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How to make a last impression

3:41 PM  Apr 16th, 2012
by Matthew Dewald

Art education graduate Roy “Bud” Davis ’65 usually gets one of two reactions to his work: stunned silence or curious delight.

As owner/operator of Bert & Bud’s Vintage Coffins (vintagecoffins.com) in Murray, Ky., he builds fine, one-of-a-kind coffins to order, 10 or so in a good year. Nearly all of his orders are “pre-need,” to use an industry term, so he is able to chat with clients about their preferences. His tips for the last piece of furniture you’ll ever use:

1. Beauty first “Your coffin really ought to be a work of art,” he says. He draws on nearly 50 years as an artist to make each coffin a handcrafted, original piece.

2. Make it personal One client, a retired truck driver, dresses year-round as Santa Claus. Davis delivered a coffin perfect for him, decorated with reindeer, snowflakes and a bag full of toys.

3. Creativity counts A PBS show commissioned a steamboat-style coffin for writer Roy Blount Jr. to narrate from while floating down the Mississippi River. Maxim magazine ordered one shaped like a giant beer bottle for a national contest.

4. So does simple elegance One of his most popular coffin styles is the classic, six-sided toe-pincher. Sometimes called a “Dracula coffin,” it’s available as a plain pine box, an elegantly varnished and upholstered model, or anything in between. Many clients consider it a welcome alternative to the “gaudy things that the funeral homes push,” he says.

5. And maybe even utility Customers have asked for removable shelves to use his coffins as temporary bookshelves and even a liquor cabinet, as well as blanket chests and coffee tables (one client calls hers “an end table”).

6. Accept it with cheer A sense of humor is “part of our business plan. It makes it easier for people to approach the topic.” But families might not always accept the more extreme designs, he cautions. “The person who bought it might want to be buried in it, but the wife and kids might say, ‘Let’s get a real one.’”

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