Most of you know that I like Christopher Schwarz and his writing (BTW, I “like” him, I don’t “like him like him” if you know what I mean), but I would like to take him out to lunch and see what he is really like. Okay, enough of this and on to the point.
The current project I am working on is what I would call in the “American Studio Furniture” Style, but a frum Jew would call it “Modern”. (More on that later). The following blog by Christopher Schwarz peaked my interest. (I have only posted part of the article. Click the link to read the whole thing)
The problem I have with contemporary furniture is that it is generally made one of two ways:
1. To a price. The manufactured contemporary furniture (from Ikea and worse) is made to have a shelf life. Once you pass the expiration date, the furniture will wobble, peel or commit hari-kari on you.
2. It is made outrageously. The work of contemporary makers I’ve examined tend to overbuild pieces or radically underbid them. I’ve seen pieces that are built to be used by the cockroaches after we have been returned to the primordial ooze. I’ve seen pieces that are unlikely to make it to the next presidential election. Good furniture construction is a balance. You have to know how your material will behave through time.
That’s why I prefer furniture made in a traditional manner. It has obeyed the rules that allow it to survive generations or centuries.
So why don’t Americans build contemporary furniture with traditional methods? Well in some ways we are too cheap to pay for it. Or we are now used to ugly and temporary things and cannot conceive of nice furniture that costs more but lasts longer.
Or, in my case, I am afraid of fashion.
The so-called modern styles of the last century haven’t held up very well. Contemporary furniture from the 1980s – think: stacking waterfall tables – look ugly to the 2011 eye. Yet, period furniture and other forms of so-called “brown furniture” have looked appealing to me since I was a kid.
It’s easy to build something that will stay together for 100 years. It’s hard as heck to build something contemporary that will look good in 100 years.
I don’t think I could ever bring myself to build or design “contemporary” furniture, that’s just not my style. I can appreciate it as an “art” form, but that’s not my bag. I guess I’m a “brown furniture” man.
I am currently working on a “modern” style shtender (lectern). It’s a design I started working on about seven or eight years ago, and I have made five of them so far. Perhaps “contemporary” might be a better adjective to describe it. When my Orthodox friends look at it, it just doesn’t seem to register with them. It’s not square or clunky, and it does not have a shelf, so these people just say “well, that’s interesting.” But I have found that my non-orthodox Jewish friends really like it. Now I don’t mean to make a blanket statement here, because one of these shtenders was purchased and being used by a small orthodox shul, but it is funny how I see the same reaction over and over again. So I wonder if most woodworkers walk by “Modern” furniture and say, “well, that’s interesting…..”
Stay tuned for an article about this shtender.