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Custom TV Cabinet

finished

Over the 25 years that I've been building custom furniture professionally I've seen some changes in the way folks deal with their televisions. Back at the end of the last century, you might recall, TVs suddenly got big and people wanted to hide them when they weren't watching them. In the 90's I built quite a few armoires to house those fat, heavy things. The state-of-the-art in those days was pocket doors and because the TVs were so deep, the cabinets had the depth necessary for the doors to pocket into the sides. Now, with the advent of the flat screen, the cabinets don't need to be so deep and the pocket door is out of fashion. Instead, now we have the TV lift that makes the TV magically pop up or drop down from some hidden location. Pretty cool. 

I got a call a little while ago to build a custom TV cabinet with a lift. The client is in Santa Fe and wanted the piece to 'look old' and be heavily distressed. Her current cabinet was a tall piece with doors above, for the TV, and doors below for the AV accessories. She wanted the new piece to be more like a sideboard than a breakfront and take up less space. I did some sketching for her at our first meeting to get the rough idea of what she was thinking she wanted and then I went home and fleshed out the design. She settled on a cabinet that had the TV hidden behind 2 doors with the AV equipment behind a third. 

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Pomele Bubinga Extension Dining Table

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It was a little bit like the story of the poor cobblers kid who didn't have any shoes. It's not that I don't have any nice furniture in my house. Over the years I've built some duplicates of pieces that I was making for clients with the idea that they were spec pieces and that I'd sell them if I got the chance. A fair amount of those pieces have been in galleries and I've sold some. There's a few of them sprinkled around my place. I also make an extra chair with every set and I hang onto it to show clients. And use. When I remodeled my kitchen I found myself with a sudden need for a dining table. Unfortunately, I was suffering from Home Work Burnout and a bad case of the Great Recession Blues. A new dining table was going to have to wait. I'll get around to it one of these days......

To tide me over for the time being I slapped together a quick table out of a chunk of walnut plywood with a piece of nosing on one edge that I had laying around. For legs I ripped some strips of some other ply scrap and nailed them together to create 'L' shaped legs. I nailed and glued them to some more strips that I was using for rails and figured that that would hold up for a few months until I could make something real. The whole project took about a half hour. That was six years ago. 

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Arts & Crafts side table

Lines  Rimbeaux bedside tables

A number of years ago I got a call from a couple who both needed some furniture for their offices in their new house. I made them a handful of pieces ranging from a couple of desks to file cabinets, a bookcase and a breakfront with a pile of drawers. A couple of months later they called back and said that they were having trouble finding something they liked for their bedroom furniture. Not wanting to have everything look like the Scott Ernst Collection at Ethan Allen, I proposed that we shake it up a little and do something in a different style. They thought that was a good idea, so I designed them a chest of drawers built in quarter sawn sycamore. It was a little contemporary, but definitely with a foot in the past. Next they needed some bedside tables and they wanted them to have storage. That's when I designed them the pieces in the picture above. These chests of drawers are firmly in the Arts & Crafts tradition but with a few unusual details. First of all the legs have a curve to them. Other than the occasional sweep on a bottom rail, pieces from the Arts & Crafts period weren't very curvy. The other out of the ordinary detail was the pulls on the drawers and doors. I love the traditional but quirky nature of these two pieces, the one on the left makes me think of R2D2 from Star Wars. 

Fast forward 8 years and another call from the same couple. They had moved and were needing another bedside table. They just wanted a small table to hold the clock and a book. This time it made sense to match the two existing pieces that they were still going to be using. I did a quick sketch that they liked and then came back later with a full sized drawing that we could hang on the wall in the space to be sure that the scale was right. They liked it and I was off to the shop.

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Marquetry Cabinet

Abiquiu cabinet pic

Sometimes you just get a wild hair. As a maker of custom furniture I love to push myself beyond my comfort zone and try new things. This sideboard definitely fell into that category. I had done several other marquetry pieces over the years but nothing as challenging as this. Small marquetry pieces that fit on the scroll saw are one thing, but a 5' wide panel was going to have to be broken down into more workable sections and then fit together. Fun!

 Up in Northern New Mexico there is a little town called Abiquiu which is known mostly as the former home of Georgia O'Keeffe. The landscape is a stunning vista of multi colored mesas and canyons and Georgia wasn't the only one it inspired to make art. One evening on my way home from paddling the Chama River the sun was setting and bathing one particular mesa that I've always liked with fantastic light and shadow, so I pulled over and took a photo. That image stuck with me and I dug it out when I made the decision to try doing a landscape with marquetry. 

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Curly Walnut Dining Table

randall galloway dining table

A few months ago I got an email from a prospective new client in Santa Fe. He had been looking for a new dining table for quite some time and hadn't been able to find anything that he liked. At one point he had gotten as close as having a table delivered to his house to try out but it wasn't working for him, so he sent it back. That's when he thought that it might be worth looking into buying a custom dining table. Having never bought a piece of custom furniture he had no idea how much it would cost or how the process worked. When we talked on the phone I ran him through my design process and asked him a few questions about his vision of the table. That gave me enough information to throw out a ballpark number for him that was within his range. 

The client's dining room is small......and square. He wanted a table that was smallish for day to day use but that would extend for times when he had folks over. After talking about several rectangular table shapes we realized that the reason that they weren't quite right for the space was because of the square room. I did some sketching for him there at the first meeting and we came up with a good starting point for the design. 

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A side table with a shelf

slifer round table finished

As a woodworker in New Mexico who got his start 20 something years ago I began building custom furniture at what turned out to be the tail end of the reign of the Santa Fe Style. That was fine with me. I built some furniture in that style, but I never really loved that stuff all that much. As the years have gone by I've seen the trend go much more into what the decorators call Transitional Style, a more eclectic mix of contemporary and older styles with maybe a little rustic thrown in for good measure. Personally, I've mostly liked my own designs to have one foot in the past somewhere while also feeling a little fresh and new, so that has worked out pretty well for me. (I'll admit that sometimes I can get a little wild and that's fun too.) Although I didn't design it, the side table I'm writing about here fits perfectly into the Transitional Style. Simple, relatively unadorned but definitely harkening back to something in the past. 

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A dining table in 4 hours

viola

My girlfriend moved recently and her old dining table wasn't really going to work in the new place. I had been thinking that it would be fun to knock together a new one for her, but things had been a little busy and I hadn't gotten around to it. I finally found myself in the shop on the morning of the move and decided that it was time to put it in gear and get busy. I, obviously, didn't have all the time in the world, but I wanted to make something with at least a little style. I also had to make it out of materials on hand. Hmmm....let's see....

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Custom Credenza with Parquetry

circle parquetry credenza finished

The great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane was known for taking musical phrases and exploring them from every angle. Forward, backward, inside out. He would try out every combination of notes to see where it would lead him. As a designer and builder of custom furniture I like to do the same thing. Sometimes it's a certain shape of leg mixed with a molding that can be pushed up into an armoire or squished down to be a credenza. I've played with curves that were almost straight lines and others that were nearly circles. It's part of what makes this business so interesting. I like to try different permutations of the same idea and see where I end up. Recently I've been fooling around with the parquetry pattern on this custom credenza. I first used it to decorate a handful of thresholds for a client near Santa Fe. That got me interested in trying it out on some furniture pieces. 

This style of parquetry is called Boule work. In this kind of work you stack up veneers of both species of wood, tape them into packets and cut multiple pieces at the same time on the scroll saw. This gives you equal numbers of all of the parts in each species. The result is that in the end you have two sets of faces in opposite color patterns. The desk below was made with the 'scrap' from the credenza. As Coltrane would've told you, turning the same parts around can give you a completely different feel. 

parquetry desk finished 1

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Desk with Parquetry

parquetry desk finished 1

Parquetry is a term you don't hear much in this country. It is the art of doing parquet work. Still not sounding familiar? Parquet is pronounced Par-Kay and we generally hear about it in terms of parquet flooring; usually strips of floor boards arranged in a basketweave pattern with their grain running in alternating directions. Parquetry has an extremely long history, however, in some cases involving kings and their furniture.

At it's most basic, parquetry is a repeating pattern created by cutting wood veneers into geometric shapes, piecing them together and adhering them to a substrate. Usually the pattern is made up of straight lines since they are easier to cut. On some elaborate furniture from the 16th and 17th centuries parquetry was used as a border or a background to a marquetry design. While marquetry and parquetry are similar in their construction techniques, marquetry is more pictorial than parquetry. To give you an idea of the differences, the custom credenza below is an example of a marquetry piece I built a few years ago. 

Abiquiu Cabinet

 A few months ago I was contracted to do panels of parquetry decoration on some thresholds. I came up with a repeating Moroccan geometric pattern for that project and it got me excited about the possibilities for using the same pattern on a furniture project. I didn't start out with a design for a piece of furniture that I was going to put parquetry on. Instead I began with the parquetry pattern and just let it draw me along. 

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Moroccan style parquetry

installed 3

I’ve been working on an interesting job, off and on, for the last year or so. I started out building a complicated pair of doors and moved on to making some large gates, doing a bit of carving on some beams, building a carved desk and another desk that wasn’t carved. It’s been great. Each one of the pieces has been different and challenging in it’s own way and I love the variety. 

A few months ago the decorator on the job mentioned to me that the client wanted to do something to spruce up the thresholds in one area of the place. They had run it by some of the other craftsmen on the job and no one had come up with any good ideas. There had been talk of carving something, inlaying tile, routing in a pattern, but nothing had really taken hold.  Did I have any ideas? This is right up my alley. Creative problem solving 2.0. 

The first issue was that the thresholds were already set into the slab, with finished tile laid around them. There was no chance of pulling them out and taking them to the shop to do whatever was going to be done to them. This meant that I was looking at either  doing lots of careful work on my hands and knees, or I was going to have to figure out something to make in the shop that I could then go back and install when it was done. I considered for a while making some sort of router template that I could use to route in a design and then inlay wood into the recess that I’d routed. The thought of doing that much careful work while crawling, with plenty of opportunities to make a mistake kind of gave me the screaming willies. Then I landed on the idea of doing a parquetry pattern. That meant that I could do the bulk of the work in the shop and then take it to the job for installation. The rough plan would be to make up parquetry faces out of shop made veneers and then laminate the parquetry onto a thin substrate. These would be cut to precise uniform sizes so that I could make router templates to cut the recess into the thresholds that the parquetry would drop perfectly into. Glue them down, sand them flush and finish in place. No problem. 

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A custom carved desk

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One of the things I like about being a maker of one-of-a-kind custom furniture is the variety. Every client has their own aesthetic and they each want something different. If you, as the builder, are ready to say yes to any kind of challenge you can find yourself in some interesting territory. That attitude has had me making everything from marquetry art pieces to airplane wings. Having clients with their own ideas keeps things fresh for me. Left to your own devices it's possible to find yourself in a rut of your own making.

A client of mine recently asked me to build a desk for his wife that wasn't like any other furniture I've ever made. He wanted it to match an old side table that they already had which might have come from India or Morocco originally. The side table was pretty interesting. It had a wrought iron grille under a glass top, turned legs, an antiqued, painted finish and lots of carving. To give myself something to work from I took a couple of snapshots of it and went home to come up with a bid. 

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Building a round side table with a shelf

slifer round table

As a furniture designer I have a fondness for building my own designs. I love meeting with a client, talking about the furniture they need and then designing them their perfect piece. It's like alchemy when you are able to take a short conversation and a few pencil sketches and manage to come up with something completely new that your client absolutely loves.

As a furniture maker I enjoy the challenge of figuring out the most efficient way to build pieces of custom furniture whether or not they are my design. In my 23 year career I have rarely built the same thing twice so I am constantly solving new construction puzzles. In my business I am regularly asked to build pieces of furniture that look like something the client has found but that they can't get in the size or wood species that they want. What I usually get to work from in these situations is a small image that they have scanned out of a magazine or catalog, along with some dimensions. It's up to me to figure out how to build it and then guess how long it will take me to do that so that I can bid the job. It's a new chess match every day. 

Read more: Building a round side table with a shelf