by Mario Rodriguez
Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933) is considered by craftspeople, collectors and designers to be the premier Art Deco furniture maker; he was called “Art Deco’s greatest artist” by The New York Times in 2009. All the fuss is for good reason.
This French designer’s work is characterized by the skillful use of luxurious and exotic materials, including ebony, kingwood, ivory, amaranth, Indian rosewood, sharkskin and tortoiseshell. What really set his work apart was how he perfected a purity of line – lithe sinuous curves melding perfectly with sharp, disciplined and crisp rectangles and straight edges.
Ruhlmann insisted on uncompromising quality, and as a result, his pieces consistently lost money, sometimes as much as 20 to 30 percent. For example, it typically took more than 50 hours to create a single leg for a piece. The exquisite workmanship invested into his pieces is immediately obvious to any viewer.
My original design is strongly influenced by Ruhlmann’s collective work and employs a number of details he often used on his amazing furniture. These include the inlaid dot border, contrasting accents, vertically oriented veneer work and slender tapering legs on this piece.
The design is called a tabouret, or work table. Set alongside a desk or drawing board, it would store and organize frequently used tools and materials. But its small size (about 19″ wide x 15″ deep x 31″ high) makes it a piece that can be placed anywhere – in an entryway, at the end of a sofa or next to a bed.
The carcase sides and back are made of 3⁄4″ shop-grade plywood. After cutting the parts to size, I cut 1⁄2″-deep x 3⁄4″-wide rabbets on the back edges of the side panels to receive the 3⁄4″-thick back, and across the top ends of the side panels for the upper drawer web frame. Next, I cut 3⁄16″-deep x 1⁄2″-wide dados into the sides for the other drawer web frames.
The frames are made of 1⁄2″ poplar and are joined with stub tenons set into a lengthwise groove. Once glued up, they are cut square and to final size. And because the 3⁄4″ plywood cabinet sides and back are assembled around these three poplar frames, they must be perfectly square and dead flat.
In addition to holding the sides and back of the carcase together, the frames support and guide the smooth operation of the two dovetailed drawers.
Web: Visit the author’s web site for information on upcoming classes
Video: See Mario Rodriguez’s ingenious solution for scooping a chair seat
To buy: “Building a Classic Drawer with Alan Turner” (who also treaches at Philadelphia Furniture Workshop).
Web: Build an understated Shaker one-drawer side table with these free plans
From the April 2015 issue, #217