Posts Tagged ‘furniture’

A recent customer wrote to me:

I love your style, a perfect combination of texture, color, and form, that looks and feels gently worn, yet alive.

“Gently worn, yet alive” is exactly what I’m going for. My birds tell a story. The first story in the story of my experience with the bird. The second story is what I put into the bird through form, color and texture. The third story is the story revealed to the viewer what they hold a bird or whale or goat in their hand.

I study color and texture an experiment in ways to convey them in my work. The following pieces are from my collection of stuff and are textures that I cherish and work towards re-creating. These were created by the master of distressed and interesting surfaces — Time.

Tfullsizeoutput_8a7his is the tool box that I take to demonstrations. I bought it for the finish. It’s a simple well worn homemade plywood box with steel hasps and corners. It had a disintegrating wet formed leather handle that I recovered.

I love the pale green alligatored paint with subtle white splatter. Bare wood The circle is from my own shellac can. The single light blue drop is mine as well.

fullsizeoutput_8a8This is another side of the same box. I stenciled “50 Little Birds” across the side. One this side there are two layers of bright yellow-green paint. The top coat has alligatored into fine grains. The paint is worn to wood following the grain of the plywood veneer. The hardware is painted as well.
This is the top of the wooden stool that I sit on at my bench. It was left behind when a co-worker left the school where I was teaching. He always knew that I fullsizeoutput_8a9liked it and I suspect it was left on purpose.

It was once painted red over white and then alligatored. Decades of rear ends have worn much of it to bare wood that has been rubbed smooth. It has some splatter — black spot can be seen here.

fullsizeoutput_8a6This is one of the many white cedar lobster bouys that I picked up as a kid. Lobster bouys were so much more substantial and interesting when they were made of wood. These were made from massive blocks of wood and were turned on a lathe. This wasn’t fancy work and the gouge marks are still visible.

This bouy was primed in orange — often whatever house paint that could be aquired. The red with a green stripe indicate which fisherman owned the bouy. An identical one was displayed on the boat. I love these three colors together. I also love that the red exposed beneath the failing green paint has not faded. It’s also important to note that most of the red paint is missing from the surfaces that would make the most contact.


Years ago i got a bargain on a huge poplar dresser and cabinet. It’s almost 5′ tall and 6′ long. It contain 8 drawers (Three of which are larger than most dressers) and a hanging locker. It was so large that we had to remove the cap on my full sized pickup to load it.

It was to be put in my (then) upstairs studio — but it could not negotiate the turn in the stairs. It now sits in our living room with the TV atop.

It’s been painting — at least — three times. It has a few stories to tell and I’ve can’t make sense of them.

IMG_0810Looking at the door, It is clear that the green paint is under the grained red paint. This is counter to what would be expected. In general faux grained finishes pre-date “institutional” green. The hardware is painted with both colors indicating that there is — probably — at least another color (the original color) underneath.

Another mystery is the row of orange dots under each bin pull/drawer pull. They were painted when the piece was “institutional” green.

These are the finishes that I seek out. These are the finishes that I collect. These are the finishes I strive to re-create.

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The current edition of American Craft Magazine (December 2012-January 2013) features and article reflecting upon Wendell Castle as he turns 80 years old. He has been challenging furniture design conceptions for over fifty years. I first learned of his career thirty years ago form the (then black and white) pages of Fine Woodworking.

Somehow I missed his Ten Adopted Rules of Thumb until now. These are the kinds of words I wish I had been wise enough to write. Though I’ve never articulated list such as this, I do live by many of these words.

1. If you are in love with an idea, you are no judge of its beauty or value.
2. It is difficult to see the whole picture when you are inside the frame.
3. After learning the tricks of the trade, don’t think you know the trade.
4. We see and apprehend what we already know.
5. The dog that stays on the porch will find no bones.
6. Never state a problem to yourself in the terms it was brought to you.
7. If it’s offbeat or surprising then it’s probably useful.
8. If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it.
9. Don’t get too serious.
10. If you hit the bullseye everytime, then the target is probably too near.

Wendell recently updated these. I will share those soon.

See his work here.

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Greg Adams Willow – Now Blogging!

My buddy, Greg Adams, has joined the 21st Century and is blogging about his beautiful work. I wrote a bit about him a while back. Check out Greg’s blog here.

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This is the first installment of a piece that I introduce here about my  thoughts, knowledge and experiences with primitive handmade reproduction furniture.

This cupboard is available from Etsy shop JosephSpinaleFurn.

When I met my wife, our love for period decoration and architecture was one of the things that brought us together. She had just purchased a nice step back cupboard (from a small specialty furniture shop that I would eventually design and build for). It was well designed, built and finished. We began exploring antique shops and shows together and she was surprised to find that she could have purchased an authentic original cupboard for the same price.

Educate yourself with the antiques market. Learn to identify authentic pieces. Most importantly, learn what to look for. We once bought a dining room table. A year or two after it came home the feet started to fall apart. We hadn’t noticed that two of the feet were dog-chewed and had been repaired with wood filler and expertly finished. Antiques generally gain value over time.  Most reproductions do not.

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I’ve built a lot of period stuff over the last three decades including furniture, cabinets, accessories, art,  musical instruments, buildings and even a few boats.

My latest projects have focused on Pennsylvania Dutch (or German) inspired small carved birds.  In looking for possible markets for these birds I’ve looked back at my earlier work designing and building early American furniture.  In doing so I (re?)discovered the market for primitive craft and decor.

Over the last weekend I’ve explored websites (I used to go through stacks of Early American Life) looking for trends that may connect to my work.

When I was building country federal style (era?) furniture in the late 1980s and early 1990s I was shocked with the crap that people would purchase and covet.  It seems this trend continues.

I believe that there are two reasons that this is true.  First, the good pieces are generally significantly more expensive than the junk.  Second,  many folks don’t know the difference.

Though the first is generally true — good pieces can cost more — it’s not always the case.

During this time I found a niche building cherry topped painted dining tables with tapered legs.  I hand picked beautiful local curly cherry for the tops.  I used a multi-staged finish technique that brought out the depth of the grain.  All finishes were durable, beautiful and authentic.  Most parts were hand planed and displayed authentic tool marks.  Joints were pegged.  Breadboard tale ends utilized joinery techniques that allowed for wood movement, yet looked like they should.

They sure were pretty.  I know that they look even better with 20+ years of age and often wonder where they are.

These tables cost half of a similar sized and styled table at an area high-end furniture store.

Time and again consumers went to the high-end store for the product.  They bought metal fastened tables with woods of unknown origins.  Finishes were modern, hard and sprayed.  There were no tool marks.  Worse, the pieces lacked the  smell and feel of linseed oil and wax.

They bought these tables because they like to brag about shopping at this furniture store and because there was a notion (within this market) that store bought was better than home made.

They didn’t know  the difference.

I’m a career educator.  I live to teach.  Let me share a few of my thoughts about what is important in choosing, building, designing or purchasing reproduction pieces.

My opinions are mine.  I am not judging your pieces or your taste.  I’ve made mistakes and learned from them all.  I hope this process continues.

Over the next few weeks I will be adding chapters to this introduction exploring themes of design, use and construction within the primitive reproduction market.  I invite you to share your own views and opnions.

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We could argue all afternoon about the term folk art and it implications.  We’ve all seen cast plastic (resin) “folk art”  displayed at gift shops, “galleries” and such.

Many years ago I was designing and building traditional furniture (I would still be doing this if my shop were larger than a dininig room table).  I developed a great deal of respect for David T. Smith in Warren, Ohio.  I even made a trip to his shop and spent a few minutes talking.  His work is consistent, high quality and honest.

On his website he offers the following graphic to display in home, shop or showroom.

Thoughts?  I’d love to hear them.

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