Photographs by Sinead Deane, Mary Shustack and courtesy Jeff deJong
If you want to get an idea of the artistry of custom carpenter Jeff deJong, simply glance around his Brookfield home.
There is that dramatic staircase, a study in geometrics and mahogany that captures the imagination the moment you walk in the front door.
As you perch on a tall chair at the island in his fully redesigned kitchen, your eyes can’t help but wander over deJong’s shoulder to the sleek cabinets with beveled glass.
He hops up to demonstrate another of his unique creations, pulling out one of several pocket doors inset with glass. It’s an unexpected touch that allows for a quiet space in the living and dining rooms without interrupting the visual flow of the rooms.
“A lot of times people pull the doors, and boom, you’re in a box,” he says of the isolation often created by traditional wooden pocket doors.
And even more details are on the way, as deJong continues to juggle his own renovations with his business.
“It’s a typical carpenter’s house,” he says with a laugh. “Everyone’s project gets done first.”
But it’s those projects – works of custom and finish carpentry completed through his 10-year-old company, Angle & Square – that have made his name in the greater Danbury/Westchester area. DeJong came to America from the Netherlands 23 years ago when he was in his late 20s and has since carved out a niche for his skills.
The company’s evocative name is thanks to deJong’s wife of 10 years, Terry Callaghan.
“My wife came up with that,” deJong says. “We were looking for catchy things, and I always hated ‘Joe’s Carpentry’ … I hated it.”
Angle & Square puts the focus on the aspect of carpentry he finds most rewarding.
“What I want to do is the custom work. I like to design things and create them.”
When customers hire deJong, they know they have found someone who not only brings a European tradition and sensibility but also offers the latest in design. Today, his signature work includes coffered ceilings and “floating” bookcases, intricate wainscoting and elaborate profiles over doorways. But for every highly detailed project he completes, deJong is equally at ease on more workmanlike jobs, ranging from siding to crafting mudrooms or carving out storage space.
It took deJong awhile to find his calling, though.
Born to a prominent pastry chef in the Netherlands, the middle of three sons, deJong first felt the lure of the sea. Unlike his brothers, who initially went into the baking business, deJong attended a technical school (where his love of woodwork was encouraged). He went on to pursue engineering and training to operate ships and by 18 was a commercial fisherman on the Atlantic Ocean and Irish and Baltic seas. His time in pursuit of mackerel and herring, he says, was a family tradition of sorts, as his great-grandfather was a steamship captain.
“It’s a hard life,” deJong says of his days on the water, though he seems to have enjoyed them.
Five years later, quotas enacted to stop overfishing basically ended deJong’s career.
After a year as a draftee in the Dutch Army, deJong came to America and joined his brothers, who had opened a bakery in Mount Kisco. DeJong worked in the bakery, teaching himself English along the way and once he felt established, pursued jobs in woodworking. While working for a construction company, he found a mentor in one of the skilled carpenters.
When others would end their day and go home, “I stuck around to pick up the tips,” he says. “That’s important to me.”
It was on construction that he built up his expertise in everything from foundations to framing, trim details to kitchen installations. Through trying a bit of everything, deJong came to realize his love of the skilled, or custom, work, where an eye for precision and angles is needed.
DeJong may have taken a roundabout route to reach his rewarding career, but each step of the way has had an effect.
From his family’s influence to tips picked up at sea, deJong brings an added level of expertise to kitchens. He is able to go beyond what might at first look great.
“A lot of times they’re not functional,” he says. “With that background of cooking, I kind of know what works.”
He helps clients design kitchens “around their lifestyle.”
His background further helps in how he approaches many jobs.
“In Holland, the houses are small.”
He was brought up with the idea of maximizing space, especially to create unique storage.
Today, no matter the size or scope of a project, deJong says he is ready to dive in.
“I see every potential when you walk in a house, what can be done in it.”
The goal, he says, is being able to help a client envision a project and then complete it in a timely, artistic and professional manner.
After all, that’s what deJong is about.
“A lot of people don’t have the pride anymore in what they’re doing, and that’s sad.”
For more on Angle & Square, visit angleandsquare.com or call (203) 948-2406.