As a furniture maker, visiting museums is important. But what is more important is visiting those same museums again and again. Every year you are a different person, and the same pieces of furniture will look new and different to you every time you visit.
On Sunday I took my 10th or 11th trip to the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill in Harrodsburg, Ky., with woodworkers Megan Fitzpatrick and Will Myers. I got to visit a lot of old friends that day at Pleasant Hill, such as the wall-hanging cabinet and Saturday table. But I also made a new friend: a firewood box that I’d never noticed before.
This box represents what I like about Shaker design. It is simple, practical and shows an advanced understanding of geometry. The carcase itself is nailed together, but the parts are arranged so that there are no awkward places where parts overlap or are misaligned – something you see on a lot of vernacular furniture.
For example, the maker was careful to add small fake stiles (with nails) to the bottom of the case to make the drawer inset. As a result of this extra effort and a hundred other details the exterior carcase of the piece appears to be like the carcase of a complex piece of furniture, though it clearly is not.
The profile of the carcase shows the maker had a good grasp of geometry – Roman vs. Grecian. The curve on the side of the carcase is an elliptical arc with a perfectly sized fillet where the curve meets the front of the carcase. It’s like an enormous Grecian ovolo.
The feet on the sides of the carcase echoed this Grecian ovolo without screaming this fact.
And then (while no one was looking) we opened the drawer at the bottom. It had sweet and well-executed dovetails, a nice surprise on a nailed piece.
I hope to build a reproduction of this piece someday, but we’ll first have to get a working fireplace. The last time we lit a fire in our living room it ended with me running half-naked into the snow.
— Christopher Schwarz