At the onset of modernism, the Bauhaus school set out to make craftsmen of designers and designers of craftsmen. It is a hard lesson to impart either way. After 30 years as an architect, I’ve returned to designing and making furniture as a craftsman. Hours of hands-on construction bring a realization of opportunities that are not readily apparent on screen and paper. Like architecture, handcrafted furniture is in the design as well as the construction.
One discovers possibilities in making. You can never make just one of something. In the process of designing and building one discovers what you’re creating wants to become, and many ideas worth exploring come in construction. Getting tired of making flat panels for my cabinets, I said, “Why not make slats instead?” But thin slats warp, so I pinned the slats together with dark wooden buttons, making a pattern across the vertical gaps. A friend refers to one wardrobe I made as, “The Pie Cabinet.”
I made a series of cabinets where the legs form a frame into which the box of the cabinet is set. The tops fly out beyond the sides with whimsical keyholes cut into the ends. “What are those for?” people ask. I like them. They make me smile.
When I make things, I stack up odd pieces, turn them around for consideration saying, “Maybe, maybe not.” With age I have accumulated better tools. I’ve practiced the craftsman’s skills and one learns. There are time-honored ways to do things that can become a trap. It is all well and good to learn to make flawless dovetail joints, but the drawer they are on is just a small part of the whole. And who looks at how a drawer is made when he searching for something in it? The goal is to bring craft to support the design and design to support the craft. And in the end it is the delight and discovery of making things that, with luck, will be reflected in the finished piece.
© Carlsen & Frank Architects