The Chinese Menu School Of Design - Building Backwards - And Thoughts On Instant Patina

No, Instant Patina is not a breakfast cereal. It is the replication of a worn surface on newly made furniture.
I like the look of well cared for antique furniture, that shows wear marks and finish color variations that are the result of use and cleaning, over time.
I don't think that the coloring of wood through staining or fuming amounts to instant patination, but it is close enough for me to include it here.
I'm in the midst of designing a tall chest that I want to build and, as I believe in "building backwards" when thinking about design, the issues of wood coloration and distressing are much on my mind.
I suppose I should talk briefly about the concept of "building backwards".
When I built houses for a living I would take a new set of prints, which usually consisted of a site plan, foundation prints, basic floor plans, exterior elevations, a generic wall section from mud to roof peak, maybe a roof sheet, probably not a framing layout, sometimes interior elevations, mostly never finish details, and even more mostly never reflected ceiling plans - and I would try to imagine the house from the finishes backwards.
Building from a half-assed set of prints leads to doors that are framed too tight to one side in a hallway, leaving three inches of wall to the left of the cased opening and one inch to the right or, worse yet, trim that has to be ripped to fit.
You've seen it. You know it sucks.
It also leads to ceiling lights that can't fit into a decent geometrical pattern, because framing members, or hvac, or some other equally predictable nonsense is in the way.
You've seen it. You know it sucks.
It can also lead to doors that swing into each other, light switches that are on the wrong side of the door opening or are too tight to the trim, toilets that sit too close too or too far away from the wall, hvac penetrations that come out where millwork and cabinetry are going to be - it's a damned mess waiting to happen.
You know it sucks and you've seen it all before.
So, I would annoy the customer and try to force them to make decisions that they thought they wouldn't have to make for weeks or months.
I tried to tell them that the library units were better off being designed at the beginning, rather than waiting to see what the room looked like. I tried to pin them down about the kitchen and bath layouts, including the exact fixtures that were to be used and the kind of tile and flooring. I particularly hounded them about any lighting that required ceiling penetration, wanting to know exactly which units would be used and where they wanted them to go.
Why? Because it was all on paper at that point, and paper is a lot easier to change than steel, framing, hvac, electrical and plumbing.
Sometimes they got pissed - but I knew that it worked - and they usually loved me by the end - the exact opposite of what all to often happens between builders and clients.
People live in a world of surfaces and shapes and colors and spiffy hardware - and they mostly don't give a damn about the underpinnings. But the building business has long been geared to the efficient production of underpinnings, often forcing the client to accept compromises that could have been avoided through careful thought and planning.
Before I even set the first batter board I would have a set of marked up prints, sometimes even entirely fresh prints, to guide the construction process.
The same thinking applies to built in cabinetry. It's easy to wind up with drawers that bang into each other and doors that hit each other when people use them.
It's easy to have items that need to be at eye level, like stereo components, that get shoved into a space that can only be accessed by crouching down or standing on a foot stool.
You've all seen this. You know it sucks.
Building backwards, thinking about how the person will interface with the elements of the casework and the elements that the casework is designed to contain, can avoid much misery.
What does this have to do with freestanding furniture? I would submit to you that, except for the fact that it is not fixed to the wall, freestanding furniture design involves much of the same thought that should go into built in work.
This particular piece that I am thinking of building is meant to go into a bedroom. The room itself applies certain constraints to the design. It not only is going into this bedroom, it is going into a particular corner of this bedroom.
The bedroom already contains furniture of a certain style and scale. The corner of the bedroom is described by the edge of the window that will be on the left side of the piece, and sliding doors, that will limit the depth of the piece.
It seems like a basic and simple consideration but I've seen pieces, that were immaculately conceived (or as close as we mortals can come to such conception), as pieces unto themselves - one in particular that is a tall chest, worthy of Lonnie Bird - but the damned thing was made from prints of an eighteenth century piece that was intended to go into a room with twelve foot ceilings.
It looks like someone parked an aircraft carrier in the poor little space, with its eight foot ceiling.
A really well executed aircraft carrier but - you get the picture.
The interesting thing about furniture scale is that you can't simply scale it down. You can't just say, "I have plans for a nine foot tall chest and I am going to shrink it down to be a seven foot tall chest".
You have to rethink all of the elements of the piece, their visual mass and proportion have to be re imagined, not merely shrunk.
Take a nine foot tall case and shrink it to seven feet - every molding will have to be rethought, every thickness of exposed elements will have to be redone - and it is not a mathematical shrinking. You can't say, "the nine foot tall chest had half inch thick overlay drawer fronts and, since I have reduced the height by X percent, I will reduce the thickness of this drawer front by the same percentage - it doesn't work.
The seven foot tall chest is not a scale model of the nine foot tall chest - it is a completely different chest.
The Chinese Menu School Of Design allows the person who does not want to make a faithful copy of a period piece, nor even to stay slavishly within a style, to take those elements that please him and fit within the constraints implied by the existing furniture, and create a work that feels at home in its space.
There are those who would say that a room can be eclectic in the extreme, yet still provide a harmonious experience to those who live in it. I am not one of them.
The two night tables are cherry and have pad feet. I won't build a walnut piece with ball and claw feet. I think that the room would lack harmony.
The existing chest has quarter columns and a reverse ogee top. I'll try to bring those elements into the design of the tall chest.
I'm sold on the idea of a broken pediment, and it doesn't violate anything else that is going on in the room, so I'm going for it.
The small chest that the TV sits on has cock beaded drawer fronts and I'd like to incorporate that element into the design, although I am not sure how that will work until I begin to draw.
One from column A and two from column B - The Chinese Menu School Of Design.
Works for me - others, particularly those who consider themselves purists, would consider this approach to be anathema.
As to the concept of Instant Patina:
Two of the pieces in the room are factory made furniture but have been kicked around enough to have mellowed out a good bit. The other two are probably a hundred to a hundred and fifty years old - and look it.
I'm thinking of staining the cherry of the new piece, both to unify the colors of the various pieces of wood, and to bring the color range into that of the existing furniture. I'm also thinking of wiping the stain along the top edges of the drawer fronts and the outside edges of the carcase, to give that almost whitened quality to it, that shows in older furniture.
I am as mindful as anyone about the beauty of naturally aged cherry, but I am also fifty four years old and don't have time to wait for it to happen on its own.
My thoughts are to use a blond shellac for the surface finish and to apply this with a brush, rather than use my usual spray technique, although I may have to introduce some stain as a toner, to get the color, and I would spray that prior to the clear coats.
I don't think that I will beat it with chains but I also don't think that I will sand it to six hundred grit. In fact, I was hoping to scraper finish the drawer fronts and hand mold the edge treatments and moldings, without using abrasives.
I am hoping that this will provide a finished look that will allow the new piece to fit in with the old, without looking too much like the dude with new clothes.
It does seem like an awful lot to think about for a simple chest, doesn't it?
Thomas J. Watson - WoodDorker
tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (real email) http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1 (webpage)
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if it's good enough for a werewolf in london, it's good enough for me...
John Emmons

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On Mon, 28 Feb 2005 19:21:14 -0500, the inscrutable Tom Watson

Oh?
--lotsa good BS snipped--

Ooh, ooh, you've just forced me to conceptually redesign the new entertainment center I need to build to replace that lovely pair of MDF and woodgrain-plastic-covered carts the stereo is now whiningly crouched upon.
Thank you, Tawm, from the bottom of my heart.
The stereo and CD racks will go up top, middled by the center speaker, braced up by the TV (perhaps to one side, and bottomed by the small, VHS movie collection drawer.
Excellent. Tanks again. I had visualized half a dozen different shapes and styles but hadn't settled on any one or mix of them. I was thinking inside the damned box. Mercy buckets for outtin' me.

Ain't he wunna them oddly white bassetball players?

Perchance, did you just read Rashmi's Blog?

And taste.

A broken pediment is much more attractive than a speech 'pediment.

The phrase "filthy heathen bastid" instantly pops to mind.

"Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!" popped up that time.

Thimk! Can you say "Tanning Salon"? I knew you could.

<cringe>
<cringe2>
<sigh>
Damned tootin', sir.
-- Remember: Every silver lining has a cloud. ---- http://diversify.com Comprehensive Website Development
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Larry Jaques responds:

Ain't he wunna them oddly white bassetball players?
Do you wanna meet my ex-boss? She had never heard of Lonnie, so refused to run my interview of him in the NL, because it promoted him (and not too coincidentally the two of his three books the company carried, a fact she, the Internet Marketing Director, missed entirely).
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You mean people actually do it the other way around?
Geez. No wonder there are so many pissed off, disatisfied people out there.
Kevin
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