Thursday, June 30, 2011

One Year Blogiversary

Today marks the 1st anniversary of starting this blog.

After one year and 213 posts (Wow, has it been that many?) it's time to declare: Happy Anniversary to "Musings of a Furniture Maker"!

In addition to this blog I have also made a few other changes in the past year with respect to my marketing efforts via social media. I have also joined Linkedin, Custommade and Twitter, and started a Facebook fan page for Wiggers Custom Furniture Ltd. Recently I have also started a parallel blog at Wordpress.

If I've learned anything in the past year regarding blogging and social media, it's that the efforts involved can be very time consuming. While my work days are typically spent dealing with the nuts and bolts of running a custom furniture business, my evenings now seem to be focussed on blogging and digital marketing.

My biggest motivator for making these efforts has been to market my work more effectively. Markets today are transforming rapidly, and in recent years it has become painfully apparent that many of the old ways of doing business are obsolete and falling to the wayside. Traditional "mortar and bricks" showrooms have seen sales declines that have literally fallen off a cliff. Virtual showrooms and other forms of marketing via social media, meanwhile, have generated results that I never could have foreseen as recently as 5 years ago.

Is all of this extra effort paying off? At this stage it's difficult to tell, but I can say that my shop is busier now than it was at this time last year - so something must be working.

Probably the biggest thing I've learned is that although social media can be an effective tool for marketing it is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to generating sales. If I could somehow manage to create a Facebook fan page that had 1,000,000 fans, for example - so what? From a business standpoint what good is it to have a million fans if not one of them is doing a lick of business with you?

When it comes to transacting actual business it seems that the paradigm is fundamentally no different than it has ever been: namely delivering quality and service to your customer. Yes, social media has changed the means by which we can now REACH our customers, but the basics of quality and service still rule.

In addition to celebrating the first anniversary of this blog tonight, there is one other anniversary taking place in my world today. Namely, it was exactly 28 years ago tonight that my wife and I went out on our first date.

And, so, while I am now sipping a Guinness and tapping out the 213th post to my "Musings of a Furniture Maker" blog, it was 28 years ago tonight that I was sitting in a cinema with my date - watching "War Games"; starring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy.

Happy 28th first date anniversary to Teresa, and Happy 1st blog post anniversary to "Musings of a Furniture Maker" !

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In Memory of My Sister-in-Law, Wendy Forbes

Two years ago today my sister-in-law Wendy Forbes passed away. A serendipitous moment that took place shortly after her funeral ended up inspiring me to write a small article in her memory.

At first this was only intended to be shared with family and friends, but before long the story began to take on a life of its own as it got passed along to friends of friends, colleagues of Wendy etc. Before long it was also published in a local newspaper. This was truly a testament to how many people in the community were touched by Wendy's life, and by her passing.

Now, on the second anniversary of her death, I am reposting the story again here.

Rest in peace, Wendy. The memory of you is still very much alive, and your beloved granddaughter Ashleigh is growing up wonderfully!

My sister-in-law Wendy Forbes passed away this week, and I am writing this to share an amazing serendipity that happened last night which relates directly to her.

I've known Wendy for almost as long as I've known my wife Teresa, which is 26 years. Wendy was married to Teresa's oldest brother Mike, and given that Teresa has nine brothers and sisters, Wendy became somewhat of a matriarch early on to the Forbes family -- especially to the youngest siblings.

Wendy was blonde and petite and a restless bundle of energy -- with a disposition very much akin to the Energizer Bunny. She was always busy doing something, usually involving the organization of various family events. Whether it was Thanksgiving, Christmas dinners, Easter, weddings, birthdays, family picnics, parties or any other excuse for people to gather, you could always count on Wendy to be immersed in the thick of the workload to get things done and make sure everyone was having a good time.

Wendy also had more than her share of sadness and tragedy in life, including the passing of her dear mother-in-law Betty in 1995; followed by her own mother passing away unexpectedly shortly thereafter; the breakup of her marriage to Mike; meeting, then losing (to cancer) the love of her life Paul Farquharson a few years ago; plus raising her own children as a single mom while holding a full-time job and caring for a bed-ridden father who was himself injured in a car accident. Although Wendy's challenges would have crushed most lesser beings with greater ease, Wendy bravely continued onward as if undaunted.

Through it all, one of her greatest joys was dancing and one song in particular stood out amongst all others: namely Rasputin by the band Boney M.

Regardless of where you were, once you heard that song begin to play all you had to do was look to the dance floor and you knew you would find Wendy dancing her Cossack dance in tune with the music. Invariably it became Wendy with the floor to herself, surrounded by friends and loved ones clapping in tune to the music while Wendy danced. There were times where her ability to dance and high kick (in heels, no less) would defy gravity.

Last year, Wendy was overjoyed to become a grandmother for the first time, to a baby girl named Ashleigh. Not long afterwards, a routine doctor's visit to check out an annoying cough resulted in a shocking diagnosis: Wendy had lung cancer. Even worse, the particular cancer Wendy was diagnosed with was especially aggressive with almost zero hope for recovery. Chemotherapy would buy time, but not a cure.

Wendy decided to undergo the treatments because she resolved herself to being on hand to witness her granddaughter's first birthday. And while Wendy's condition rapidly deteriorated in recent months, she did manage to achieve her goal. Then last Monday, less than a week later, Wendy passed away peacefully in her sleep. While the news was expected and somewhat inevitable, it still came as a shock. The remainder of the week became a flurry of activity to make the necessary phone calls, finalize arrangements, attend visitations and finally, on Thursday, lay Wendy to rest.

True to Wendy's organized and giving nature, she had already made arrangements to host a reception at her favourite restaurant following the funeral ceremony. She also made sure that a round of drinks on her was taken care of at the reception. Wendy was true to being Wendy, even after she was gone.

Then last night, a group of us ended up attending a charity fundraising dinner/dance to raise money in support of Hearth Place, a local organization committed to supporting cancer patients. While plans to attend this event had been made months in advance, it just happened to take place a mere two days after we buried Wendy. In some way, all of us were relieved to go, because most of us were drained at the week's events and were happy to have an evening where someone else was looking after meals, cleaning up, etc.

The weather was a perfectly warm summer's evening, and the venue of an empty hangar at the local municipal airport could not have been better. The hangar doors were wide open, which made the space feel like a giant gazebo. A vintage Beaver Seaplane was parked outside, along with a number of vintage 1970s muscle cars -- in keeping with the retro 1970s theme of the evening.

There were raffles and live auctions planned for the evening, and around the perimeter of the space were countless tables holding items for Silent Auction. There were all the usual goods such as gift certificates, clothing etc., and I had my eye of a pair of field-level Toronto Blue Jays tickets, as well as a stainless steel Budweiser beer cooler.

As Teresa and I walked around the tables we came upon an anonymous donation of a hand-knit afghan, on top of which sat a white stuffed Teddy bear. Attached to the bear was a tag that read: "The Wendy Bear." The inside of the tag read as follows:

"The Wendy Bear is being sold in memory of Wendy Sittler -- the very special late wife of hockey legend Darryl Sittler ... The money raised from the sale of The Wendy Bear will go towards helping terminally-ill patients spend time at home with their loved ones. Because Wendy was such a kind, caring and generous individual, we dedicate this bear in her memory."

Teresa and I looked at each other and we both had goosebumps. Not only did this bear share the same name as our Wendy, but Darryl Sittler was one of her heroes as captain of her beloved Toronto Maple Leafs. In addition, the description of Wendy Sittler was equally applicable to "our" Wendy. Teresa wasted no time in grabbing the pen to place the opening bid on this bear.

As the evening progressed, Teresa made an effort to keeps tabs on how the bids were progressing. While she told me she didn't really care if she won it or not, I knew what she really meant was that she wanted the bear. And, so, I abandoned my bids for the tickets and cooler and focussed on winning the bear. Despite a flurry of activity near the end of the evening, we ended up with the winning bid.

After paying for this item, I brought the bear and afghan back to the table and Teresa was clearly overjoyed. She wrapped herself in the afghan while others in our group took turns checking out the stuffed bear.

And then, it happened. Whatever song had been playing came to a close, and the familiar drum riff that opened Rasputin began to play. All of us looked at each other with absolute shock, with one saying "O.M.G., I cannot believe this is happening." Needless to say with The Wendy Bear in our hands, and Rasputin beginning to play, there was no question we all had to get up to dance. And, yes, even I, who in 26 years had never danced once with our Wendy while she was alive (and for good reason, since I cannot dance,) I too got up to dance. Our whole table was on the floor.

We danced in a circle and the girls took turns dancing with The Wendy Bear -- invariably kicking this stuffed bear's legs high the way our Wendy used to do. My brother-in-law John took photos, and if he's reading this, I'll remind him that there are "Terms of Use" policies that prohibit him from publishing photos of me dancing, due to the offensive nature of such material.

Afterwards everyone talked about how "weird" it was for such a coincidence to happen, and there was speculation that one of us requested for the song to be played. All of us swore emphatically that this was not the case. The song just "happened", seemingly by chance.

While some might dismiss this as a mere coincidence, my feeling is that on some level, this was Wendy's way of saying good-bye. And rather than going out on a sad note, she did so by finding a way to express herself in the final act of dancing to the song that gave her the greatest joy.

To the anonymous donor of the knit afghan and The Wendy Bear, I would like to say thank you for your kind heart and warm generosity. Your efforts last night are measured in ways far greater than the dollars you raised for a worthy cause. You helped give closure to a number of people by enabling us to say good-bye to the tragic loss of a loved one in the best way possible.

And to Wendy, I say goodbye and we love you. While the pain of your passing may eventually be healed with time, you can never be replaced. You will be missed and always be dear to our hearts.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Storage Crates for Preserving Jars

A few years ago my wife started putting some serious effort into maintaining an organic garden and preserving many of the vegetables we harvest from there. Every year our biggest challenge is keeping the local groundhogs and rabbits from using this garden as a personal buffet.

While there is no shortage of fresh vegetables to be enjoyed during the summer months, we've come to realize that it's also good to preserve some of the bounty that we don't eat for the wintertime.

This has resulted in the accumulation of many boxes of preserving jars in recent years, and as I soon discovered these things become quite heavy and cumbersome once the jars are filled with preserves. To properly store and organize these boxes I ended up designing and making some simple plywood stacking crates.

About a week ago my wife posted pictures of these crates at a site called, and given the positive feedback these things received I've decided to create a blog post to explain in detail how they are made.

The drawing above shows in detail the cutlist of materials, plus how to assemble these boxes. The example shown was designed to hold a case of 12 x 1 litre (approximately 1 quart) jars. I would urge anyone who is thinking of making these for themselves to BUY THEIR CASES OF JARS FIRST, before making the crates - the reason being that there are no consistent sizes of jars and/or cardboard boxes for holding the jars, even from the same manufacturer. That said, the sizes provided should be adjusted to the ACTUAL ones you get.

To make crates for other jar sizes please adjust this drawing accordingly.

In this instance (for the case of 12 x 1 litre jars) the exterior dimensions of the cardboard box is 15-3/4" long by 11-5/8" wide by 7-1/8" high. On the length I added 1-5/8" to the interior size to allow for 1/8" of clearance plus 2 thicknesses of 3/4" styrofoam at each end. (The styrofoam inserts will be explained later). On the interior width an allowance of 1/8" for clearance was made, while on the height I allowed a full 1" of clearance to allow for clearance of Skid Rails (that lock the crates to one another when they're stacked), plus allow for the cardboard lids to be folded closed without putting any pressure onto the tops of the sealed jars in the process.

The crates are constructed out of 3/8" thick standard Fir or Spruce plywood sheeting, which is available at almost any building supply store.

Please note that there are no consistent thicknesses to plywood sheeting either, so the cutlist provided (which is based on the assumption of 3/8" material thicknesses) may need to be adjusted for compensate for thickness variations in the actual material you use.

The cutlist is shown in the upper right corner of the attached drawing. Because of how thin the plywood material is it is not practical to try screwing these crates together. I used a wood glue called Titebond 3 to glue the ends to the sides, with fine brad nails (staples can also be used) to hold the pieces together while the glue sets up.

The bottom was then attached using glue and brad nails, and the corners were then braced with Vertical Cleats that were glued and brad nailed over the butt joints as shown. After the boxes were assembled a pair of Skid Rails were attached to the underside of the bottoms to allow the crates to nest securely on top of one another. The Skid Rails should be carefully sized and positioned so that the crates can get stacked evenly on top of each other, without binding.

Before assembling the ends to the sides I machined a pair of cutouts into the ends that would function as handles. For fun I used an inverted pyramid shape cut out with a router. At each end of the cardboard box (between the box and the plywood end of the crate) I inserted a 3/4" thick piece of styrofoam with a "V" shaped cutout to allow clearance for fingers when reaching in and out.

Hopefully this information is helpful to anyone wishing to make these for themselves.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Kidney Shaped Desk - The Story Behind Its Creation

In 2002 I was experimenting with ideas that would ultimately manifest as the Kidney Shaped Desk. My initial concept was an organic form that would incorporate a variety of green and holistic elements into the design. Given that Feng Shui principles consider a kidney shape to be most auspicious for use as a desk, I used this as my starting point.

During a visit to Miami in April of that year I floated the idea to Amelia Hyde and Monroe Sherman, who were partners in a showroom called Carriage House which was then representing my work in South Florida. Amy seemed quite receptive to the idea, which was no surprise given her interest in spiritual philosophies such as Tao and Zen Buddhism.

About a week after my return Amy called and asked me to explain more about the Ayurveda I was talking about during my visit. I didn't have a clue what she was referring to and told her I could barely pronounce the word, let alone spell it. But for some reason Amy insisted that I had talked at length about Ayurveda and as she described what it was about she mentioned the connection of Ayurveda to yoga, and the connection of yoga to a famous supermodel and yoga practitioner by the name of Christy Turlington.

As soon as she mentioned Christy's name I heard my fax line ring. It was an incoming fax from New York, from a furniture designer by the name of Vladimir Kagan. He was inviting me to a special party being held later that month. The invitation was for an event being hosted by Ralph Pucci in his Manhattan loft, which would be a joint unveiling of Vladimir Kagan's furniture pieces alongside a new line of yoga inspired clothing by Christy Turlington.

Because of this unusual coincidence I decided to trust my intuition and immediately decided to accept. Since the party coincided with a major New York design show called the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) that I was planning to attend anyway, the logistics worked out perfectly.

After arriving at the designated address in lower Manhattan I stepped out of the cab thinking I was in the wrong location. I had been told that Pucci's loft was magnificent, but the neighbourhood I was standing in was anything but. Nevertheless a discrete elevator ride to the loft soon confirmed that I was at the proper venue.

As soon as the elevator doors opened I was greeted with a palpable buzz of energy and excitment. Scattered throughout the 15,000 sq. ft. minimalist loft were countless bisque mannequins that were essentially full-scale reproductions of Christy Turlington herself. These mannequins were shown in a variety of different yoga poses and, naturally, each was also attired in various examples of Christy's new clothing collection, called Nuala.

At the far end of the loft Vladimir Kagan was holding court amongst examples of his classic furniture collection. As soon as Vladimir saw me walk in he called me over and gave a big hug. It was wonderful to be greeted in this manner by such a design legend, because I had long admired his work.

When I was younger I used to enjoy reading various design publications to see examples of the most beautiful and exquisite furniture pieces ever made. A Rosewood desk by Vladimir Kagan had long been one of my favorites, and never could I have imagined at the time that one day I would be working with this icon to build some of his actual furniture.

As I walked around the loft and mingled with other guests I began to ponder the coincidence of being invited to this party. At one point I did get introduced to Christy, and did have a brief conversation with her. While our discussion did not provide any particular answer or overt moment of enlightenment for me, I was definitely struck by Christy's open sincerity and genuineness. She is one of the very few people I have ever met who have an aura of presence that absolutely radiates positive energy.

By the end of the evening I left party pondering the enigma of attending an event that displayed beautiful, sculptural furniture alongside an ancient holistic principle such as yoga. When considering Ayurveda as the thread connecting the two, how would it be possible to merge them together as one?

The answer, I soon discovered, lay with someone I already knew.

Diana Beresford-Kroeger is an award winning author, independent scientist and passionate environmentalist living near Ottawa, Canada. On a secluded rural property shared with her husband Christian, Diana has spent many years and considerable effort researching and documenting the interconnected relationships that exist between trees and forests, and the wildlife that abounds within.

She is highly regarding for her illuminating and seminal work, and amongst her many admirers are colleagues such as E.O. Wilson of Harvard. In the 1960s Wilson effectively became the founding grandfather of the global environmental movement when he first coined the phrase "bio-diversity".

I first learned about Diana in 1999 when I read a newspaper article describing her "Millenium Project". The vision of this project was to share and distribute seeds from Diana's collection of rare and endangered tree species. By doing this she hoped to establish new living examples of genetic strains that were at risk of becoming extinct.

In addition, by distributing these seeds widely it was also hoped that the resulting seedlings would become isolated pockets of bio-diversity, as well as a form of insurance policy in case disease, blight or other disaster happened to wipe out the sentinel trees that provided the original genetic material. Since in some cases there were only singular examples of these rare trees known to exist, this was a very valid and noble ambition.

Her "Millenium Project" sounded brilliant, and I contacted her to learn how I could participate. At the time I was in the planning stages of building a new shop, and the notion of introducing rare and unusual trees to the property seemed like a perfect one. Diana helped develop a bioplan for what I was intending to create, and over time our discussions evolved into an ever expanding exchange of ideas.

After my return from New York I continued to wrestle with the idea of how to meld holistic Ayurvedic principles with sculpture furniture design. Simultaneously I was talking with Diana about her latest book manuscript, entitled "Arboretum America". She was having great difficulty getting this book published, and in an effort to get the word out she went to great lengths describing what the book was intending to say.

I listened with great interest as Diana explained the book, and how each of the 20 tree species described within were presented by way of their biological eco-function within the larger global garden. My interest was piqued further as Diana explained how each tree had a particular holistic attribute, or "gift".

Apparently much of the information collected by Diana had originally come from Native American elders and healers. Her desire to document this traditional wisdom was driven by the fact that many of these elders were quite old, and once they died they would take their knowledge with them to the grave. Considering that most indigenous cultures base their information sharing and retention on oral tradition -with very little being written down - it was quite apparent that once this knowledge was lost it would be lost forever.

Eager to help Diana get her book published I invited her to an informal gathering that was to take place in Ottawa later that year, in conjunction with an FSC Canada board meeting being held there. Given that the event would be filled almost exclusively with people interested in protecting the forest, I felt certain that something beneficial for Diana would unfold.

On Saturday October 19th a number of us were gathered at the home of one of the Board members, who happened to live nearby. Diana and her husband Christian were in attendance as well, but before long it appeared that the evening would not unfold as hoped for.

After a day of intensive Board meetings most people were simply looking to unwind. Diana, on the other hand, was quietly eager to network and find means of clearing hurdles to her book. But aside from some polite discussion and general exchange of ideas no one was expressing any serious interest in her research. I felt disappointed that they may have wasted their time coming here.
At one point, however, one of the Board members was casually flipping through the manuscript when something caught her eye. In describing the medicine of a tree called Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), Diana had pointed out that this tree's active molecules (known scientifically as ellagitannins) were currently at the leading edge of ongoing research into finding a cure for cancer. Apparently Native American medicine women had discovered through many years of trial, error and observation that this tree's natural properties were helpful in preventing disease.

Within minutes several women were tightly huddled around the book, reading with intense fascination. I glanced over to where Diana and Christian were sitting, and exchanged a smile. Not only had a catalyst been found to suddenly pique interest in the manuscript but I too had discovered, by default, the vehicle for melding Ayurvedic principles with sculptural furniture design.

Why not create furniture that incorporated discrete inlays of holistic woods, and let these examples become a tangible and tactile means of communicating the same message that Diana was trying to say on paper?

In the months that followed my ideas surrounding this concept continued to swirl in my mind. Ultimately they became manifest in a design called the Kidney Shaped Desk. Using careful mathematics and sacred geometric proportions based on Feng Shui and Vastu Shastra principles, this desk was also designed to utilize discrete inlays of wood that were ultimately suited to their particular holistic attributes.

For example, special cuttings of Black Walnut would be used to make finger pulls on the underside of drawers. In this way the act of opening the drawers would allow the active molecules of the wood to come into contact with one's skin, where the molecules could be naturally absorbed into the pores. Inside the pencil drawer woods such as Hawthorn and Sassafras would be incorporated for their natural holistic and aroma-therapeutic properties. The scents of these woods would accumulate naturally inside the drawer while it was closed - and released each time the drawer was opened.

For the time that her manuscript remained unpublished, Diana asked me to sit on the information. Her concern was that if the knowledge was shared too early it might scuttle publication of the book. Out of respect, I complied. In the meantime the hiatus gave me ample opportunity to tweak and fine tune the proportions of the desk until everything was perfect.

It wasn't until the following year that Diana called to say that University of Michigan Press had committed to publishing her book. At this stage she also gave me the green light to proceed with the desk, and help communicate the medicinal knowledge of the trees.

"It's time", she said.

Although eager to see this design manifest into reality, I was in no financial position to undertake the building of a prototype simply because it seemed like a great idea. Unless a buyer could be found who would commit to buying the finished piece before it was made, this design would have to be shelved indefinitely.

Little did I know that within days a buyer would end up appearing, in the form of a design visionary by the name of Todd Marckese.

I first met Todd while exhibiting at the Chicago Design Show in 1998. At the time he was principal of Marckese Design Studio in Orlando, Florida. His client list was prestigious and his work was recognised in many design publications including Architectural Digest, Florida Design and Showboats International.

Todd was exploring the idea of branding his own furniture collection, and he asked if I might be interested in doing product development and prototyping with him. We exchanged business cards, but it would be almost 5 years before we spoke again.

When he called in the summer of 2003, Todd asked if I remembered our conversation in Chicago. I did, largely because of the unusual business card he left behind. Measuring just over 2 inches square this card stuck out both literally and figuratively. Todd laughed at my observation, pointing out that it was necessary to be different in order to be remembered.

Todd went on to say that he was working on an upscale residence and the project required many unique pieces of custom furniture design. One of the pieces he was looking for was a desk, but it came with the proviso that his clients had strong holistic inclinations and, therefore, a conventional desk would not work.

As he described the parameters of the project my interest level piqued because it seemed the Kidney Shaped Desk design I had been tweaking for almost a year would meet the specifications perfectly. I faxed him the drawings and explained in detail the holistic attributes of the various woods I was intending to use as inlay.

After presenting the proposal to his clients, they fell in love with the idea and ended up commissioning the desk. The resulting piece measured 75" x 35" x 31-3/4" overall height.

The main structure was crafted from FSC certified ply, and laminated with Macassar Ebony veneer. The inset of black Tuscany leather was bordered with a radiating grain pattern of wood that was cut to allow it to cascade like a waterfall down the vertical sides of the apron. The plinths on the legs were satin stainless steel.

Inset into the back of the desk were 3 drawers crafted from solid cherry. These drawers were mounted to the Macassar drawer fronts my means of sliding dovetail construction.

Inside the pencil drawer was a pair of trays made of a wood called Sassafras (Sassafras albidum). Sassafras carries within it an oil based complex of compounds that are naturally saturated within the wood itself - both as a wax and as oil. Through handling and the bumping action of contents (i.e. pencils and pens) rolling against the fibers of this wood, the oils contained within the Sassafras are released as an aerosol each time the tray is opened and exposed to air.

The oil of the Sassafras is related to Myrrh, one of the legendary woods of the ancient world. Sassafras is also the wood used for spiritual cleansing by many tribes of North American indigenous peoples, in the traditional sweat lodge ceremony.

Centered between the trays is a small storage compartment crafted from a block of rare wood known as Hawthorn (Crataegus). Hawthorn is a traditional healing wood that has been used in medicinal practice for a considerable period of time. It was well known to the ancient Greek herbalists, and records indicate that it has been used in Ayurvedic medicine dating back almost 5,000 years.

Hawthorn is an aroma-therapeutic healing wood since it produces an aerosol of complex compounds - all of which are medicinal. The primary benefit of the aroma-therapeutic properties of the Hawthorn is to help alleviate stress and strengthen the heart. According to Diana Beresford-Kroeger this aerosol is considered to be a tonic to the human body, since it helps to promote an overall feeling of well-being. This state increases the ability of the deep centers of the brain to promote increased and clearer thinking.

The Hawthorn storage compartment was covered with a lid that was crafted from the same cutting of Black Walnut used to make the inlaid finger pulls on the underside of the drawers. Set into the face of the lid were inlays of the three traditional healing metals of gold, silver and copper. Working with a jeweller these precious metals custom crafted into the shapes of an Eagle, Turtle and the sacred Tree of Life, respectively.

Collectively these 3 images tell the aboriginal story of Creation, which is essentially a parable that tells of the emergence into the current world after the previous one was destroyed by a great Flood.

Flood legends are found in the mythology of most ancient civilizations; from the Sumerians, Babylonians and Egyptians of the Middle East, to India, China and in the Americas in the myths of the Mayans, Aztecs, Hopi and numerous other Native American tribes. In Western society the most recognised of these legends is the story of Noah and the Ark, as recounted in Biblical story of Genesis.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Inamorata Casegoods - The Story Behind Their Creation

A few years ago we received a special commission to make a custom Irenic Bed out of East Indian Laurel. In addition to the bed the clients were keen on having some complementary casegoods made - namely a pair of dressers and a pair of night stands.

Inspired by the sweeping arc of the bed design we conceptualized a casegood profile that would emulate the silhouette of the Diego Humidor.

The resulting casegoods are shown below. To counterbalance the warmth of the wood we introduced the coolness of steel through the use of large polished steel pulls. Given the vibrant presence of the wood grain it was necessary to make the size of the custom pulls substantial, with the grips and detailing crafted out of black rubber.

The back of the main dresser was fully finished, which is a standard feature incorporated into all of our custom furniture designs.

The tall chest shown below was initially conceived of as a shorter dresser until a problem was discovered with how the builder proportioned the master bedroom. This unexpected glitch was quickly resolved with the suggestion that we transform the dresser into a vertical chest of drawers, thereby allowing it to fit a niche in the room.

Once again the back is fully finished.

Each of the night stands has a single drawer, with storage below for books.

In tandem with this we crafted another version of the Irenic Bed as shown below - this time out of natural Cherry. Because of the subtleness of the Cherry grain we decided to cut the wood at slight angles to create a radiating pattern to symbolize a rising Sun.

For this commission the client requested large center drawers on the dresser, and smaller cubbie drawers on each side. Since the wood grain of the Cherry was not as pronounced as the East Indian Laurel, a more subdued satin nickel pull was selected.

This 7 drawer cabinet is called a semainaire, which is derived from a French word used to describe a lady's lingerie chest having one drawer for each day of the week.

One key feature of this custom piece is the discrete locking compartment that was integrated into the underside of the top. The compartment was lined in black Tuscany leather. Both the lock and hinges were plated in 18K gold.

The night stands each feature 3 large drawers...

and a fully finished back.

This corner detail shows the cascading grain pattern on the pilasters.

Inlaid into the back of each of the cabinets was a small convex inlay of a wood known as Narra. This particular selection of Narra carries a special provenance in the world of sustainable forest management because it comes from the last remaining board known to exist of the very first wood to be sustainably harvested on the Solomon Islands in the early to mid-1990s. This Narra made its way into North American by way of Eco-Timber in California.

All drawers are dovetailed solid maple, running on concealed linear ball bearing self-closing glides.

For management of various electronic devices some custom charging stations were built into each of the night stands, so that cell phones, Bluetooths, Blackberrys and digital cameras could be simultaneously stored and charged.

The power bar and excess wiring were concealed under a removeable tray that was inlaid with slots and pockets for storage.

This resulting casegoods collection is called Inamorata.

Inamorata comes from the Latin words "in" and "amore", with the loose translation being "to inspire with love".

Sustainable, Environmental, Eco Lifestyles, Healthy, All Natural, Home and Garden, Interior Design, Eco Friendly, Green Furniture, Green Furnishings, Green Designs, FSC Certified, Reclaimed Materials. Organic, LEED compliant, NAUF. CARB2, Bamboo, Natural Fibers. Non-Toxic, low-VOC, Non VOC, Natural Finishes.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Irenic Bed - The Story Behind its Creation

Shortly after relocating our shop in 2001 I began to consider some new furniture design ideas. I was particularly intrigued with the idea of making a custom bed that could be an amalgamation all of the holistic and ecological principles I was experimenting with at the time. This ultimately manifested in the design of the Irenic Bed.

The word irenic is Greek and means: “fitted or designed to promote peace; pacific; conciliatory; peaceful.” This seemed highly appropriate considering my underlying intent to weave together many divergent elements into a holistically balanced and restful whole.

For most of us the bedroom is the most important room in the home, with the bed being the focal point of this sacred space. Our bed is the place we turn to for comfort and refuge, and it is also here that we can find the time to think and reflect.

Our bed is the place we can be vulnerable and share intimate moments with those we love. Our bed also offers protection, and is the place we go to when we need to heal.

Because we spend about 1/3 of our lives in bed (based on the assumption of 8 hours sleep per night) it can be argued that a bed is the most important piece of furniture in the home.

An initial prototype was made in 2002 out of a dark wood called Wenge, and upon completion it was sent to Chicago for display at the Lee Weitzman showroom.

Although much positive feedback resulted in the ensuing months, it languished in the showroom for a while before finally being sold. For the next few years I toyed with the idea of making a second version of the bed, but refrained from doing so largely because it was a difficult piece to display due of the large area of floor space it covers.

And, so, the idea stalled - but I never gave up on it entirely.

Then one day in 2005 I was discussing sustainable furniture ideas with an eco-designer by the name of Jill Salisbury, and she began telling me about this amazing bed she had seen in Chicago a few years earlier. It didn't take long to figure out it was the Irenic Bed she was talking about, even though at the time she had no idea who made the piece. I was fascinated by how much the finest details of the design ended up resonating so powerfully with her. Inspired by that discussion I decided to make another version of the bed.

The second incarnation of the bed was done in natural flat cut Cherry. Slight angles were added to create a radiating sunburst effect on the head and footboards, which was meant to emulate the image of a setting and rising Sun. Beaded corner details were also set into the edges to give a gentle softening effect to the design.

The head and footboards were each constructed as heavy monolithic slabs, with the bed sides being suspended between each by way of mortised steel bed hooks that were discretely inlaid at the intersections. As an added convenience: no tools are required for assembly, and once it's together it is absolutely rigid and thoroughly grounded in place.

All wood used in the making of the Irenic Bed is FSC certified for using wood that has been sustainably harvested from well managed sources. This is verified by independent third party audit under Smartwood certificate #SW-COC-000055. In addition to being FSC certified the plywood core material is also NAUF (no added urea formaldehyde) which, in turn, makes it CARB2 (California Air Resources Board) compliant.

The glue used in our own lamination process is a Titebond product that is non-UF (non-urea formaldehyde), while the water based finish is a low-VOC (low-volatile organic compound) water based urethane from AFM that is so ecologically sound that it is doctor recommended even for those with chemical sensitivities.

It is for these reasons that the Irenic Bed is Greenspec listed at
The Irenic Bed is also consistent with the sustainability standards set out by the U.S. Green Building Council’s stringent LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program, namely the MR-7 Credit for certified wood use; the EQ Credit 4.1 for Low Emitting Solvents and Materials; and the EQ Credit 4.2 for Low Emitting Materials, Paints and Coatings.

The bed as shown in these photographs was displayed with Hastens boxspring, mattress and bedding. Many consider Hastens to make the finest beds on the planet, with the bonus being that their focus on green and ecologically sound principles is consistent with our own.

As a finishing touch the back of the headboard is also fully finished. Inlaid into the back of the headboard (just below the top) is a small convex detail of wood that carries a special provenance in the world of sustainable forest management. This wood is known as Narra and it comes from the last remaining board known to exist of the very first wood to be sustainably harvest on the Solomon islands in the early to mid 1990s. This wood made its way into North America by way of Eco-Timber in California.

Inlaid into the face of the headboard (and located discretely behind the pillows) is a small ovoid shaped stone known as a Narmadeshvara Shiva Lingam. This is a Hindu sacred stone that has been ceremoniously gathered once a year from the muddy banks of the Narmada River, one of the 7 sacred holy places of pilgrimage in India.

It is an Indian belief that millions of years ago a meteorite collided with the earth at what is now the source of the Narmada River in Madhya Pradesh, a mountainous province some 300 miles northeast of Bombay, India.

The tremendous heat of the collision caused a fusion of the ambient rock and the meteoric material. Over the ages a river began to flow through this area and the combination of these factors produced the unique condition in which pieces of the fused matter, revolving in the river bed over thousands of years, take on a distinct ovoid form. The oval form is markedly different from the flatter, thinner rocks normally appearing in the riverbed.

Once a year, after the long dry season and just before the monsoon, when the river is at its lowest, the villagers, working with oxen and rope, go out into the riverbed and pull the stones from the water. The stones are then hand-polished, a large one taking several months to complete. About twenty to thirty large pieces are taken from the river each year.

Down through the ages these stones have been carefully selected from this energy centre during the dry season by a few families, trained in the art of collecting, shaping and polishing the stones to bring out the natural markings called the "yoni". The lingams are handled in accordance with ancient Vedic tradition, and are thus highly blessed.

They have been allowed to come out of India at this time because of the desperate state of the planet. The Lingams are energy generators of balance, of Soul consciousness, and healing. It is believed they are impregnated with spiritual light resonating with the fifth Chakra, or Heart Chakra; thus their particular job in healing the planet is through opening the heart, healing the pain in the heart that obscures the harmony and knowingness of the soul residing within.

It is said according to the Vedic knowledge that the Lingam represents the inner being, the energy shape of the soul, or the essence of a human being. The upright egg shape represents the divine masculine energy, the power of Shiva. The marking, called the yoni, represent the divine female energy. Here is a balance of male/female, Yin/Yang, dark/light, knowledge/wisdom, the positive/negative energies unified - the wholeness of the soul, which is neither male nor female.

It is also said that by destiny everyone has their own Lingam. It is as if the signature of one's soul has been alchemically embedded in the stone down from the millenia of its making in the embrace of Mother Earth, and finally in the hands of an esoteric craftsperson. The Lingam draws out our soul qualities. As a result, it is a potent force for healing and meditation.

Typically the Irenic Bed is available in either King or Queen size, but it can be easily customized to accomodate various thicknesses and styles of boxsprings and/or mattresses. In addition we are always more than pleased to custom tailor our design to suit the needs of each individual client. The photo below shows a recently made custom version of this design which was made from a combination of stainless steel and a rare sampling of wood known as East Indian Laurel.

For this project the clients were also interested in having a matching dresser, chest of drawers and pair of night stands made to complement the Irenic Bed design. This invariably led to the creation of the Diego series of bedroom casegoods - which will be featured in the next post.

Sustainable, Environmental, Eco Lifestyles, Healthy, All Natural, Home and Garden, Interior Design, Eco Friendly, Green Furniture, Green Furnishings, Green Designs, FSC Certified, Reclaimed Materials. Organic, LEED compliant, NAUF. CARB2, Bamboo, Natural Fibers. Non-Toxic, low-VOC, Non VOC, Natural Finishes.