Graduated Drawers


Two sets of dividers are all you need to achieve well-proportioned drawers.
By George Walker
Pages: 60-63

From the June 2009 issue #176
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For centuries artists honed their craft by copying the works of the masters. The goal was not to become a copyist; instead the intense focus of exploring a masterpiece was a proven way to unlock the mysteries hidden within. Often it’s the subtle details – proportion, light, shadow, color and texture – that set apart great work. Much can be learned studying great furniture, and it’s not limited just to those interested in period reproductions. Good design is timeless.

A fine example of this is the period drawing on the facing page of a chest on chest, circa 1760 from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is a rare artifact for two reasons. First, because almost no shop drawings have survived from the 18th century, but more importantly because it offers a unique glimpse of a great design. The finished chest might have included elaborate decorative carving, but what we see are the stripped-down bare lines of the piece.

Just beneath the surface on many great pieces of American furniture are design secrets based on architecture. The Mickle chest drawing illustrates two methods to arrange drawer fronts to carry the eye to a focal point, which in this case would be some dramatic carving on the large central drawer at the top, as well as a decorative carving to crown the pediment.

Your first glimpse of a large chest on chest from a distance across a room only reveals the most apparent features – the overall proportions of the case, and the dramatic mouldings that emphasize the overall form. As you come closer, details like the arrangement of drawers direct the eye upward. The secretary pictured at right uses graduated drawers to pull the eye up. Notice how each drawer diminishes in height as the drawers rise up the case. It’s a simple and elegant solution to deal with a series of monotonous horizontal bands (drawer fronts) that can tend to look static if left identical.

A file cabinet is a good example of the effect of leaving each drawer the same. It might be functional, but it does not grab the eye. At best we paint file cabinets a bland neutral color and make them as unobtrusive as possible. Just adding the simple twist of making each drawer slightly shorter as it climbs up the case has a subtle yet powerful effect. The eye cannot help but be pulled upward.


From the June 2009 issue #176
Buy this issue now