Chris Schwarz's Blog

On the Merits of Blue Furniture

Blue Furniture

I’m sure you get asked the following question a lot: “What’s your favorite style of furniture?”

My answer to that question has always been rambling and indecisive – I love styles from the 15th century up to mid-century modern. But I now have a simple and direct response: I like blue furniture.

If you subscribe to color theory, people react physically to different colors. Reds, yellows and oranges increase our heart rate, adrenal-gland activity and our general level of excitement. So-called cool colors – mostly blues and greens – have the opposite effect. They are calming.

Blue Furniture

I like furniture designs and grain patterns that invoke calm. And while I am impressed by wild figure, ornate carvings, spectacular marquetry and the like, I’ve never been driven to build that sort of stuff. I do like a bit of ornament – otherwise I’d just be building crates. But I especially like the ornament to have some sort of function. An ovolo moulding that serves to shed rain and act as a transition between a plinth and a carcase is a good example.

This week I’m finishing up some gothic tracery on the front of an aumbry for an upcoming article in Popular Woodworking Magazine. And this tracery is another example of the functional ornament that I like. The piercings on the carcase were designed to let air into the aumbry when food was stored inside. Typically the back of the piercings would be covered in cloth to keep insects out.

Blue Furniture

The sizes of the openings are to keep thieving hands out of the aumbry – these cupboards were typically locked. And the shape of the openings give just a little interest to what could be described as a well-proportioned plain oak cabinet.

The only other ornament on this aumbry is the hardware – a lock, H-hinges and wrought-head nails. All could be considered functional ornament as well.

It would be easy to criticize my approach to design as mental self-deception. Perhaps I’m incapable of making flashy stuff, so I delude myself into liking simple furniture. But I don’t think that’s the case. My stuff is not simple. I love complex joinery, grain, detail and texture. I just like to arrange those things into furniture that is, for lack of a better word, calming.

My goal with this piece, as with all the pieces that I design, is to make the viewer appreciate the cabinet in the same way you like a favorite and broken-in sweatshirt.

Next week we will all get to see if I’ve succeeded.

— Christopher Schwarz

7 thoughts on “On the Merits of Blue Furniture

  1. hasmanean

    I’m glad to hear someone say this. I have always loved the navy blue doors and windows (esp when contrasted with white walls) in seaside towns and mediterranean villages. Even though it’s painted wood it just looked so perfect in its simplicity.

  2. apbeelen

    I like your description of furniture as blue vs. red, orange, or yellow. While older styles of 15th through early 19th century styles are more calming to me, much beyond that, and especially more modern wood furniture that has sharp, contrasting lines, and various colors and grains of exotic woods is more “red” to me. While I can appreciate the creativity and craftsmanship that goes into this style, it makes my heart race, and my blood pressure rise. It is not calming to me personally. Thanks for your perspective, and keep posting those calming pictures of furniture!

  3. Arkie

    Just wondering where in your home have you stacked the hundreds of chests you have built? I know it is hard to give away a beautiful hand made project.

  4. Larry Jackson

    So, Chris, were aumbries originally fastened with wrought head nails, or with wooden pegs?

    Beautiful job on the tracery, BTW….especially on the corner incisions.

  5. SourdoughBred

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Chris on simple design. Subtlety is king. I love going to my favorite sushi restaurant and seeing sitting among the beautifully made japanese furniture. Nothing eye popping, but the grain is clear and straight. The color is warm. The lines and proportions are thought out but not loud. The joinery is strong and ads to the overall design. And it’s all very inviting and touchable. Makes me want to build a tansu just thinking about it.

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