Egg Harbor Township resident Said El-Abbar has practiced carpentry for more than three decades, having picked up the craft when he was just a boy of 12 or 13 years old.
But it's not his experience that sets the Morocco native apart from the typical woodworker, it's his influences.
While El-Abbar earns the bulk of his income through regular trimming and carpentry work with contractors in the area, he runs a side business, called Andalusian woodwork for the region of Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco where the elaborate style he practices originated, out of his Egg Harbor Township home.
El-Abbar's work is strikingly different from typical Western woodwork, consisting of finely carved flower or starlike pieces tesselated across a space. Pieces range from simple painted tables to elaborate full-ceiling installations.
"It's like putting a piece of art in your house," El-Abbar said. "It stays in your house forever. If you're going to take your house down in the future, you can keep it."
El-Abbar moved to the United States in 1998 when he was 33, settling at first in Manhattan. He spoke no English when he arrived and took work as a helper on construction jobs in and around the city as he learned the language.
He met his wife, an American, in the city, and the pair moved to Barnegat Township shortly thereafter. He moved to Egg Harbor Township about six years ago.
While El-Abbar has been able to make a steady living as a carpenter in the area, commissioned jobs for his personal work have been few and far between, due to a combination of factors. Because of the expertise and time involved in making a piece, El-Abbar's work can be expensive, starting at about $1,000 for smaller furniture and ranging to $15,000 or more for a full ceiling.
Additionally, El-Abbar has had trouble advertising and getting his name out there, and isn't familiar enough with the Internet or social media to develop a Web presence.
Still, word of El-Abbar's work has started to get around, through friends and people he has met through his carpentry work. Marsha Gillespie met El-Abbar in Margate when he was on a job, and she was instantly taken with his easygoing, welcoming attitude and unique skills.
As an appreciator of art, Gillespie said she has been impressed by what she's seen of El-Abbar's work.
"It's much more than a craft," Gillespie said. "It's artistic. It's inlaid like they do in Italy. ... It's more architectural. It's the same as somebody doing tile work, like mosaics."
El-Abbar has done some of his Morrocan-inspired work in the area, putting a diamond-patterned panel in a wall opposite a stairwell in the home of Christine DeLorenzo, a friend of El-Abbar and his wife.
The panel is not among the larger or more elaborate El-Abbar has done, but DeLorenzo said visitors to her home often compliment her on the piece.
"I think he's very creative, and I think he takes a lot from his Moroccan background, and a lot of the stuff that he does is really intricate," DeLorenzo said. "I think he does beautiful work."
To contact El-Abbar, call 609-517-4443 or email andalousian
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