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Seeking Out Designs

When it comes to making your own furniture, new woodworkers and makers can find it difficult deciding on a piece that ticks everything you want by way of design. As you grow in your craft ability to become a maker there are many elements affecting designs. Go into a furniture store as a buyer and not a maker and there stands before you the epithet of the pluralist illusion: that multiplicity of options gives you choice and choice is what supposedly frees you to decide what you want in your home.

Of course it really doesn’t because you cannot combine the parts of the different designs into a single package. When you make your own you can do that. For us we have much to do to get to the point of making. Size, styling, joint choices, wood types and so much more. At the end of the day we face the reality that this piece must fit. It must fit the space allowed, be fit for purpose, suit our yearnings and then find the styling others in the family can live with too. Additionally, we must consider where and when furniture can double up to provide additional need, the need we all have for customised storage and so we add to the complexity. It’s all to do with the scheme we have in mind and making all of the components fit. I’ll be looking at these issues too.

Because we are making our own does not mean we can save money not paying for the bigger ticket items, on the contrary. Our wood might well cost the same or more than a finished bought piece. For us the big and often incalculable difference is manyfold. The journey has several spurs we can spin off down. Wood choice and going along to the timber supplier for most of us is well worth a few hours of pleasant diversion. I find it therapeutic to drive through country and town even for a few hours each way and then to spend a couple of hours deciding over the pieces to buy. It’s such a shame that timber suppliers fail to recognise how important this element alone is to us. Worth the VAT for sure I think.

All of this will be part of the upcoming journey as we develop the ideas for the houseful of furniture so plan for it in your journey. It becomes a buying statement when we choose our pieces knowing that the piece you make will become a part of your expression at home for years to come.

In recent years sideboards have seen something of a revival. I’m not altogether sure why we abandoned them because although they did take up valuable space, they also add order in good storage as well as a place to display whatever it is that’s important to us.

Back in the day, we saw furniture emerge from manufacturers who left us with replication of fancy pretentious pieces where the illusion was that we could own a classic Adam style piece or a Hepplewhite. For us today it’s no longer the case whereby we choose furniture from one style or every piece matching the same finish. It’s fine – the eclectic look enables us to mix and match or not. We will be looking into material options, knockdown joinery possibilities and then finishes we feel give protection but not at the expense of health.

Dark woods have been poopooed for a couple of decades now, taking out the richness for a more sympathetic but pale and often insipid looking Scandinavian look. I’m hoping we can change some of that without in-your-face garishness. Brass can be a pleasing embellishment or subtle contrast which for me has always offered the collaboration between wood and metal I look for. I also want some wrought ironwork if I can find the right blacksmithed alternative. Who knows. I think we can develop an eye-catching sideboard – I am even considering wood and paint together for one design.

My space is limited. The living room is smallish not big and especially by US standards so space then becomes a luxury. But that luxury also becomes the kind of challenge I think we should be taking on. Traditionally the sideboard was part of what we once called ‘the dining room suite’; four side chairs, two captains chairs, a dining table and a sideboard to ‘dress’ the table from and then serve from as platters of food arrived for the meal. Not sure if that fits the bill for today’s family needs at all. My thoughts are for my bay window area in the living room. Could a sideboard double as a desk or home office? I think so.

Sideboards do provide good storage aplenty without dominating the room. With a flip-top it could make a goodly sized desk to wrap Christmas gifts or take up the slack for party snacks. There’s also the option as I said for displaying stuff; plants, a vase of flowers, family photos or a table lamp. For entertaining, your sideboard takes on a wide range of optional ways for things like the TV stand too. All food for thought.

18 Comments

  1. Joe on 30 June 2019 at 8:06 pm

    Thanks Paul. All of this sounds exciting and I look forward to,learning more about design as it relates to what you will be doing in the MAster Class builds.

    • Neil Christie on 30 June 2019 at 8:24 pm

      The heavy brown furniture is disappearing fast as people dump it and the Chinese buy it for peanuts. Wealthy Chinese are trying to recreate Downton Abbey and want anything dark brown.
      One day we will wake up to find it’s all but gone. Then it will be fashionable and prices will soar.
      Maybe making quality pieces is a good investment? looks like an exciting time to be woodworking.

      • Andrea Kirkby on 10 July 2019 at 2:57 pm

        It’s really a pity people don’t just sand the stain off. With oak, you get a lovely rich-grained light wood underneath; I’ve sanded down an old buffet that we have, and it looks marvellous – it was nearly black before and sucked all the light out of our dining room. And the design is classic – exactly what people love, just without the very dark stain that was fashionable in the early 20c.

  2. jay gill on 30 June 2019 at 9:22 pm

    Just my opinion, perhaps the kitchen doesn’t need “fitted” cabinets. Some of the prettiest and most functional kitchens I’ve seen where assembled from side boards, China cabinets, regular cabinets etc..

    Also – good to see Hana again – how is she fairing?

    • Alan on 2 July 2019 at 5:29 pm

      ‘Pretty’ is all very well in a living room but a kitchen is a working area. In most houses in the UK a dedicated kitchen is a fairly small room – in fact, in some terraced houses I’ve lived in there was barely room to ‘swing a cat’. In these circumstances it’s important to make the most use of all the space so free-standing units with overhanging tops waste too much space and leave gaps for food waste to get into. When your kitchen is a walk-through room barely 2.5mx3.5m the use every space has to maximised.
      Personally, I’d love to see what Paul could come up with to produce a craftsman quality equivalent of the modern fitted unit.

  3. Tracy Sanders on 1 July 2019 at 6:06 am

    I love the alcove with the bay window. I think dark wood would go wonderfully against the light walls. I imagine the radiator could be an issue with sideboard placement. You have great light – we have a small greenhouse window in our kitchen that gives rise to ideas.

    Since you are mulling things over, how about built-in seating with storage in the alcove, a sideboard behind the seating, an interesting table, and captains chairs on the side opposite the sideboard and built-in seating? The sideboard could extend to the right, past the window a bit, which could double as your desk or home office, what with space at a premium. Plenty of room too for plants in the window, and pots and pans for meals, and storage behind closed doors and under the built-in seating.

    That was fun. Now to watch your continued enjoyment as seen through your online presence, which I suspect is what inspires, influences and energizes me and the other 349,999. Besides, woodworking help keeps me away from the television a bit, which is tough enough.

    Thanks, Paul.

  4. Steve Fitzpatrick on 1 July 2019 at 10:26 am

    I’m currently planning/building a corridor table/unit based on your latest console table series. I’m putting everything I’ve learned from your videos into practice, pinching ideas and techniques from several previous Masterclasses projects to produce what I need. It’s a challenge, but most satisfying to be moving on from the odd small box or stool to creating a piece of ‘proper’ furniture!

  5. Paul Masseth on 1 July 2019 at 10:52 am

    1-July-2019
    Brilliant blog Paul. It gives some “food for thought” that will take each of us in
    a different direction. For me, I always stay close to Shaker and / or Craftsman
    style. I never consider “built-in’s” because it limits the use of any given room as
    well as the ways or rooms a piece could be used in the future. One question I
    have is, what sort of polish / wax do you recommend? I have used brand name
    brands of furniture polish often found in the “big box” stores, [here in the U.S.]
    as well as some bee wax products. Which do you find best to use? Thank you for
    all that you share.

    • Lyle Hough on 1 July 2019 at 11:23 am

      Epithet of pluralist illusion? I do not understand the meaning of this.

      • Paul J on 2 July 2019 at 12:13 am

        I think you can understand it as ‘the epitome of the illusion of a multiplicity of choice’

  6. Loxmyth on 1 July 2019 at 1:14 pm

    For the most part, my furniture style is “It’s practical, relatively simple, and it’s a good example of what it is”; beyond that all is variable.

    The exception — well, the intended exception — is that I want a relatively formal library. Trying to nail down what that actually means has been an extended exercise in indecision. Even saying “period appropriate for the house” doesn’t help much, since the house dates from around 1890 which is a period when everything from simple stacked book boxes to barristers modules to wall-to-wall built-ins was current. I need to break through this…

    Which may turn into “Just build something and live with it for a decade, then decide whether it’s working.” Which would probably be some modular version for convenience, possibly with some added trim to make it look more permanent.

    • Brian A on 4 July 2019 at 5:08 am

      A Sellers fan opinion:
      A library contains books, and a way to access those books. If your goal is to have a book-like ambiance for resale reasons, then ‘book paneling’ or a few stacks of varnished books here and there are sufficient.

      If you really need to access the information in the books, then you will need something more modern, like a high capacity movable shelf system. Or, you could digitize all the books, and the room could simply contain an ergonomic computer screen from which to access them.

      If you are super rich, however, and can afford a period library reproduction room, then I would recommend a bronze and wood sliding ladder on rails. Whatever else is in the room won’t matter if you put that baby in. (Now that I mention that, I need to put in some bookshelves in my home office…oh, now I get it).

  7. Tom Angle on 1 July 2019 at 3:44 pm

    The first thing I thought of when I seen that big window was something to put plants on. But then both of use always had plants in the home (and growing up also).

    It is a nice window and does catch all the attention in the room. I would say a darker wood would look good and draw the eye away from the window and to the sideboard.

    This series is really exciting to me. I cannot wait for it to unfold.

  8. Nathan on 2 July 2019 at 2:00 am

    I have a sideboard built in the 60’s from a inner city furniture maker. It has book matched veneers on the doors, drawers and top which is lovely, I often find myself staring at it.
    Paid little for it and restored it to a lovely finish. But I’m keen to make my own. This is an anticipated build.

  9. John Meeley on 2 July 2019 at 9:39 pm

    Your keen interest, along with your pleasant easy tone of speech, often allows me to not only relax but to comprehend your direction of thought.
    It pleases me that you want to share and also allow the subscribers to have input.
    The growth in online presentation only gives me pause that the voice of Paul may become squelched over time.
    I thoroughly enjoy reading your thoughts, 30 years ago I would travel to apprentice under you.
    Thank you, Paul.

  10. Richard Harley on 5 July 2019 at 12:15 pm

    Dear Paul
    I wonder if you are considering a nest of tables as a project, a really useful piece of furniture. For years I searched for one to buy ready made but there was always something wrong with the designs available. As a result I always had in mind to copy a nest of three my parents had from the 1930’s – very plane, in oak and not at all bulky (legs 1 inch square, bottom rails 1x 1/2 inch, top rails 1 1/2 x1/2 inch and tops 1/2 inch thick. No expert, I was always daunted by the number of mortice and tenon joints (about 40), their relatively small size and the accuracy required. Discovering and watching your wonderful videos a year or so ago gave me the courage and the techniques to get going and I am really pleased with the outcome. The wood is all upcycled oak – anything I could lay hands on. Something like that could be a great project.

    Paul, thank you very much.

  11. Ken on 5 July 2019 at 8:17 pm

    I already find the various branches of the Paul Sellers online presence an inexhaustible encyclopaedia. It tells me everything I need to know (even about stuff I did not know that I needed to know about!)

    By the time the house projects are complete there is only one area I can see where information may be considered lacking by some folk. I am thinking about the kind of ‘woodwork’ lesson teaching how to make a cupboard from a sheet of particle board using pocket screws as the main ‘joinery technique’ (How to make furniture slightly less robust and slightly more ugly than a certain well-known Scandinavian company).

    I am sure anyone disappointed with the gap in techniques taught here will be able to find other gurus elsewhere. For my part, I hope to live to a healthy 120, so I can progress through this encyclopaedia of ‘proper woodwork’; I reckon I can live happily without the other stuff!

  12. Michael Ballinger on 6 July 2019 at 12:09 am

    Very interested to see the design development. There will always be personal preferences in regard to the over atheistic – however I think it’s important to note the context of the house. When designing the ability to work within the overarching style is key – or indeed choosing to change the style, but doing so knowingly. The doors alone give so much to work with. German architecture in Berlin is a wonderful example of complimentary design where modern design is juxtaposed with the traditional buildings with stunning results which really challenge conceptions yet they fit together. It’s the equivalent of choosing complimentary colours (opposite sides of the colour wheel, creating more contrast) verses analogous (beside eachother working in harmony). Both look well but it’s down to personal preference and therefore it’s subjective. That however is all form, function is the other half of the equation.

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