george nakashima and burlwood furniture design

it strikes me as an anomaly that we should highly prize furniture made with burlwood.  george nakashima, american architect turned furniture maker, was famous for his inclusion of this type of wood in his designs.  

burls (brit. burs or burrs) are malignant abnormalities that form on some trees when they have been under some unusual stress from disease.

burr on an old scottish black poplar

burr on an old scottish black poplar

burr on a larch tree in scotland

burr on a larch tree in scotland

not the graceful elven tree forms forms we expect.  they remind you of the hunchback of notre dame.  yet when sliced or carefully detached from the normal wood (this takes a lot of work and care because of the twisted, hardened nature of the burl) the veneer, the table tops, or the naturally sculpted forms that emerge are rare treasures.  

burlwood bench @ artcollector-usa

burlwood bench @ artcollector-usa

burlwood bench @ artcollector-usa

burlwood bench @ artcollector-usa

nakashima dining table

burlwood and glass end table @ TSandCompany

burlwood and glass end table @ TSandCompany

cabinet, george nakishima, @ treadwaygallery.com

cabinet, george nakishima, @ treadwaygallery.com

why is this not the case with people?  we shun abnormal people.  we stare at and then pull back from people with scars or injuries.  we do not relish visits to hospitals and nursing homes.  our tv screens are filled with the beautifully perfect people only.  our tv news anchors are the ken and barbie dolls we love.  

yet my experience is that there is a deep strength and beauty in the hearts of the not normal.  i would rather their company than many more outwardly perfect people i know.  nakashima had a soft heart for the suffering.  i suspect he had suffered himself at some points in his life.  maybe this explains his long successful work with not normal wood.

geometric furniture design by frank lloyd wright

my first encounter with frank lloyd wright’s work was a tour one summer’s afternoon through fallingwater.  set deep in its beautiful wooded pennsylvania valley, you walk through the property and have a slight suspicion that you might be falling with the water below.  

fallingwater, frank lloyd wright

fallingwater, frank lloyd wright

actually, his design was not perfect and the building had been falling.  when we were there there were props holding it up while reinforcements were being added… not so impressive.

wright was so famous and popular because he accomplished a lot and preached himself successfully.  in effect, he was his own prop.  like many great designers, he taught, wrote, travelled, lectured, and was an interesting, and at times controversial individual.  (americans love trailblazers.)  in personal and business matters, by contrast, he was often a failure … like the faulty cantilevered fallingwater.  

living room at fallingwater

living room at fallingwater

living room at fallingwater

 

but you cannot deny both the drama and the serenity of the place with its stone floors and big open great room, balancing there as the water falls on and on below.  

when i was in school i loved mathematics, especially geometry.  i could happily fiddle with ruler, compass and pencil for hours, drawing neat curves and perfect angles.  very satisfying.  i later became a draftsman of engineering and architectural drawings, for a time (before the days of autocad!…yes, i am getting old).  so wright’s furniture designs make me smile.  

he borrowed traditional japanese styles.  he loved the japanese respect for the beauty of wood.  then he set about drawing neat circles and lots of straight lines.  easily manufactured and reproducible, was one of his goals.   

 

desk and chair at fallingwater

desk and chair at fallingwater

 

copy of the wright barrel chair, made for the dining area at fallingwater

copy of the wright barrel chair, made for the dining area at fallingwater

 

frank lloyd wright 1937 desk chair, us patent print

frank lloyd wright 1937 desk chair, us patent print

i have my doubts about his furniture’s comfort, though.  in his architecture, he studied the landscape and made his buildings spring out of it’s surroundings.  this organic emphasis seems lost in his furniture.  it disregards the body’s curves. function and form do not meet.  and aesthetically i miss any tribute to the subtler curves and lines found in nature.  

i don’t think he tried to make any cantilevered chairs. they would really worry me.  

but the cantilevered shelving at fallingwater is great.  i love the clean lines and smooth wood, especially in contrast to the rough rock floors.  perhaps i will knock my walls about a bit and cantilever some shelves….

Built in 1895 for the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, these side chairs have high backs that extend above the heads of the sitters. When positioned around a dining table, the chairs created a temporary, intimate enclosure of space, a room within a room.

Built in 1895 for the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, these side chairs have high backs that extend above the heads of the sitters. When positioned around a dining table, the chairs created a temporary, intimate enclosure of space, a room within a room.

Frank Lloyd Wrights 1949 Taliesin Origami Chair

Frank Lloyd Wright's 1949 Taliesin "Origami Chair" (whimsical but comfortable??)

furniture design, bent wood chairs, alvar aalto, and my dad

 

chaise-lounge model 43, alvar aalto, finland 1936

chaise-lounge model 43, alvar aalto, finland 1936

alvar aalto was an anti bauhaus modern designer “immersed in his struggle against metal in furniture design,” in the 1920s.*  he and his finnish business partner, otto korhonen, perfected the bent knee technique for their stool 60 and sold millions of them in the next decades.  for anyone who enjoys wood, working with wood and the beauty of it, bent wood remains a remarkable feature in furniture design.  aalto’s stool 60 and chair 43 were some of the early classics.  

Alvar Aalto

Stool 60 in Viipuri Municipal Library, 1933-35, Viipuri, Russia (formerly Finland). Architect: Alvar Aalto

stool 60

stool 60

i would also object to interior design in which there is no wood.  like the scandinavians who feature wood so beautifully in furniture and interior design, i grew up with a love for trees and their uses.  in this love, i was influenced by my dad.  he spent most of world war two as a boy scout and school boy in southampton, england, though there were not so many school days in those years, because of the german bombs.  when the americans finally showed up (thank God) and the allies were pushing back across france, my dad had turned 16, and went to work in the nearby new forest.

new forest, hampshire, england

new forest, hampshire, england

new forest timber, an old source for ship building in old england

new forest timber, an old source for ship building in old england

after training in north wales, he worked in nigeria and hong kong in forestry and conservation.  some of my best memories of my wonderful daddy include watching him skillfully chop down trees with an axe, working with him in his carpentry shop, and listening to him talk about wood and trees in forests we would walk through together.  

but aalto and my father held very different world views.  they both lived through terrible times of war and the dramatic changes in the world brought by the industrial revolution.  aalto became an avid proponent of humanism.  he believed that the solution to life’s problems were to be found in humanity, and that the reason for life was to improve humanity itself.  “We should work for simple, good, undecorated things, but things which are in harmony with the human being and organically suited to the little man in the street.” (Alvar Aalto, speech in London 1957)**  to aalto, wood was a tool for humanism.

on the other hand, in war torn england my father met God and did not waver through his life from his christian faith.  he saw, as i do, no hope in humanity without God, or in working for humanity alone. actually i do not see how anyone could walk through forests or work with wood and reject God and any relationship with Him.  the beauty of His creation screams His presence and the hopelessness of humanity compels me to His power and love.  as a young teenager my dad spent a lot of time chopping firewood with his boy scout troop.  once they were out in the woods camping when there was an unexpected air raid.  many nights he spent alone or huddled with his mum, dad and granny in the little air raid shelter in the garden. lots of time to think.  my dad thought of God, and though he died a few years ago, i know that now he is, through Christ, alive with God.  throughout his life he inspired many others to his same belief.  there is no other shelter.  

*Furniture Design, Jim Postel, 2007 (page 78).

** quoted in wikipedia

high brow furniture website, a great find in my lounge chair search

highbrowfurniture.com is my great find of the evening.  i spend bits and pieces of time during my week working on my blog and quick research finds are bonus.  at this site, they focus on “twentieth-century iconic classics byAmerican designers,” and when you scan down the list of possibilities, a neat photo pops up to give you a first look.  web designers take note. this beats scrolling through long pages and lists, only to click and find it is not what you were after.  i shall add them to my blogroll and pop back often. the whole design is invitingly uncluttered.  

what do you think of this design for some outdoor lounge seating — i am leaning towards some folding pieces and a wood frame to compliment our wood deck and woodsy back yard. 

 

wegner folding chair @ high brow furniture, tn

wegner folding chair @ high brow furniture, tn

wegner folding chair with hanger

wegner folding chair with hanger

high brow price: $6126,  $6502 with hanger.