FAB (LAB) FURNITURE!
“You are already behind!” – The warning heeded to us on the first day of Furniture Studio by instructor Kimo Griggs, crushing our hopes of being ahead with models worked on over the break – is now ever present as we are within four weeks off final review. Unlike most of our preceding studios, we are not only designing but manufacturing something that will live on in our homes and lives. Careful detailing, strategizing and flexibility are necessary in order to craft a beautifully designed piece of furniture, along with laughter, patience and copious amounts of coffee. I’ve been asked by friends and family, “What does furniture making have to do with studying architecture?” The short answer: everything! In many ways these are architectural pieces of their own, derived from the same design process. Workmanship detailed on paper must be solved with real material properties, simple solutions, and hard hands-on work when translated to real scale. Thankfully for us, we have our gurus, Kimo, Penny Maulden and Steve Withycombe to guide us past any hurdles we encounter.
Beginning with an introduction to the studio’s rich history and past works by Jeffrey Ochsner, schematic and design development happened rapidly over the first few weeks of the quarter. After one solid week of proposing ideas, drawings and models, we chose one design to explore in full-scale mock-ups. The Fab Lab quickly became overrun with tables, credenzas, desks and many chairs, including two rocking chairs in the mix. Constructed of particleboard, 2x4s and steel, the full-scale objects are less about the fine detailing but rather proportion and structure. Is it comfortable and stable? Do the scaled up proportions still make sense? Two reviews with expert craftsmen Stuart Wurtz, Ernie Pulford, Chad Robertson and Steve Badanes helped us fine tune our designs and move on to the real thing.
One of the best parts of furniture studio is putting the e-ﬂute to rest for a few weeks and working with such rich and varied materials. Besides being distinguished by visual appeal, each species of wood has distinct material properties that may be a benefit or a deterrent, depending on how it is applied in the design. Some of us, myself included, were beguiled by the dark striations of walnut, scouring Seattle’s scarce supplies for the best pieces – hitting the hardwood jackpot by finding unusually large boards. Others were drawn to the grain and figures of species like ash, sapele, maple, cherry, and black limba. Each of us came to our final decision after a day of exploration and deliberation, in some cases going back and forth between two lumber yards before making a selection. Material day was fraught with anticipation and excitement, which we learned does not dissipate until you’ve finally cut your boards.
Along with continuing a strong history of woodworking in the studio and PNW, we’ve also embraced metal, with more than half of us incorporating it into our designs. With little to no prior experience, it was a fast transition from demonstrations on MIG and TIG welding to crafting our first mock-ups. Issues of scale, weight and structural integrity were addressed in the full-scale reviews and revised to elegantly utilize the steel for its inherent strength and flexibility. Each mock-up provided opportunities to experiment and practice our welding skills and we are now ready to employ the different steel shapes and types, including stainless steel, sheet metal and even bronze, for the final designs. Further enriching our material knowledge, local blacksmith Patrick Maher treated us to a demonstration of forging and the ductile possibilities of heating steel.
With the final weeks of the quarter upon us, the pressure is on to stay ahead of schedule, have fun and avoid any major surprises when delving into the raw material – thankfully only a few so far! Please join us March 20th in Gould Court to see the final pieces presented.
Written by Jaclyn Merlet, MArch Candidate 2013
Photo Credits: Holly Schwarz and Kimo Griggs