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
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.
It is a small detail, but I think it makes this simple little box something special. This piece is based on a early Queen Anne box but I’ve pushed it a little further back to William & Mary. An interesting time for cabinet makers. In fact it was when cabinet makers started to come into their own. Before then they were called joiners and would have also been building houses and using the same “joinery” for both.
So here we have a box that is nailed together with a dovetailed drawer inside. The top is covered with walnut crotch veneer and edged with walnut cross banding. The drawer front and sides are solid, highly figured walnut. The drawer sides are made of sassafras, a local aromatic hardwood.
Oh, so the detail. It’s the hand cast brass hardware. They help give an interesting rhythm,with the feet, to the facade.
When I get the time and inclination something like this happens. Here is Moby Dick and Ahab, carved from a 16/4 chunk of poplar and painted with milk paint. What is it exactly? A toy, a weathervane, I don’t know, but it was inspired by both.
Here’s another piece, carved out of basswood and Spanish cedar. It is carved on both sides each with different faces.
Furnishings hand-made in the best manner.
54 North Union St.
Lambertville, NJ 08530
“Hello 2010 this is the 18th Century, are you reading me?”