|Dovetailed box of oak and spalted beech by David Barron|
I don't think I'm alone when I say much of modern furniture is designed with visible examples of precise craftsmanship as a statement of rejection of modern, mass-produced wares designed with profit as the driving force.
For me personally, two elements combine to make this statement powerfully: refined design, and wood selection.
Yes, furniture at the big stores is made of wood. But no thought past the bottom line goes into its selection. The furniture is designed around the machines, most often in a laughable manner: the Mission-style square peg glued into a round hole, with visible adhesive oozing out the four corners is perhaps the best example of furniture-making laziness and apathy.
Some may argue that we need huge factories cranking out junk to supply the larger population. But I would argue that point. As my friend and fellow craftsman Chris Schwarz likes to point out, not long ago we had only a handful of beers to choose from in America. All the same style beer to boot. Now there is a micro-brewery within a short drive of anyone. Does it work? Yes, new breweries are still popping up. There are hundreds of them. Could this work with furniture? Absolutely. All we need to do is keep making fine things and getting it into the hands of modern people who, like many of us, have forgotten what real things are. To that end, I make furniture for my extended family, and friends, and also for myself. And I try to promote hand-made items as much as I can.
But here's one key element that I've found makes this possible. Keep things simple. And that's where this idea keys in so well with today's tastes. People like modern furniture. The relatively simple and quick construction methods these pieces call for frees us up as craftsmen to focus on nailing the proportions and selecting the perfect wood.
Take David Barron's box above. An extremely simple piece, yet it oozes authenticity. No carving, no curves, no ornament. The design of the box itself makes this piece relatively quick and easy to build, but the proportions and meticulously intentional wood selection set this box apart from anything you'd remotely see in a furniture store. David's tool chest below is also a perfect example. A parlor trick? Maybe, but only to those who have been reared on factory pieces with tolerances of guaranteed slop.
Next time you're with friends who buy furniture from a chain store, show them something like David's box and ask them if they'd rather have something real like this in their home, something to cherish for several lifetimes, or poseur furniture.