by Nancy R. Hiller
Some of the most aesthetically compelling pieces of furniture I’ve seen in the Arts & Crafts style were made by an English company most Americans have never heard of. Between 1890 and 1910, the Harris Lebus Company of London exploited the prevailing fashion in home décor, producing a variety of sideboards, hallstands, wardrobes, washstands and related furniture characterized by simple lines and bold proportions.
Many of these items were production pieces built with a price point rather than handcraft in mind. Yet by virtue of their affordability, these pieces achieved one of the Arts & Crafts movement’s central ideals: to make useful and beautiful things available to those of modest means.
While researching an article on Harris Lebus several years ago, I came across a knockout wardrobe. Detail photos revealed less-than-optimal fabrication; the door panels had been screwed into their frames rather than housed in grooves, which resulted in predictable splits. The Gothic-style door and drawer pulls looked like the kind of gaudy hardware that belongs in Hollywood. But the overall look…Wow!
So when I had the opportunity to build a bookcase to go in a bibliophile’s home library, I suggested using the Lebus wardrobe as a starting point for the design.
The basic form of the bookcase follows a range of Lebus pieces built with solid-slab side panels glued to front and back legs, without top and bottom rails. The long-grain to long-grain glue-up makes for a perfectly sound connection without any additional joinery.
These side assemblies are connected to each other by mortised-and-tenoned rails at the top and bottom, front and back. The bottom and top are added later – the bottom supported by wooden cleats, the top attached by metal fasteners or wooden buttons, after the piece’s decorative brackets have been installed in sliding dovetail slots.
A paneled back and leaded-glass doors with C. R. Mackintosh hardware complete the picture.
Web site: Visit Nancy Hiller’s web site for a look at her other work and to read more of her research on Harris Lebus.
Blog: Turn a cat food can into a sander.
Model: Download a free SketchUp model for this project.
in Uur Store: “Build a Turn-of-the-Century Baker’s Table,” a video by Nancy Hiller.
From the December 2015 issue