Last week, I went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA, to attend the Furniture Society Annual Conference. It was not only my first time visiting the Conference, it was my first trip to Boston. When you think furniture and MIT, you gotta think big. And one of the biggest was this grouping of overstuffed chairs. This was the venue where the conference was held, and these over-size chairs were a huge hit with the students of MIT who use the field in front of the auditorium for throwing a Frisbee, or getting some sun between classes. The installation is called Lazy Hay by John Tagiuri.
I must first say that the Boston/Cambridge area is a wonderful place to visit, and a total departure from the way of life in Des Moines, Iowa. Aside from the historical places to visit, there are just a lot of fun things to do in a very concentrated area. And with a hop on the train and a short walk you can get almost anywhere. Here is an image from a bridge over the Charles River. On the left is Cambridge; in the center is the new Bunker Hill Bridge; and on the right is part of the Boston skyline. From one end of Cambridge, I could go on a 6 mile out-and-back run and see the MIT campus, Fenway Park, Boston University, the Newbury Art District, Boston Commons (one of the greatest city parks in the U.S.), the Charles River and the parks that flank it, and a tremendous number of people out and about shopping, sightseeing, biking, walking, and running.
Now on with the show! The conference was three days of sessions where leading furniture makers presented almost 70 workshops that you could attend. These hour-long demonstrations covered a range of topics from compound-angle joinery, to exploring the design inspiration or design techniques used by some of this countries greatest artists. As a furniture maker myself, I am a pretty hands-on guy and sometimes the practical stuff like the Joinery session was just as inspiring as the design class. Discovering and sharing techniques that you may not have been exposed to can actually provide more design opportunities because you stop limiting yourself on what you can or can’t do. Two great examples of this are the Compound-Angle Joinery and Veneering classes that were put on by Steve Brown from the North Bennett Street School, and Darrell Kiel from VacuPress.
In these photos you can see a two examples of leg-to-table joints that are splayed like the tavern table shown. And this solution works on tables with three legs or 99 legs. Once you create the outer shapes of the legs, by simply creating the inside faces at 90 degrees to the outside, the tenons on the rails and the mortises in the legs are parallel to the face of the rails. The rail ends may be angles, but the tenons are not. If you cut the legs into the parallelogram that they should be, you are then not dealing with simple angle mortise and tenons, you are dealing with compound angle tenons. This is a time honored way of creating this joint. Sometimes the most obvious answer to a potentially very challenging joint is the one you don’t even think about. Thanks Steve Brown…I have all kinds of things running around in my head now!
Darrell Kiel then blew my mind with his veneer workshop. It really showed some of the “impossible” things you can do with veneer and bent laminations. In the first photo, he is bending veneer over the curved edge of a round table. And the second photo shows a free-form bending of 4 layers of 1/8″ thick cherry. Basically if you want to bend a chair back, why make a form when you can use the vacuum to hold the form and manipulate the form while it is under pressure and test it directly against your back and get a perfect fit. Here at about 1/4 pressure he is bending the stock into shape and then once he is satisfied with the shape he pulls the rest of the vacuum and it holds the bent shape by the friction between the layers of wood and the bag on the wood. And then he went on to show veneering a raised panel and a piece of crown molding. YES, I said veneered crown molding! Where else are you going to find Redwood Burl Crown? You can’t get that at the local home center. When you eliminate the phase “wood can’t do that” from your vocabulary, your options for creativity grow exponentially.
Next it was outside to a gallery of outdoor furnishings (as if the Lazy Hay was not already enough), a collection of about 20 pieces. Here are a sampling of some of the variety. First up is a very traditional bench…remember the word “traditional” is stretched at this show. It is called Siblings by Libby Schrum. This is a very simple form cut in a very systematic manner to create some dramatic shapes and surfaces that make for an extremely comfortable place to rest. This bench is made from white oak.
The next is a more contemporary piece called Dogbone by Hongtau Zhou made from Cork. I particularly like the dog chain securing the piece to the ground. While the form is contemporary, the purpose of the seat is satisfied and is great because it can be picked up and relocated, within reason, to point in the direction that you want to see.
This piece was at first a shock because normally when I think furniture I typically think WOOD (go figure) but this piece, cut on a CNC from aluminum, is a perfect reminder to think beyond the “norm”. This piece is called Pierced Chair by Laura Drake. Laura is an Assistant Professor of Industrial Design at Purdue University. Remember: The woodworking tools you have can cut other materials like aluminum, Lexan, brass, and wood. So try something different, even if you don’t have a CNC.
And finally, this piece is a totally different take on outdoor seating, but it really works. Appropriatly is is called Lean Two by Frank Burns. Frank does some amazing work, and I really like the play on words with this piece.
Well that wraps up my report from the conference. To see more pictures from the Conference and to learn more about the Furniture Society, visit www.furnituresociety.org
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