Indexer Suzanne Ellison was browsing this week through the 1570 “Opera di M. Bartolomeo Scappi,” a huge six-part book documenting the recipes Scappi cooked for cardinals and popes. And she turned up these interesting plates featuring some early furniture forms straight from the Middle Ages and “The Anarchist’s Design Book.”
Check out the staked tables (above) with the massive square and tapered legs. I’ve been meaning to build some tables like this, but my fear is that the legs will look too weird. There’s only one way to find out, I suppose.
Also interesting: A trestle table shown from the side. I love this image because it destroys the notion that each trestle had four legs and there is a problem with the perspective of the drawing. One point here for the Middle Ages artists.
Check out the collapsible table for cooking in the countryside. This form survives today and was widely reproduced as a piece of campaign furniture.
Finally, miscellaneous furniture: a small bench for sitting (banchetta, or today it would be called la panchetta) or as a step stool. Small benches similar to the banchetta are still in use today. Or, a very interesting taller bench for scrutiny of accounts or writing (or for sitting a bit higher) with a drawer neatly tucked under the edge of the benchtop.
The Woodworkers Institute has just published a short and sweet review of “Campaign Furniture.” You can read the full review here. We’re now shipping the second printing of this book, which has a few corrections here and there.
I really would love to write a follow-up book; my research into the style didn’t stop when the book came out in winter 2014. First I have to finish my current book project (the end is in sight) and edit about six books from other authors before I can even consider hitting the campaign trail again.
I’m interested in how furniture (and tool) designs change. Typically the trajectory is toward entropy or dissolution. But sometimes it goes the other way (see Lie-Nielsen and Veritas handplanes.)
This week I have been deep into reading the Kaare Klint monograph by Gorm Harkaer. It is a staggering work in both scale and scope. Harkaer covers everything from Klint’s paintings to his sculpture, logo designs and (of course) furniture. It’s the second-most expensive book I own, but I don’t regret a penny.
Today I was examining some of the photos of Klint’s Safari chair, which was born from the Roorkee chair of the campaign-furniture era. The above photo is one of the earliest chairs from 1933.
The legs are teak. And note the folded over and stitched leather arms. Oh and I couldn’t resist noting that the screws are clocked.
Later chairs were mahogany or “smoked” ash, according to Harkaer. “Smoking” involves coloring the ash with ammonia steam.
The chair below is a 1953 version in smoked ash with a canvas seat. Note we now have the familiar non-stitched arms. I much prefer the stitched arms. They sag a lot less over time.
Other interesting details from the monograph:
The seat coverings were available in leather, undyed linen drill or canvas in brown blue or olive.
After Klint’s death, his son designed a footstool to go with the chair.
More than 150,000 official Safari chairs have been made since 1933.
While teaching at The Furniture Institute of Massachusetts this week, Phil Lowe pulled out an interesting conservation (or restoration) project he was working on for a customer.
It was a footstool that was in pretty bad shape because the joints were all loose or coming apart. Or was that by design?
Lowe turned the stool over and pointed out how the four legs were attached to the top frame of the stool with snipe hinges. Then he showed how the lower stretcher simply pulled out of its dovetailed socket and was keyed in there at some point.
So it looks like the whole stool was designed to fold down.
Was it English? The turnings looked kind of English. And the entire thing was worm-eaten like old English walnut. Was it a campaign piece?
Lowe pulled up some of the horsehair and burlap stuffing and showed me a further mystery. The frame and legs were nailed together so the legs couldn’t fold. And the nails were blacksmith-made, wrought-head nails. Very early. Was the stool built to knock down? Was the nail added immediately after the maker saw that the folding wasn’t work to his or her liking? Or what?
Lowe and I looked at the piece for a good long while. Then we walked away and had a beer.
If you’ve seen a piece like this, leave a comment or let Lowe know. He’s debating how to properly conserve or restore the piece.
If you own “Campaign Furniture,” you might want to visit my other blog where I posted some free full-size scans of the patterns I use to make the seat and the three “pockets” for the stool.
This is made with 8 oz. 10 oz. oiled latigo leather from the Wickett & Craig tannery. Any thickish leather will work, however. I prefer vegetable-tanned hides because they stretch less and age better.
This stool was – sadly – the last one I’ll be making from this old teak. These were the last three sticks that were 24” long and thick enough to turn the 1-1/4”-diameter legs. So now the smell of beetle dung will subside a little more in my shop.