.

“That’s made of swamp oak.”

He mills the lumber himself and creates all of the designs.

“Nothing is cookie cutter,” he said. “Why buy it if you can make it?”

Though loath to pick a favorite, he does have a fondness for the tall, slender coffee center he built. An old-fashioned percolator sits on the shelf. Glass front cupboards above hold dishes and more coffee supplies are tucked in the cupboard and drawer beneath.

His talents extend to painting and Alice paints, too. Their work is set in frames built by Joe.

“I combine my artwork with my framework,” he said.

Their master bedroom and bath feature more of his craftsmanship. His work includes two wardrobes, large enough to hold a portal to Narnia, matching cherry wood vanities and a full-length mirror.

“We thought a mirror would look good there, so I built it to fit,” he said.

His brand “Handcrafted by Joe Espinoza” can be found on every piece he’s created.

“If it’s wood, I made it,” he said of their household furnishings.

Of course, he’s crafted tables of every sort; coffee tables, end tables, occasional tables, nightstands and plant stands, but his piece de resistance is their dining room table.

“I made it from an old library table from U-Hi,” he said.

Nearby sit two small rocking horses he made for future great-grandchildren.

Speaking of U-Hi, years ago Joe designed a gift to present to retiring teachers – a small wooden classroom door featuring the teacher’s room number and a plaque inscribed with a message of thanks.

Now, he has one of his own.

A guest room is filled with things he created with wood from an old barn he discovered near the Dishman Mica dump.

Heavy exposed beams are affixed to the ceiling. Built-in bookcases span an entire wall with board and batten wainscoting beneath them. He also built the bed.

Then there’s the fragrant cedar sauna he created and installed himself. Even the laundry/workout room features his work including cabinets and a wooden bench press.

“We’re out of room,” Alice said.

Outdoors, their backyard is filled with things handcrafted by Joe.

He built the pool pump house, a garden shed, two arbors, assorted tables and a cathouse for their kitty Beau.

They may be running out of space, but Joe has a new project in the works for outdoors – posts for solar lights.

“I enjoy working with the wood – it all kind of falls into place,” he said. “I love my projects. Life is good.”