On backsides

March 30, 2008


Above: Back of the Crider Nightstand (2006)
Below: Back of the Double Bookcase (2004).

I can rarely bring myself to slap a piece of plywood into the back of a case piece and call it good enough.

bookcaseback.jpgI usually find myself building a frame-and-panel back that I expect will look as nice as the front. “What a waste of time,” some might say! “Why bother? It’s against the wall. Who’ll ever see it?”

Perhaps, but if I’m going put in as much time and care as I do on these pieces, it just feels wrong to cut corners on the back. Better to make the piece complete and well done all the way around.

And should you ever decide you want to position one of my cabinets in a way that its back will be visible, by all means do. In fact I hope you’ll be proud to.


passarotable1.jpgLimbert-style Side Table.

Chances are you are familiar with the work of Gustav Stickley, whose Mission Style furniture is iconic of the Arts & Crafts era. One of Stickley’s lesser-known contemporaries was one Charles Limbert, who worked in a similar style — a lot of dark oak, exposed joints and a stout overall appearance.

limbertdetail.jpgThis table is essentially a Limbert design, though it was adapted and reworked a bit by one of my woodworking mentors, Gary Rogowski. I first built this table in a class with Gary. In subsequent constructions I have made a few of my own refinements to the design. While I typically don’t make exact copies of Arts & Crafts pieces, I am happy to occasionally work in that style, and this table is always fun to build. We are also blessed, in Oregon, to have a native species of white oak tree that provides fine lumber for work like this.

The particular table shown in the top photo here and in the detail photo of the bookmatched top, made for a client in Eugene, is built from a 306-year-old Oregon white oak that grew near Jefferson, Ore. tabletop.jpgIt blew down in a storm and was salvaged by a small mill operator, who saved it from becoming firewood. I was lucky to be able to buy some of this wood and help give part of that old tree a second life.

You can commission this table in Oregon white oak for $500. It also could be made oval rather than round, or from other types of wood. Get in touch, and we’ll talk.

21 inches diameter x 24 tall

(Photos by George Filgate and Weston Becker)

bookcase.jpgDouble Bookcase.

This piece was inspired by the work of the Arts & Crafts-era architects and furniture designers Charles and Henry Greene. But I hope that’s not obvious, even to those who know their work well. bookcasehalf.jpgYou will find plenty of furniture builders today who make reproductions of the Greene brothers’ work, or who make heavy use their favorite motifs so that the finished product is clearly “Greene and Greene.” I was after something more intangible.

I had been astonished by a chair that the brothers are famous for. It was built for the Blacker House in Los Angeles. It is full of detail, but the many details all work together. I stumbled upon a word once – concinnity – which means a harmonious blending of many different parts. The Greenes had achieved concinnity with the Blacker chair. So I wanted to design a piece with a number of different details and motifs that held together in the same way – without borrowing any of the chair’s exact motifs.

I’m not going to claim I’ve created anything close to the Blacker Chair, but I was pleased with the outcome. This version is made from mahogany with ebony accents (probably the most direct reference to the Greene brothers, as these were favorite materials of theirs). I rarely work in mahogany anymore. I prefer to work with lumber that is cut closer home. That makes it easier to know exactly where the tree came from and how responsibly it was logged.

bookcaseback.jpgThis piece also has maple panels in the back. (I believe in doing a nice job on the backs of cabinets, by the way.)

The open area between the two bookcases is to display a tall vase or small sculpture. Other versions of this cabinet could be modified so the center area includes shelves or cubby holes, depending on what you would like to display. It also could be fitted with a combination of drawers and display shelves.

The cost to commission a similar piece is about $2,500, depending on the type of wood and any changes to the center area.

49 inches long x 29 high x 13 deep

(Photos by George Filgate)


coopdetail3.jpgWall cabinet #1.

This cabinet is inspired by the work of a cabinetmaker named James Krenov. In woodworking circles he is legendary, not only for his craftsmanship but for his writings and philosophy about the craft.

Rather than design a piece of furniture and then go buy wood to build it, he would find a piece of wood that appealed to him and let an idea for a cabinet emerge from what he saw in that particular piece of wood – from the figure, the color. Sometimes a board would sit around his shop for years before he decided what to do with it. This is the converse of how most furniture is designed and built. And his method, of course, doesn’t work at all when something is designed for mass production. Maybe that’s why this approach appeals to me so much.

This cabinet, meant to hang on the wall, happened in this Krenov way. I had the wood left over from another project. One day, sorting through a stack of such wood, what we call “offcuts,” I came upon this board of maple with a streak of brown color through it. A picture of this cabinet popped into my head immediately. Rarely does design happen so magically, but it is exciting when it does. This is a small cabinet, almost more ornamental than practical, but it’s about the right size to stash a favorite bottle of scotch, say.

This piece, of course, cannot be duplicated exactly, but I have many pieces of wood from which I can build similar cabinets. Cost for such a piece is about $300.

16 inches tall x 5 inches wide x 6 inches deep

(Photos by Gary Rogowski and Bob Passaro)



The Writing Desk.

This small desk was inspired by the work of such 17th century English furniture makers as Thomas Sheraton and George Hepplewhite. It is what might have been referred to in those days as a lady’s writing desk. These days it ends up being more of a laptop desk. The furniture ofdeskdetail.jpg the 17th century usually was heavily ornamented, however. I wanted to strip away most of the carving and inlay that was used then to give the desk a more contemporary feel. In the end you get something not unlike what the Shakers built. But there is some accenting in Bolivian rosewood, banding around the legs near the floor and a pencil rail that arches along the back of the top. Looking back on this desk, several years later, I think I might have gone too far in removing ornamentation. I think the basic form would be well suited to a bit more inlay and accent, which I could easily add to a desk like this, if you prefer.deskdoves.jpg The entire desk is curved, the top forming a mild crescent shape. The rails and the front of the drawer are curved as well. This version is made of cherry.

44 inches long x 30 high x 20 deep

The cost to commission a similar desk, depending on the type of wood, is about $1,500.

(Photos by George Filgate)