I was teaching at Peters Valley Craft Center in early summer 2015, and was asked to participate in an upcoming gallery show that would feature work inspired by Peters Valley. I asked if I could take a big, weathered chunk of oak that had been sitting of the wood shop's front porch for years. I think it had been used as door stop. My plan was to make a box from it. Unfortunately, when I cut into it, I discovered that it was still too wet to use. So, I just cut it into about 6 perfectly quartersawn boards and stickered them in my shop. One year later, the boards were dry and I set about to make something from them. Based on the size of the boards (5 in. wide, about 5/8 in. thick, and over 30 in. long), I figured I could make a small wall cabinet with a few drawers and a door.
This cabinet strikes out in a new direction for me, and I took it primarily because of the wood I was using. Oak, with its bigger pores, has a much rougher texture than cherry (the species I use most often). It's a texture that's not well-suited to the minimalist, clean, and modern aesthetic I've developed. So, I incorporated a few details that I stole from Mike Pekovich (who primarily works with quartersawn white oak). I inset the door and drawers, and used two vertical dividers to break up the lower door panel. I also used butt hinges instead of knife hinges. The hinges are mortised into a hinge strip, a brilliant and necessary detail that allows the inset door to swing fully open on butt hinges. I don't know if I can explain why these small changes make the cabinet better suited for oak, but they do. Still, they don't override my own aesthetic. It looks like a cabinet that I made, instead of one that Mike made. This is because of my sense of proportion, which is different from his, my penchant for having two rows of drawers with the top row being dividing unevenly, my love for flush dovetail joinery, and my stripped down take on kumiko. Of course, the fact that I used this style of pull doesn't hurt to mark the cabinet as mine. In the end, I think I ended up with a cabinet that is clearly mine, but tailored for the wood species used.
OK, a few words about this red oak: It is amazing. It starts with the cut of the grain, quartersawn. There are no ugly cathedrals. It's nice to be your own sawyer. Perhaps there's a sawmill in my future. I think it also helps that this is Northern red oak, as opposed to Southern red oak. The Southern one is that nasty super red stuff used to make a lot of manufactured furniture. Oak from up North is brown, but still has a red cast. It's a lovely color. Finally, there is some nice variation in the color. Take a look at the side that's facing the camera. Notice that it's darker at the front and then transitions to a creamy brown. I like this.
I guess the most interesting thing about this cabinet is the door, which is nice, because that's what I intended. When designing the door, I knew that I wanted a kumiko panel up to and a solid wood panel beneath it. I sketched out some ideas, fooling around with their sizes in relation to one another. Having the kumiko panel smaller looked the best, and I chose to divide the door into thirds, with the bottom panel and middle rail taking up about two-thirds of the door. The kumiko panel isn't a traditional design. Why? Because I have some kind of clinical obsession with using rectangles and squares to create patterns. The kumiko is basswood set on top of a plywood panel that's covered with Chiyogami paper. The inside of the door has a similar kumiko over the same paper. I'll still use fabric, but I'll also begin to use Chiyogami and other Japanese paper more often. As I was looking for paper to use in this cabinet, I waded through dozens and dozens of internet pages. The hardest thing to judge was the size designs printed on the papers. As with grain and fabric prints, the paper needed to have print that was proportionally right for the door and cabinet. I think I did alright.
The two vertical dividers were an addition to the door after I assembled it dry. The panel just looked blah and too big. The dividers work, because they echo the kumiko pieces above them and also because they break the panel into smaller panels. This is where design really happens: In the small details. I wish I had foreseen that a single panel would look horsey, but at least I caught it in time.
One last thing before I get back to the first day of the college football season. (Hey, I grew up in the South.) Here's how I arrived at this kumiko pattern. I like kumiko, but I don't like it when the kumiko is the thing on display. I like to use it to create a pattern and give emphasis to the color, fabric, or paper behind the kumiko. So, I designed the kumiko to have big open spaces in the middle. This puts the cool Chiyogami paper on display, framing it.
At any rate, on to some random thoughts.
I love furniture design, and smart techniques. This blog is about both.