Piece by Piece Until Peace


I’ve found that the way I design furniture and the way I restore buildings are unusually similar.

When I design a chair, cabinet or workbench, it’s a subtractive process. I usually begin with something quite complicated and then remove bits and pieces until the thing looks right. I’m not looking for a design that excites me (the building part is exciting enough). Instead I’m looking for a quietness or peace in the design. (For more on this process, see the chapter titled “Seeing Red” in “The Anarchist’s Design Book.”)

With old buildings, the process is much the same. Typically they are festooned with the detritus of the 20th century, including oodles of wiring, layers of silly wallboard, paneling, tile and buckets of fossilized “Great Stuff” foam.

The first step is always to subtract. A lot. And keep going until the builder’s original intent begins to emerge.

That’s where I am with the Horse Garage. We finally pulled down a lot of ridiculous cripple studs that served only to hold up the butt-ugly ceiling tile. Then came down the obsolete pipes for the wiring. This afternoon a very early 20th-century garage began to take shape. I could see the original structure. And though it is astonishingly straightforward and plain, it has finally brought me some peace.

— Christopher Schwarz

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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30 Responses to Piece by Piece Until Peace

  1. Michael Brady says:

    The doors look very good. Are you conditioning that space? I know are calling it a “machine room”. Just wondering what type of heating you are using?


  2. tpobrienjr says:

    Thank you for using “festooned” and “detritus” in the same sentence..


  3. smkindem says:

    looks great!


  4. Matthew Holbrook says:

    Chris –

    In comparison to your work, which is straightforward, the ongoing structural restoration at Cincinnati Union Terminal is a major and highly complex project. But, like your garage, the intent with the CUT restoration is to respect and adhere to the original design.

    Keep up your good work !

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ptross says:

    nice light (for a garage)! I think it will make a very pleasant work room.


  6. Looks great! What goes next, that shin-barking derelict plumbing sticking out of the middle of the floor?


  7. volzwgn says:

    Doors look great! Curious what kind of glass is going in the doors? Tempered is the norm, but you could use laminated or wired.


  8. Lucas McFey says:

    Looks good but I’d suggest a little more security to lock the doors than those 2x4s. Seems like it would be easy to break a window and reach inside to remove them or just run a hand saw through them via the crack between the two doors.


    • We are not done with the locks for the doors.


    • When well-maintained, “flat” roofs (they aren’t actually flat) are no problem. That’s what we have on our main building.

      The gabled roof that we removed was incredibly ugly and didn’t suit the structure. The original roof is actually quite ingenious in the way it is pitched to drain water. The only reason it failed was a fire that burned through the decking. This let water in, rotting the main beam.


  9. tdesve says:

    “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
    Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Airman’s Odyssey


  10. potomacker says:

    It’s evident that at some point in this building’s lifecourse a central ridged roof was installed, undoubtedly due to leaking problems. And yet, you’ve returned the structure to a flat roof. I’ve been involved in an upgrade project with an original flat roof. Would you comment on this choice and what compromises were in consideration in the rebuild?


  11. studioffm says:

    I remember taking over a former metal plating building in Bideford when we moved from London to devon . I had little money so creating a workspace was down to me . Working damn hard for what seemed like months . The process was as you described paring back, removing rubbish and nonsense to leave a good light workspace.


  12. Ian Fraser says:

    Are you worried about noise protection? Will your neighbours mind?


    • For the last 20 years, our place was a bar with live bands and loud drag shows every night. Plus fights in the streets and regular visits from the police. I know all my neighbors quite well, and if my noise ever becomes a problem I know they will tell me immediately.

      Plus, I do very little machine work – maybe a couple hours a week – and never at night. The two woodworking shops across the street from me have similar concrete block structures and run full bore all day (usually with the doors open in nice weather) and the noise is absolutely minimal compared to the traffic drone.

      So I suspect it won’t be a problem. If it does become a problem, I will add noise suppression on the walls and doors.


  13. “I’m not looking for a design that excites me (the building part is exciting enough). Instead I’m looking for a quietness or peace in the design.”

    that’s all of it, right there. thank you! 🙂


  14. Chris Decker says:

    I’ve been tinkering with the idea of treating my garage as a machine room and converting a section of my basement into my workshop. But, I’m not sure what my workflow is going to be like. I wonder if I’m going to be moving lumber up the stairs, down the hall, through the laundry room and back as I switch between cutting tenon shoulders on the table saw (garage) and tenon cheeks at my workbench (in the basement). Am I overthinking this?

    Do you care to elaborate on any of the specifics for your processes? Is my solution just as simple as getting better with hand tools?

    Edit: My wife says I can sleep in the garage if she can’t park there during the winter time.


    • For a home woodworker who makes a handful of pieces per year, my preference would be to have everything in one room that is controlled for climate, humidity and dust. That will make the best of your shop time. You’ll need to adapt the space at times, but if you aren’t trying to make a living at it….

      In a production shop, I prefer separate rooms for machines, assembly and finishing to control noise, dust and solvent.


      • Chris Decker says:

        That makes a lot of sense to me. I’m in a difficult gray area where I’m still very amateur, but my volume of paid work is increasing quickly, as is my ability to ask for enough money. It is easy to find information about how to make stuff, but I have not found much information about how to scale up. Thank you for taking a minute to answer my questions.


  15. Cincinnati has been known to have winters. Any possibility of adding ‘roller insulation’ above the doors to drop down over the doors when the Horse Garage isn’t in use? Just a thought.


  16. Andy McGee says:

    Will you add more windows or just electric lighting?


  17. Gosh you can make an unfinished building with no water, no electricity, and no insulation sound inviting! But seriously, you’ve helped me rethink how to renovate. Thank you.


  18. Craig Regan says:

    Best looking horse garage I’ve ever seen!
    Hope the new tax bill doesnt restrain the rebirth of Covington.


  19. We all need some peace.


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