For many woodworkers, mid-century modern furniture seems a mass-manufactured mystery. We remember the excesses of the style – the kidney-shaped everything, the peg legs and the crappy dowels.
But like most furniture styles, mid-century modern is far more complex, interesting and tied to the great tradition of well-built beautiful things. Michael Crow has a new book out on the style that is an excellent introduction to mid-century modern that focuses on the style through the eyes and hands of designers and good craftsmen.
“Mid-century Modern Furniture” ignores the oddball stuff and digs into the parts of the style that are worth preserving, learning from and even reproducing.
Crow begins with a 13-page overview of the style, explaining how it arose and the major designers and firms that produced the good stuff. While that might seem brief, Crow packs a lot of good information into the short chapter and it will send you scuttling to the library for more books on Borge Morgensen, Jen Risom and (most importantly) Hans Wegner.
There are obligatory but brief chapters on tools and techniques, which most of you will skip to get to the good part: the drawings.
Crow has taken 29 pieces – some from famous designers and some from unknowns – and produced shop drawings that will help you build the piece. Aside from the traditional three-view drawing, Crow offers an exploded view of each piece (with the joinery), details and a cutting list.
If you can’t build the pieces from these drawings, you’re probably not ready to build these pieces.
“Mid-century Modern Furniture” covers a lot of good ground, with an emphasis on casework and basic seating. You won’t find some of the iconic pieces, however, for licensing reasons or because they would require factory equipment. The pieces Crow selected are buildable in a typical home shop by an artisan with intermediate skills.
I was particularly pleased to see so many Wegner pieces. Wegner is known for his chairs, but Crow managed to get enough of his brilliance into the book’s 176 pages to be very satisfying.
“Mid-century Modern Furniture” is a great book for a woodworker who hasn’t yet delved into Danish Modern, Bauhaus or the over-arching mid-century style. It doesn’t pretend to be the end-all text on the subject (that would require a small library). Instead, Crow seeks to give you a satisfying taste of the best parts of mid-century and a gentle nudge down the hill to building a George Nelson bench, a George Nakashima shelving unit or a Jens Risom console table.
— Christopher Schwarz
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