The Accidental Mannerist
One thing about being a furniture maker these days is that you tend to get commissions that are all over the place stylistically. Nineteenth Century rustic followed by mid Twentieth Century Modern, a built-in piece and then back to the Seventeenth Century. It’s hard to specialize in a particular style. Recently though, I have had back to back to back pieces in the Mannerist style. The style came to England in the late Sixteenth Century through Continental (European) artisans and pattern books. It was based on Northern European renaissance ideas of classical design which gives the pieces a naive quality. Roughly speaking there are two groups of Mannerist-style furniture in Colonial America ; a low relief carved strap-work variety and an applied ornament variety with deep moldings and architectural elements. I’ve got both types here, starting with this valuables cabinet based on the one the Symonds shop made for Joseph and Bathsheba Pope in 1679. It has the applied elements and the strap-work carving and is at once both crude and remarkably refined. The applied turnings and moldings really throw light around to dramatic effect, especially in low or raking light. Inside is an arrangement of drawers which I have dovetailed though the original has butted and nailed drawers.The center medallion was typically carved with the owners initials. (this one is available, and can be carved to suit).The next piece is a desk box I designed based on the Mannerist carved Hadley chest tradition of the Connecticut River Valley. Interestingly the Valuables Cabinet above could have been made by John Pease who later moved to the Hadley area and may have helped to start that school of carved furniture.In all, I’ve made five Mannerist style pieces this year and it has been great to soak in the period and try to get into the heads of these early masters.The awesome hasp-lock on the desk was made by Matthew Stein. Below is another Hadley style trunk which is also available.Lastly, I rarely post things on this “blog” but you can see more recent, up to the minute, or week, posts on Instagram at davidsantickdavid
This picture sums up where I am these days. Looking backward and forward, old and new. The Hadley trunk, based on examples from 1695-1725, I made of sassafras and finished with paint and shellac. It rests upon a minimalist and modern white oak breakfast table. The trunk is festooned with an ancient carving pattern complemented by an escutcheon cast from original 17th Century brasses. The corners are nailed like the original.
The table is restrained, it is all about the form., the only decorations are the figure of the boards with which it is made. The finish is “dry” with a low shine that suits it perfectly. It’s modern and clean but approachable and warm, usable.
I’ve been bouncing back and forth between styles for the last 13 years, making custom furniture here at Antick in Lambertville, New Jersey. It’s never a straight line, but sometimes things relate to each other in style or species of wood. This year I’ve been making 17th Century case pieces or farm tables. Here are some of them.
This cabinet is based on a piece at Winterthur in Delaware. It is made of walnut with excellent hardware from Londonderry. I really like the turnings and, though it’s hard to see, the x-stretcher between them.
This is a farm table I designed in white oak with a plank top.
This valuables cabinet was particularly interesting. It is made of walnut with two figured tombstone paneled doors. Lots of great hardware and moldings.
Lastly we have another farm table. This one in walnut with a one and a half inch thick top. At nearly 7 feet by 4 feet it is truly a great table.
Girder Fork Table Mark II
I decided to make another version of the Girder Fork table. This one has solid “forks” which simplify the joinery and offer new design opportunities. I left a void at the top of the leg to lighten the mass and to give a subtle outside “curve.” It is interesting how the shape changes as you walk around the table or spy it from different parts of the room.
I also changed the apron for this table, that is, it runs the full length of the table. It gives the piece a timeless more familiar feeling.
Lastly I made a new top for the original Girder Fork table, with an asymmetrical arrangement of the boards.
We all need a place to work. A place where you can keep all those things you need to get the work done. It’s great if you have a room for the purpose, but you may have to be more versatile. In this case the workspace is combined with the entertainment center.
The left half of this unit is for work. There are file drawers, large and small storage drawers and a pull-out work surface for a keyboard and mouse. Cables run behind the back of the cabinet to reduce clutter. The right half holds a TV, DVD player and video game systems, as well as shelves for books and discs.
The idea is to have a sliding door that covers one half of this unit depending on which side is in use. The door would have another door in it to allow access to the covered side.
Most of the grain on these walnut cabinets is vertical so I made the drawer fronts run the same way, which makes it feel more modern. I also think its symmetry makes it calming. The work surface also has space inside for the keyboard and more.
So, I had an idea for a leg design inspired by motorcycle girder-forks (yeah, I know this bike doesn’t have them). I was also thinking about the work of Carlo Mollino, a 20th century furniture designer. The leg could be used on tables, case pieces and chairs. The idea wasn’t to mimic the forks exactly but more to subtly tap into the industrial strength of the shapes.
I liked the simplicity and efficiency of the design, but couldn’t resist the temptation to use more traditional joinery. This made for some tricky mitered mortise and tenon joints. I made full scale model of the leg in poplar first to see how to it would work, and look.
I had some large planks of sepele which would yield a 3 foot by 9 foot table. The planks were 18 inches wide and I wanted to show that so I joined them together with bread-board ends. I used the space between the boards as a design feature and aligned the aprons to allow light through. Placing the aprons in the center also keeps them from hitting your knees.
I hand planed the top and left the faceted marks from the planes for a more lively hewn surface. It just seems warmer and friendlier. The finish is linseed oil and shellac.
It’s hard to photograph this table in our little gallery. I really like the stance and angles down bellow.
I don’t mind mixing styles, good design is good design.
I start each piece by cutting parts out of boards, or some times one board. It’s a stressful time in the process of making furniture. I have a limited amount of material and have to make the best decisions regarding grain and figure. I’ll be working on these parts for a while and when it’s finished the parts will be that way forever.
Then there is a point where the parts start to take shape. The goal is to make each part like it was made of the same piece of wood. The grain should do the same thing in the same place on every leg, post or crest rail. It’s hard to do. You have to be sure the growth rings are facing the same way when cutting out the shapes. Things start to happen quickly at this stage.
This is my favorite time at the shop. Joints have already been cut and can be assembled. The board starts to come back together again and look as if it is completely natural. I’m no longer making smaller boards, I’m making arms, legs, feet!
Happy Birthday to … my tool chest.
Happy Birthday tool chest happy birthday to you. I just realized it’s 14 years old! I made it at The North Bennet Street School in Boston as the first requirement of the Cabinet and Furniture Making program. It is the first case piece I ever made.
All North Bennet Street tool chests have some common features among them. They have a maximum size, maximum number of drawers (6) and a way to lock it up. It is remarkable how many combinations of drawers, doors, woods, locks, and hardware there are. Each one is as individual as its maker.
It holds my marking and measuring tools and card scrapers in the top row of drawers, next level is chisels/gouges and files/rasps followed by odd tools, thread cutters & etc. and draw knives, scorps, hammers, bit braces at the bottom. The frame that my chest is attached to (the feet that is) I made for its first birthday.
The bottom drawer of the tool chest was carefully designed to hold my hand planes, they now reside in a cabinet on the wall.
The year started off with the completion of this carved oak vanity. The hardest part might have been photographing it! It just doesn’t fit in a frame.
From oaken vanity Welsh Dresser, here in curly maple. Probably my favorite for the year.
An architectural model.
Two copies of an early Queen Anne chair, with rush seats.
And a compass seat frame. The chair was made by someone else.
The key to Stockton!
Take your kids to work day!
A child’s size rocker in walnut.
Two Hadley trunks made of sassafras.
A full size, Chippendale, four poster with tester.
Wainscoting in my house.
My son found a child size windsor rocker, so we fixed it up, it fits him perfectly.
A walnut vitrine that I never got to photograph properly.
A set of Red cedar Campeche chairs.
And finally a New York Chippendale serpentine gaming table! I hereby resolve to post more this year!
This is the shop and warehouse of Duncan Phyfe, on Fulton Street in New York City c.1816. I think that must be his home on the right, otherwise why have it in the painting? Duncan Phyfe was a very successful cabinet maker in the early 19th Century and the first American to have a furniture style named after him, though not in his time. I’d love to have seen the City in this time period–look at all that sky! I also love the person peering out of the attic window.
This is the house, shop, and warehouse of David Alling on Broad Street in Newark, New Jersey c.1835 (attributed to Johann Jenny). David Alling was a tremendously prolific “fancy chair” maker (yeah,that’s a thing) and exporter who made tens of thousands of chairs and shipped them all over the south and mid-west. I love the bare trees in this painting, and all of the details.
And guess what, here’s my house and showroom in Lambertville, New Jersey c.2013. The sign is hidden by the still-leafy tree. It makes me happy to share something with these craftsmen and shop keeps of the past, who lived and worked and made furniture right there in the same place. It’s a rare thing these days for furniture to be designed, made, and sold by the same person in one place.
This is a keepsake box for a new born named Ellie. It is a copy of a box made in the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts between 1695-1725. Wallace Nutting calls it a trunk in his book Furniture Treasury.
I painted it green to emphasize the symbolism of the the growing vine, and a new life.
The pattern of the carving is an expanded version of the pattern on Hadley chests. In fact, I used the same pattern that I used for Ellie’s parents wedding chest, and it fit the boxes measurements perfectly. I just “grew” the vine to fit the height of the box.
I made the box out of a wide board of sassafras that was re-sawn into half inch thick sides. Sassafras has a wonderful smell and carves well, the original was made from riven oak with a pine lid and bottom. Ellie’s box is joined by half blind and through dovetails. I made another box joined with nails and a rabbet like the original.
The carving on this box is more “developed” than most Hadley chests because it is carved partially in the round, it is still charmingly naive and child like. The ground of the carving has been dressed with punch-work.
Here is a bible box I made in comparison. Ellie’s trunk is 25 1/2″ long, 16 1/4″ wide, and 9 1/2″ high
A place for everything.
Earlier this year I made this “Welsh dresser” for a person in Philadelphia. A Welsh dresser is kind of a catchall phrase here. It usually refers to any number of designs for kitchen storage, work, and display above and bellow. This design has a plate rack, three lockable drawers, two lockable doors and a center opening, sometimes called a kennel.
The monolithic piece is made of curly maple, a grain which causes the wood to shift color from dark to light depending on how the light is shining. Here it has been stained to a warm amber color. The effect is quite beautiful as the sun changes the light in the room throughout the day.
The lower section is a frame and panel construction with pegged mortise and tenon joints. The lipped drawers are made with hand cut half-blind dovetails . Hand carved tombstone panels liven up the doors. Grain and color of each board was carefully considered to give a unified facade. On top there are gently shaped shelves for plates and glasses. It is held together with hand cut dovetails and through wedged mortise and tenons. A carefully matched scalloped valance and crown molding top it all off.
Looking back at 2012
It’s been a long old year here at Antick. It all started with a new customer Mr. G—, an interesting fellow who likes to turn discarded lumber into unusual antiques. This is the first piece, a tall case clock made of old pine book shelves. He then paints or otherwise finishes them himself.
Reproducing a reproduction, again using reclaimed lumber, and a riff on the same form.
I also made a new stick for a cane, it’s ebony carved to resemble blackthorn.
I’ve already posted about this double sided bookcase. Then I made tables in cherry and curly maple.
Another reclaimed lumber chest and a thoroughly modern nixie tube clock out of a solid block of walnut.
A miniature blanket chest with drawer made of reclaimed pine.
Two compound angle dovetail projects in cherry.
A Queen Anne mirror in curly maple, and a Pennsylvania German bench.
This is an architectural model that is also a box, it’s a very cool design and was the first time I have cut a dovetail in plexiglass!
A ship model weathervane and solid wood skull made of bass wood.
More weathervanes, the top one is based on Albert Pinkham Ryder’s painting “the Racetrack”.
More architectural models.
This is a bathroom vanity made of white oak in an old english Elizabethan style. It is almost eleven feet long.
It will be stained quite dark. I love the rhythm of the scrolled cuts at the base and the many levels of mouldings and carving of the facade.
We are wishing for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year for us all.
Double Sided Cabinet
This is a commissioned book case that I’ve just completed. It is made of cherry, with an oil, shellac and wax finish. It was designed to divid the space between a kitchen and great room and be accessible from both sides, one side is open and the other has doors. The case is quite large, 54″ long 36″ high and 22″ deep.
The case is a good height for a serving station during parties.The shelves accommodate most art books.
Hand cut half-blind dovetails join the sides of the case which sits on a frame supported by ogee bracket feet.
Stool, Coffee Table, Bench?
This is a stool I had been wanting to make for a while. It is based on a stool possibly made in Philadelphia between 1680 and 1720. I just love the square structure and simplicity of the doric columns. The original piece is quite small so I scaled it up a bit for a more comfortable seating height.
I upholstered them with jute webbing, burlap, horse hair stuffing and muslin. they need a layer of cotton batting when the fabric goes on. I think a solid color would be best, maybe velvet? maybe tacks?
Once I began making the parts for the stool, I realized how great it would be to make a set. They could be used a number of ways and they don’t take up much space. Arrange them in a square and they become a coffee table, though they could still be used for seating during parties (or for tying your kids shoes). They can be used as a window seat or set up in tetris shapes as room dividers.
I had a lot of fun making the columns. I lined them up in group of 18. It was cool how light and shadows changed inside as you move around. It would make a great lamp base.
The stool’s legs and stretchers are made of walnut and the rails are made of ash. It is held together with pegged mortise and tenon joints. There are sixteen joints in each stool.
They can be used around a table, like this one or something more modern. This is a curly maple tea table based on examples made by John Townsend in Newport, Rhode Island c.1760-1790.
I made a double seat one too!
Bible Boxes for Baby Books
This is a box I made for my son Isaac’s Baby Book. It also has lots of room for keepsakes. It is based on a box pictured in Wallace Nutting’s Furniture of the Pilgrim Century. The box in the book is from 1670-1690 and held together with nails. I decided to use half-blind dovetails to join the front of the box and through dovetails for the back. Half-blind dovetails can only be seen from one side, so they don’t interfere with the carving on the front.
Inside the box is a till with its own lid, which can be used to prop the top open. There is also a secret compartment. This box belongs to my oldest son, Malcolm, and is pretty much filled up already. I tried make the boxes unique while keeping the design identical. The difference is all in the finish. Isaac’s is painted green over red milk paint with a coat of shellac, and Malcolm’s is red with most of the paint sanded off and a coat of linseed oil. Both boxes are made of sassafras, a local hardwood that is light, aromatic and closely resembles chestnut.
The carving is of a tulip vine, which for me symbolizes new life and continuing growth.
So, here’s a funny thing…you may have already seen this box. It was used as a prop in the John Adams mini-series on HBO! Here it is with Abigail Adams (Laura Linney) and George Washington (David Morse).
One piece of furniture that you often see in my pictures, but that never gets mentioned, is my work bench. This one is the first bench I ever made. It was meant to be a show piece for my store, and to serve as a counter when helping customers with their purchases. It’s completely functional and I use it for demonstrations on weekends.
The vise is based on an 18th Century French design I saw in a book. It’s unusual to have the vise projecting above the top, but it works well for shaping legs or other parts where you need to be able to get around without stopping to turn the piece. The plank with the peg and holes in it next to the vise is called the “dead man” [maybe because of the holes]. It is a support for doors or boards that are held in the vise, and it slides on a track in the rail. It is shaped like a chair splat from a set of New York Queen Anne chairs I made.
The bench is a fitted with a frame and panel in the back. It’s painted with Lexington green milk paint.
The work bench at the shop is a more conventional set up with the same design elements. The legs are cut from 16/4 maple stock and painted with bayberry green milk paint. The bench is weighted down with boxes of Antiques magazines that a kind, retired carpenter gave to me. If your bench is moving around though, you should sharpen your tools.
There are no bench dogs here, I just nail strips of wood down as stops for planing.
The first sign I made for the store was made of maple and basswood. It has a typical trade sign construction consisting of a frame with a board let into a slot cut into the top and bottom rail. The board is shaped at the top and bottom like a Chippendale looking glass frame. The sides have two different Queen Anne chair splat patterns cut out. The posts on either side are turned with different forms taken from William & Mary table legs as well as the drops at the bottoms. They are topped with flames in the styles of Philadelphia and Boston. I painted it with milk paint, a bad choice for something that lives outside.
I re-painted it a few years later with a phoenix bird in red. Taken from a finial on a famous Philadelphia chest-on-chest.
I was looking at some finial carvings from a Boston carver and was inspired to make a new sign. This one had a more eagle like beak but a wonderful long neck and tail feathers.
I carved the moulding around the frame with a water leaf pattern and gilded the Phoenix bird with gold leaf.
If a table is to be used for eating, drinking or talking with friends, I believe it should be round. I realize that some rooms are too small, and some gatherings are too large to use a round table, but they are still the best shape for conversation.
My favorite round tables are gate-leg drop-leaf tables, meaning the top can hang down if the gate-leg is folded in. These tables can be any where from 3 feet wide to 8 feet. The large tables are usually ovoid. They commonly have turned legs like this table, but also could have straight ,tapered or cabriole legs. One of my favorites is a New York table with eight ball & claw feet.
Some folks don’t like the gate-leg because they feel like they will hit their knees, so this table was made without the folding top and legs. It is made of maple that was painted with milk paint on the base and stained on the top. It is 60 inches wide, a good size for 6 people.
This is a twin size, low post, ball & claw foot bed, based on a bed from Philadelphia circa 1750-1760. It is made of maple with ash slats. The legs are cut from boards four inches thick. The legs are then turned on the lathe to make the ball on top of the post. It’s something to see. The ankle of the leg seems to disappear as it spins.
These are legs for a tall post bed showing the mortise and tenon joints and the holes for bed bolts. This makes for an incredibly strong joint, so strong they are sometimes used on work benches. This makes it possible to dis-assemble the bed easily for moving.
The bolt holes are covered with…. bolt hole covers. I like to use futons from White Lotus with my beds. You can fluff them up and you will never feel a metal spring in your back. The ash slats can be planed down to make them more springy if desired.
I wanted to make my Dad a chair for his 70th birthday, and was inspired by a few things to make what you see here. The general form is from a group of Queen Anne chairs made in New york City circa 1740. And from a chair made by Henry Hardcastle in Charleston, South Carolina. Henry Hardcastle had moved there from New York around 1755.
So this chair is a “what if”, that is , what if Hardcastle made one of these earlier chairs with the more Rococo carving. That seemed like a fun idea to me so I made it. The chair is made of Black Walnut and has bird head armrests, carved knees with c scrolls, vines and hairy paw feet. My Dad, a retired Teamster, was not the kind of guy to go looking for a Rococo chair but I think he liked it. He never got to sit in the finished chair though, because I was too fussy about the upholstery.
He wanted the fabric to be red, so I picked this one. The seat looks a bit overstuffed, so it just goes to show sometimes it doesn’t make sense to be so focused on the way it’ll look. Just get it done and have a seat.
Make It Funky
That’s what the customer said. It was a present for his wife. Something with color and well, make it funky. So I painted it mustard yellow milk paint and then barn red. I wiped off the red in imitation of flame grained birch.
Then I added a little pitch black.
The whole thing is about five feet wide and five feet tall.
This is a joined chest that would have been made in the Connecticut River Valley near Hadley Massachusetts from 1680 to 1730. It origins go back much further, it’s medieval really, The designs decorating this chest are said to derive from pagan fertility symbols.
They were made for young women as hope chests, as this one was. It is made of red oak, sassafras and aromatic cedar.
The carving on these chests is of highly stylized, and abstracted, leaves flowers and vines, using a flat chip carved technique. You can see in the first picture how the pattern is repeated and flipped again and again. It was fun to do. It makes me think of Celtic stone carving. On top of the chest is a bible box made of sassafras carved with a similar tulip-vine pattern. A raking light really shows it off.