Sunday, October 25, 2009

Good furniture from cheap materials

When I was in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago, Sean and I went to the Art Center College of Design, where Magda is studying, and toured the student exhibits. I had noticed a trend in the creative use of plywood and cardboard for interesting furniture before, but it didn't really sink in until I saw it being used there.

Wood is an expensive commodity, but plywood is cheap. Also, plywood has the added advantage of being a stable material, unlike wood, which will expand and contract, twist, and warp over time. That material movement is why you will hear many woodworkers talk about how the wood is alive, even after it's been dimensioned into boards. Being a good craftsman means understanding how the wood will change over time: size, color, wear, etc.

Plywood also has the advantage of being veneered with most of the best-grained wood that is cut. Yes, I have heard some say that the best grain to be found these days is on the veneer of plywood. So, it makes sense to use plywood. It's cheap, it's widely available, and it's stable.

Being modern means using the commodities that are available in your time. Most people, when they think of fine furniture, probably do not think of plywood or MDF, or any kind of engineered material. They think of quarter-sawn white oak, and cherry cabinets, and old antiques, and basically anything other than plywood. But in fact, there are a lot of creative people out there proving that you can make exciting, modern furniture from engineered and recycled materials.

Look at these examples from furniture makers on Etsy:

These barstools are made from steel and plywood. The lamination technique the maker used allows him to shape the layers of wood into fine curves.

I could be mistaken, but I think this chair is actually made from plywood as well:

The design is good, well balanced, and the edge treatments don't try to hide the sandwich effect of the plywood. I like the honesty. The attention to grain detail is not great, I think, and gives the overall impression an amateurish look, but the idea was good, and I'm sure she'll refine it over time, perhaps employing more of the sandwich effect's lines on he arms and legs, like the barstools.

This coffee table reminds me of something I saw at the Art Center, with its finger-jointed plywood, and even the screws pay homage to the pinned finger joints of Greene & Greene. This a really great piece. I like the curved lines that contrast w/all the straight sandwich lines, and the use of hardware. This guy is officially my new favorite - Holy crap look at the chairs he makes! Spectacular - and affordable!

More good stuff here:

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