I think that furniture that is hand-built or custom commissioned can integrate what I refer to as a third function- that of place and memory. When you think about it, most furniture usually has up to two functions: it’s purely utilitarian (think the giant cable spool used as a table in a college apartment) or it is both utilitarian and beautiful. For the vast majority of furniture, it stops there. But if we make our own furniture we can add a third function, and that third function deepens our connection and embeds a degree of meaning within the piece that is otherwise impossible.
For example, in 2010 I bought pretty much an entire walnut tree in Bloomington, Indiana. It was a tree that grew from a seed in Bloomington, fell down in a storm in Bloomington, was milled into lumber in Bloomington, and ultimately was turned into three pieces of furniture in Bloomington. I built Rachael’s coffee table, my bar, and our dining room table from that single walnut tree. Three matching pieces with similar design elements made from a single tree. Thus, after we moved away from Bloomington, those pieces will forever link us to the time we spent there, and be intrinsically linked to each other as sibling pieces. To separate them is to separate a family, and they are thus pieces that I hope will stay within my family for many years after I have gone.
The second tree
When I got engaged my father-in-law gave me a remarkable gift- two-thirds of a Bastogne walnut tree- the rarest species of walnut, known for its stunning tiger-curly pattern.Included were six 12-foot slabs, raw edges on both sides cut through and through- a true treasure. I decided that this wood would be used exclusively for family pieces for our home alone. From those slabs I have built our bed, my two desks, the handles of our kitchen knives, chopsticks, and serving boards. Together with the Bloomington walnut, these two trees live on around us, and take on another life after their life as organisms ended.
I decided to put some new handles on Japanese knives and make a box for the drawer.
I've had an interest in the furniture used by the officer classes during imperial postings- furniture that could fold up and turn into luggage and then unpack and become functional furniture. To that end I built two boxes- one as a portable bar and the other as a tea station. These were the first pieces I made with the Bastogne walnut and I made them as presents for my wife's parents.