Listen Up - Architecture Speaks

The Challenge of Design

Designing is one of the most challenging aspects of a project. To get ideas for my projects, I read a lot but I also have 13 years of remodeling experience to draw from. This is significant because it means I have seen a lot of buildings and have been intimately involved with them through my remodel work. While working on them, I paid attention to both the design and construction details.

Original bench.

With Lucy's Bench, the project that I am working on, I tore out a poorly designed bench, bookcase, and handrail which had been inflicted in the 70's. There was dark stained oak plywood and HVAC vents screwed to the face of the bench. I knew I could do better than this.

Let The House Speak To You

When I am looking for design ideas, most often the house will tell me what to do if I pay attention. This particular house was built in the 1920's and originally carried the trim details popular in the Arts & Crafts style. Some of those details are gone, yet many remain. To fill in the blanks, I rely on experience and research.

One thing to understand is that there is, almost always, no single right answer. There are always a few solutions that will be acceptable and, ultimately, the client has the final say. I educate and advise but I never force anything on them.  

It is also important to remember that personal taste is subjective. At times, clients have picked what I thought was less than the best answer, but they have never really "blown it" and they have always been very happy with the end result. 

One thing that I hate hearing a contractor or designer say is "It will grow on you." That statement bothers me because it is a red flag that they forced their decision onto a reluctant homeowner and it uses the passage of time to get it behind them. The more time that passes, the more likely the homeowner will just live with it, not entirely pleased with the result but not acting on their dissatisfaction.

Getting Down From My Soapbox...

Full Cloverleaf Perforated MetalWell, I will get off my soapbox now because I really just wanted to share a cool detail and a lesson with you.

I determined that I wanted the vents in the bench to be replaced with a more accurate representation of the period so I ordered perforated metal with a full cloverleaf pattern. 

I had explained to the clients that the full cloverleaf pattern was common "back in the day" for a house in this style. They shook their heads in general compliance as they trust me and agreed it would look nice. 

New bench design. A few days later the homeowners were doing some painting work in the master bedroom and they called me up to ask for some advice. I went up and took a look at the situation and gave my thoughts.

Before I left the room, I noticed a heat vent in the back corner of the closet and it had the same full cloverleaf pattern in the metal. I thought that was pretty cool because it confirmed to the client that I knew what I was talking about. And, while I am not doing a historical restoration, I am being mindful of the period as I designed the project. That was one of those "success" moments that I really enjoy.

The Moral Of The Story

For woodworkers, design ideas should come from places other than woodworking books and magazines. Architecture is a great source of ideas. In fact, furniture is most often designed to complement architecture so that means it is a great source for design ideas.

This topic can fill volumes, but the short lesson for us today is to pay attention to the buildings around you. Take notice of both commercial and residential buildings, especially the old ones. Take notes of the architectural details inside and out. The buildings have a lot to say.

For me, I develop personal relationships with buildings as I work on them so I need to listen to what they say. For the average woodworker, they also have information to share. They have style and design elements on display and great examples of proportional relationships that work well together. Look at these elements as detail and as an aggregate whole. This information will help you design both freestanding and fitted furnishings. 

That is all I have for now. 

Your friend in the shop,

Todd A. Clippinger.

Share the Love ~ Share the Knowledge