A Close Look at ‘Furniture in the Southern Style’
Things might seem a little backward or slow to newcomers. The manners, the way you do business and even the pace of life is out of sync with the other regions of the United States – a fact I learned within a week of moving to Chicago for college.
So it should come as little surprise that the furniture is different as well.
To my Southern eyes, the high-style furniture of 18th-century New England looks too severe and overly orchestrated. Like it is trying too hard.
In the South, even the richest pieces from Charleston, S.C., have a more casual air to them. Perhaps this has a lot to do with the economy’s rural foundation – I cannot say for sure. But I’ve always preferred Southern pieces, and that’s the bottom line for me.
So I am, of course, pleased that Popular Woodworking Books has just published “Furniture in the Southern Style” by Robert W. Lang and Glen D. Huey. This book was in the works when I left the magazine in June, but I had nothing to do with selecting the 27 pieces featured in its 160 pages or setting the tone of the book.
So like any other customer, I bought mine from ShopWoodworking.com and it arrived on Monday.
Here’s bottom line: Despite the fact that it was written by two Yankees, it’s an excellent book and should be on the shelf of anyone who loves American furniture. It is, in many ways, as groundbreaking as Lang’s first book, “Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture.”
In many ways, this book has the same back story.
When Lang’s book on Craftsman furniture came out there were only a few resources for those of us who built and enjoyed the Arts & Crafts style. At the time, the few woodworking books on the style were inadequate or were focused on pieces that were too simple or too unusual.
“Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture” and his follow-up volumes changed all that. Suddenly we all had access to some of the best design available from the best builders during the peak of the movement.
With Southern furniture, there are some good museum books on the topic, but nothing much for the builder. “Furniture in the Southern Style” changes that. The 27 projects featured in the book are from the collection and archives of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Unlike many other museums, MESDA is a far more genial place for woodworkers. Their archives are open to the public. They are known to organize tours of their collection for woodworkers who would like to touch and examine pieces closely. They are, in other words, more hospitable than some other museums I’ve worked with (with notable exceptions).
Authors Lang and Huey were granted full access to the collection so they could produce the detailed drawings featured in the book. In general, each piece has an isometric drawing, a standard three-view drawing, plus section views and details of the moulding and turnings. While the drawings are fully dimensioned, you won’t find a cutting list for each project.
Some woodworkers will grumble about this omission, but I think it’s like eating a bran muffin for breakfast instead of a cupcake – it’s healthy for you to develop your own cutting lists and the exercise will reduce your errors. For me, using another person’s cutting list is like using another person’s dentures. I’ll make my own, thank you.
There are a number of stand-out pieces in the book that I particularly like. The Pinwheel Cabinet, an 18th-century piece from North Carolina, begs to be built – wait until you see the drawers inside. I only wish the cover photo of the project were sharper.
I’m also enamored with the Nine-drawer Chest, another North Carolina project that wants to be explored with dividers. It has amazing grace for such an unusual piece. Likewise, the Kitchen Press is a seductive piece of furniture. And it’s massive.
The Desk with Bookcase is probably the only secretary that I’ve ever really felt the urge to build. The most celebrated Northern secretaries always seem a bit over the top for me.
And finally, there is my favorite piece, the Stretcher Table from Charleston, S.C. I actually was already planning to build this table after I saw it at MESDA earlier this year. Lang’s drawings of the table made it a cinch. Look for my version of the table in the April 2012 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine.
— Christopher Schwarz
P.S. They also sell a CD of the SketchUp drawings of the projects in the book. I didn’t buy that. I’ll pick it up if I decided to significantly modify any of the projects in “Furniture in the Southern Style.” If you are just reproducing the pieces and are a fair builder, you don’t have to have the CD.