Sideboard Fit for Tea

1516-tea-2-01 tea_cabinet_opener05Design without compromise: An exercise in high-end handwork

By Geremy Coy
pages 24-31

Sometimes a cup of tea is more than a cup of tea. Its surface may be still, its color translucent and its container unadorned. But in a single sip of hot water, you can taste the time of year the leaves were harvested, the sun that touched them from above and the earth drawn into them from below.

This is not so different from woodworking. As woodworkers, we’re concerned with transforming natural materials into creations of our own, hoping all the while that they retain some of the unimaginable complexity of their former lives. This project, a sideboard for preparing tea, is an opportunity to unite two arts, both of which celebrate simplicity and reflection and, in the modern spirit, are capable of presenting both calm, unassuming surfaces and the living forces roiling in their depths.

To achieve this in the form of a standing cabinet, my guiding principle has been to take away all that is extraneous and leave only what is necessary. The cabinet is made from pale, straight-grained Spessart oak – aesthetically calming and unobtrusive. Symbolically, too, it seems in keeping that a piece meant for quiet, contemplative moments be made from ancient, slow-growing timbers. In addition to the careful selection of lumber, the components are as thin as practicable; the outer box is 5⁄8″ thick, while most of the interior dividers are a relatively wispy 3⁄8″.

The soul of the piece is the left-most cubby, intended to hold a cherished teapot or bowl. In contrast to the austerity of the cubby, the right section of the cabinet is filled with dividers and drawers that intersect to form muted patterns. In other words, the fullness of the right section enhances the emptiness of the left.

In addition, the dividers and drawers are progressively set back from the cabinet’s front edge. The varying shadows they cast hint at the richness and mystery of an organizing principle expressed through otherwise simple shapes. They point, too, at function: a stately teapot resides in the deepest space, cups on a slightly narrower shelf, and spoons and whisks in even smaller drawers.

Because the rectangular case is the focus of the piece, the legs are designed to visually intrude as little as possible, while at the same time providing a subtle feeling of lift and sturdiness. While there’s nothing new under the sun, they’re attached by means of a somewhat unusual joint that allows for a minimal base, and they’re tapered, curved and rounded to soften their form.

In this article, I’ll briefly touch on constructing the main case, provide a step-by-step explanation of cutting the leg joint, and walk you through making the back’s mitered joints. I use hand tools exclusively to perform these tasks, a method that seems to suit the quiet, intentional spirit of tea.

Web site: Visit the author’s web site for a look at more of his work.
Free model: Download a free SketchUp model of this project
Blog: Read “The First Studio Furniture Maker,” by Christopher Schwarz.
To Buy: “Contemporary Furniture,” an eMag collection of six projects from Popular Woodworking Magazine.
In Our Store: “Studio Furniture of the Renwick Gallery,” by Oscar P. Fitzgerald.

From the June 2015 issue

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