EMBELLISHING THE APRON with a whale's tail similar to ones used by the 18th-century Dunlap family of furniture makers connects this chest with its traditional roots. It adds interest to a part of the chest well below eye level, draws your eye up to the center and balances the ebony center drawer. The inlaid black-and-white banding helps extend the curved lines of the whale's tail around the base.
the top. In the drawings, I played with an inch or more taper,just on the edge of perception.
Why French feet rather than a more traditional design ofa molded bottom edge of the case with bracket feet? Adding on the base in this way would have solved some of my problems with the defects at the ends of the case side boards and allowed me to build a higher chest. But such a base interrupts the smooth, upward sweep ofthe case, something my evolving design was emphasizing. I was also beginning to think about bowing out the drawers slightly, a curve echoing the out-swept feet.
At this point I had the beginnings ofa design: a primary wood, rough dimensions of the case and drawers, curving French feet, and possibly bow-front drawers. I had a good idea ofhow I might build the chest using single-board parts. Nothing was cast in stone, I could only imagine bow differently a Shaker brother or an 18th-century Boston cabinetmaker would have worked within sirndar parameters and the vastly different chests they might have created. While there may be obvious differences, such as the shape ofthe case, drawers, and base, the most likely differences would be in the details.
While the larger elements offorrn and proportion might catch your attention, the detads keep you interested. lidge shapes, moldings, iidays, touches of color, and even the feel of surfaces can encourage your eyes and hands to play over a piece offurniture and come to know it more intimately. The details can often be a starting place for a design, or in this chest, a way to draw the various elements together.The challenge is to provide plenty of details to explore while maintaining a harmony among those details. Simdar to a musical fugue, they should be variations of a theme.
The base illustrates the movement details can create. The drawback to the French feet was that your eye could follow the curve ofthe side and foot right to the floor and dead end there. Little ebony pads on the bottom of each foot catch your attention before this happens.The vibrant black and the tiny bead cut along the bottom edge of the toes relate them to the cock-beads around each drawer and the ebony corner columns. Moving your gaze back up, the inlay band at the bottom ofthe case draws your eye horizontally around the two sides and facade. To draw more attention to the base and to relate this chest to earlier chests built in thé area where my client lived, I carved the whale's tail details. They express some ofthe same curving energy as the feet and bow fronts, and perhaps propel your eye upward.
The details that keep you exploring the forms can evolve for very practical reasons. Cockbeads, proud beads around drawer edges, originated as a way to protect the fragile veneered facade ofthe drawer. Using diem me an t f 1 u sh, not lipped, drawers. Be-
cause I had only one other board from the same tree as the sides and top and I wanted good color and grain match, a solution was to laminate the drawer faces. I could then use any butternut for the backing laminates. Adding a cockbead allowed me to hide the lamination lines and nicely define the edges of each drawer. The cockbead also helps hide the necessary gap around the drawer in its opening and some of the slight variation of how the bow-front drawer aligns with the facade. Laminating the drawer faces into a bow front was oidy slightly more work and makes for a more interesting design.
By the time I had envisioned a pattern of ebony contrasted with hody and butternut, the rest of the details followed. Ebony corner columns give those edges definition and the case more verticality. The small ebony center drawer with a holly knob attracts your eye to the center of the facade and to the curved top. The top's modest overhang draws a minimum of attention; under-beveling the edge presents a thin and elegant profile. The coved under-bevel repeats the similar curves oflhe legs and bow fronts. The small cove molding under the top smooths the transition from top to case. Ebony knobs are practical and add interesting dots of color.
I like to add details so subtle that they will be discovered oidy by a casual sweep of your hand someday. The ebony backsplash has such details—it balances the ebony feet and echoes the overall color pattern with the noticeable holly dots at the ends. Almost hidden between the dots is a very fine groove and bead cut along the top edge. Whoever finds the bead might find the small tapering chamfer defining the back edge of the backsplash as well.
livery furniture design is an experiment of sorts. You have to define the problem and pursue solutions that give you hints at a direction to keep going. Trusting your decisions is part ofmaturing as a designer. But what keeps it all interesting is the serendipity of furniture making. You can't foresee everything. I didn't plan the slight cant of the knobs down the front, but ] like them.
GARRETT HACK is a frequent contributor to Fine Woodworking magazine.
TO BALANCE THE SPLAYED base, the top needs some overhang and mass, but not necessarily the mass of a thick top. The top Is thick; but by covering Its underside and adding another small cove molding, Its profile is more elegant and Interesting. The main cove Is subtle and far enough below eye level that the author hopes It might be discovered as much by feel as It would by sight.
MORE EXCITING THAN CHAMFERING or rounding the corners of the case, quarter-round ebony and holly columns boldly define these edges. They also help emphasize the verticality of the case and lead your eye to the upwardly sweeping French feet. Rounded columns echo the beads around the drawers and the ebony pads on the feet.
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