The following blog entry might seem snarky. I assure you it is not.
I’m interested in what impresses people when they view a piece of furniture. In fact, when a fellow woodworker shows off a piece of furniture, I observe the other people in the room as much as I observe the piece itself.
So here is a short list of things that seem to really impress.
To me this is crazy, but people are always impressed by big honking pieces of furniture. There is something about contemplating an object that is bigger than you are. This is why elephants (otherwise uninteresting and ill-tempered mammals) get so much attention at the circus or zoo.
The funny thing about this fact is that bigger pieces of furniture get much less scrutiny than little pieces. My theory is that people have only so much scrutiny to spend on a piece. So if it’s a big piece, the maker can be sloppier and get away with it. Small pieces get away with nothing – zilch.
People love highly figured or wildly colored woods. Just like making a big piece, making one with figured woods can distract the viewer from the joinery or the overall design. The wood carries the day.
A couple caveats: You can overdo it. And you have to be careful about who your audience is. Australians, for example, are not impressed by deep red woods – they have too many of those all around them. You aren’t going to impress a South American with purpleheart – they use that to build bridges.
A high shine impresses many people, even those who say they like understated things. There is something about a huge, shiny and red object that amazes us (think: sports car). Even if you don’t like shiny finishes, lots of people do.
Carving & Inlay
If you have these skills (or know someone who does) these elements always elicit praise and admiration from the peanut gallery. Like using figured woods, these elements can quickly be taken too far. But slapping an intarsia eagle in the middle of that drawer front is probably a good idea.
When all else fails, put bun feet on the thing. I swear there was about a 10-year period where I had to bolt bun feet to almost everything I built for customers or family members. My theory is that most people don’t know much about the language of furniture – the words “plinth” or “ogee bracket feet” aren’t in their visual or verbal vocabulary.
But they know bun feet.
Oh, people dig ball-and-claw feet. See “Carving & Inlay” above.
Even machine-made dovetails say “this thing is well-made.” You might think that hand-cut dovetails look better, but most non-makers I know can’t tell the difference until someone explains it to them. Even then, many modern machine-made dovetails easily fool a non-maker.
What Doesn’t Impress
That’s my short list of things people like. In looking it over, I have to conclude that something is wrong with me because the things that I care about in furniture – proportion, harmony, texture and an almost receding presence in a room – almost never come up when people look at furniture.
But I guess that is why I make my own.
— Christopher Schwarz