Vernon Mefford builds 300 porch swings a year. There was a French couple who fell in love during their year living in Bloomington, IN. For sentimental reasons, they courted on a swing. When she went back to France, he sent one of Mefford's swings back to her. There was the English couple traveling together in their retirement years. They were visiting friends in Bloomington and fell in love with lazy Indiana summer evenings spent reminiscing on a porch swing. When they returned to England, one of Mefford's swings went with them. Mother's Day, anniversaries, weddings, Christmas, Hanukkah, birthdays and housewarmings-whatever the sentimental reason, Mefford's built a swing for it. "There's something about a swing, I think, that gives people joy," the 44-year-old-craftsman explains. "A swing isn't what makes people happy, but it has an indirect effect on it." Mefford began building swings 11 years ago. He had moved into a house on Route 46 leading out of Bloomington and, after seven months of remodeling the inside, decided to buy himself a swing so he could enjoy the outside too.
"I looked around at stores and what I saw, I didn't like. I didn't like the design. They didn't look sturdy enough. I'd be kind of embarrassed to have someone sit with me on them." He began to jot down his thoughts on how a swing should be made. It should be contoured to support the natural arch of his back. And the back should be tilted a little, too, so he could sit and look up at the sky. The chains should be attached at the top of the back, not on the arm rests, where they always rubbed his elbows. One thing led to another. Two years and several design phases later, Mefford's neighbors convinced him to put a sample of his work in his front yard, along with a sign that it was for sale. Carloads of Nashville-bound tourists began to stop. And they began to order.
Today, 2,700 swings later, Mefford Swings still keeps in touch with many of his first customers. "People buy a swing, then call back the next year to see what else I make. A lot of them buy a complete set of my stuff, year by year, one piece at a time." To keep up with the diversified demand, Mefford now makes low-back and high-back models, bench rockers, chair rockers, gliders, custom jobs and two models he jokingly calls Ma and Pa Bunyan-they're both 6 feet long: Pa holds up to 1,000 pounds. To keep up with the volume, he's hired his two sons and a friend, and takes on part-time help during the busy season-April through July. Little else has changed though, Mefford still makes the swings in the workshop behind his house. "I have my hands on practically every swing made," he says proudly. "A swing ought to look nice. It ought to look beautiful." His basic design has remained pretty much the same too: An unpretentious arrangement of slats contoured for comfort and built with the aim of sturdiness more then style. The pieces are glued and screwed together; no nails or staples are used. Then, they get five coats of waterproof polyurethane. Because he works at home, Mefford's hours are flexible-he's had customers arrive unannounced at his door as late as midnight-but he prefers that they call ahead if it's after normal working hours. (He's listed in the Bloomington phone book as Swings by Mefford.) "I hate to be picky, but this is my home," he says apologetically. Of the lower 48 states, he reckons he has swings in at least 40 of them, and in four other countries, too. "A half-dozen times or more, the sale of a house has been contingent on my swing-whether it stays or goes," Mefford says with a chuckle. "Swings do something to people. There's a sentimental attachment that goes beyond what we feel for furniture."
By Tim Lucas
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