SeaOtter Woodworks in Haines was recently tapped by Hollywood.
Actress Jennifer Aniston's designer, working on the remodel of the star's Beverly Hills home, wanted to purchase a Japanese soaking bathtub for Aniston, famous for her role as Rachel on the show "Friends" and, more recently, her divorce from ex-husband Brad Pitt. The specialty tub, called an "ofuro," would smash the traditional his-and-her bathroom and create a spa room for her.
Only a few places currently make the tubs, so SeaOtter Woodworks owner Bill Finlay thinks the design team probably found his company in Alaska by doing a simple Internet search.
"We're one of only two builders that make these specialty Japanese style wooden bathtubs," said Finlay, who has shipped the tubs worldwide.
Ofuro tubs are handcrafted using a combination of ancient and modern woodworking techniques and are created from a rare and special hinoki wood that emits a healing lemon citrus scent.
"In Japan there is a lot of mysticism around the hinoki wood, that is certainly something that is talked about a lot because it's a beneficial wood to soak in," Finlay said.
The ofuro experience promises to turn bathing into an art, like Japanese tea.
"In Japan, hinoki is beloved for its healing qualities," he said. "They believe that when the bath steam is inhaled, the hinoki oil acts as a decongestant of the respiratory system, helps to cure asthma and is a tonic for the nervous and circulation systems."
The other use for hinoki wood is for building Buddhist and Shinto temples.
"The most remarkable thing people notice right away is the aroma," he said. "It has a citrus-type aroma and it holds up well in a wet environment which makes it a good wood for making a bathtub," said Finlay. "A lot of the wood we use for the tubs is from the Tongass National Forest - western red cedar and Alaska yellow cedar. We buy high-quality wood from a few small mills in Ketchikan, Craig, and Kake."
Aniston's tub was special.
"The size of it was custom, it wasn't just pulled off the shelf," said Finlay said.
The tub is featured in the March issue of Architectural Digest. Finlay has yet to get his hands on a copy of the magazine. He went to the library to look at it, but the April magazine was already on the shelf when he searched around Whitehorse.
Finlay hasn't heard from Aniston but said he followed up to make sure it had arrived.
"I got in touch with her assistant who said it had arrived and everybody thought it was beautiful and they were looking forward to installing it."
Finlay doesn't know if this is his first celebrity client because he sells to designers and architects who sometimes don't reveal the client.
"I don't know if the Queen of England has one, I'm just not sure," Finlay said.
Finlay, whose customers are mostly from outside Alaska, started making the tubs when the former owner of a salmon-smoking business was entertaining Japanese clients in his waterfront home in Juneau.
"Sometime in the mid '90s he asked me to build one for him and it was kind of an experiment. Then I noticed that people were starting to look for them, so over the last 15 years I have developed the product to fit that niche. It's a small niche, but it's there."
To see SeaOtter's custom tubs, visit www.japanesebath.com.
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