Charles Rennie Mackintosh(esque) kitchen remodel in W Virginia

20070630dsmackintosh_a_450 Monongaehala PA cabinetmaker Pat Herforth recently channeled the spirit of Charles Rennie Mackintosh to build a new kitchen for client Carrie Russell's 1920 Tudor/Craftsman home in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Once in a great while, if you're very lucky, you're sorry to see a work day end so soon. Pat Herforth felt that way when he created a kitchen for Carrie Russell.

"I was at work eight hours, and it seemed like 15 minutes," said the Monongahela woodworker.

"I didn't sleep at night -- for excitement."

The thrill was in building cabinetry, trim, light fixtures and furniture in the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a Scottish architect/designer whose take on Art Nouveau jelled with the European Arts & Crafts movement near the turn of the 20th century.

photograph by Darrell Sapp for the Post-Gazette

Robert E. Koch custom woodworking

Furn3pic_02 Robert Koch studied under John Kassay (author of The Book of Shaker Furniture) and continues that tradition of austerity and craftsmanship in his own work. His furniture is influenced by "Arts & Crafts, Asian and American Shaker furniture designs" - and in its smooth lines, deceptively simple framing, delicate dovetailing and use of several beautifully-grained woods, these pieces combine elements of all three styles.

Robert lives and works in Diamond Springs, California (not far from my home in Sacramento), and takes commissions and may have other pieces for sale.

Greene & Greene Influenced Bed


Take a look at this beautiful bed! The very strongly Greene & Greene inspired design is originally by Gary Rogowski, but this example - in cherry and walnut, finished with hand-rubbed oil and wax - was made by Paul DeWitt in Colorado. It sells for $2775 (king) and $2600 (queen).

Take a look at Paul's other work at his custommade gallery and on his own website.

Woodworking Videos now on AOL?

AOL, long thought to be way behind the times, is actually making some free and useful videos for woodworkers and other do-it-yourself types. They are part of the produced content on their video service - an attempt to compete with YouTube, I guess. They've even signed up some pretty good hosts - for example, a whole suite of home-improvement videos starring Eric Stromer, who hosts the Clean Sweep program on TLC. The site also includes print versions of the instructions for each project, so that you don't need to watch the video over and over while building your table or bench or what have you.

Allan-Dymarz Studios

Edmonton craftspeople Curtis Allan, a woodworker, and Ania Dymarz, an artist working with leather and glass, have come together to build some very unique and attractive pieces, with plenty of flair and a noticeable basis in the Arts & Crafts movement. Curtis and Ania regularly display and sell their work at Edmonton and other local crafts fairs and events.

Furniture Design of Taos

Bob Bresnahan and Emily Zopf are located in Valdez NM, just outside of Taos, and together build some absolutely beautiful wood furniture strongly informed by both the American Arts & Crafts movement the more rustic look of the Mission and various related revival styles.

Bob and Emily's work is quite similar to that of many northeast woodworkers - not necessarily in style, but in that their work is part of a very rich local tradition with its own ways of working specific local woods and using specific techniques rooted in their region. But they are not stifled by historical designs, and instead seek to modernize and change traditional themes:

We like tradition. The New Mexico furniture making tradition is old and rich. The Craftsman furniture traditionis full of great ideas and is very alive today. We want to add to both traditions. Furniture needs to evolve even as it pays tribute to the great heritage of Spanish craftsmanship and the American Arts and Crafts movement.

I found a number of items on their site especially attractive. Take a look at the cherry trestle table with walnut pins and butterfy joins, the hutch with alder vine pattern, which is repeated in a number of items, like this nine-drawer dresser. Their use of unique and obviously Southwestern iron hardware and a number of carved and cut-out motifs make all their work spectacularly un-generic - all pieces are very obviously part of that New Mexico tradition, and would fit with either with a Craftsman or Mission styled home.

carved door, Berkeley CA

Saw this terrific carving on Acton Street in north Berkeley, California the other day; nobody was home. Anyone familiar with this craftsperson's work? Let me know if you think you might know who is responsible - I'd like to see more of his or her work.

The carving is not particularly deep, yet the details all really stand out - not sure if it's the light or the wood or a combination of the two, but the delicacy of the design is visible all the way from out in the street. every detail of the irises is clear, as well as the gently scalloped hex-pattern in the ground behind them.

Don't Fence Me In

Charles & Hudson had a good post recently on residential fencing, and it got me thinking about all the great Craftsman style fences I've seen in the last few years - since I really started paying attention to this kind of thing, at least. Here are some pictures, fencing-related tutorials, custom designers and builders, vendors and other resources related to Arts & Crafts style fences, garden gates, arbors and other related features:

  • Charles Prowell Woodwork makes very pretty lattice-based modular fencing as well as garden and driveway gates. They do custom work, too, and have shops in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Boise and Baltimore. His site also has a good article by Diana Powers on Craftsman-style fencing and his company in particular; good reading for anyone trying to pick the right look for their own fencing and gate.
  • Aptos-based LMNO Arts is the team of Scott Lindberg and Cristie Thomas (and Ben, Assistance Puppy #10). Their product is wood and metal fine art for the yard - arbors, garden benches, fencing, trelliswork, rails, gates (also) and plenty more built for specific locations and specific uses. They've done work for clients all over the country, and in 2003 made a gate and columns for the Sunset Idea House. They also built a number of wood and metal features for the 2002 Idea House.
  • Peter Kitsch-Korff builds beautiful wooden pergolas, decks, fences and gates throughout the Los Angeles area. He has done quite a bit of work in the Craftsman style, but has also completed many projects with a sort of modernist Zen-like austerity. The Asian influence in his woodwork may be an offshoot of his hobby, building historically-accurate Japanese, Persian and Chinese suits of armor. He's not cheap, but his prices are fair for what you get, and he always builds to reflect the unique architecture of the house or other structure that his work is complementing.
  • A friend of mine bought replacement gates for his old, decrepit and generally falling-down Berkeley home from Cross Custom Works, who had a number of pre-made designs that worked out beautifully. Looks like they have plenty of different motifs available.
  • The DIY Network's voluminous website includes tutorials and articles on all sorts of fencing and gate-building projects, including this attractive and modern two-sided fence (part 1 and part 2); a backyard "pool fence," complete with arbor entry; how to measure and set fenceposts; a pretty wooden garden gate with an eye-catching copper panel inset; easy instructions on planning and building your own custom picket fence;  building a (relatively) simple privacy fence (a second article on the same subject is also available);  a half dozen different articles on constructing and installing various types of arbors, and lots more.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle had a good article last year on fencing, gates, curb appeal and how to fit a gate project with a particular house style; luckily, the article is still online.
  • On Flickr, our friend Merideth has a nice shot of her side fence, arbor, trellis and gate; our friend Tiffany, in Petrolia California - up in Humboldt County - has a shot of an interesting gate by master craftsman Dave Grant; Mandolux's shot of a simple fence at what looks like a Japanese monastery; Finnigh's HDR (high dynamic range) photograph of a stepped trellis-topped fence; Liquidskyarts' photograph of a set of brick-and-fieldstone columns in front of a very pretty bungalow; Montanaraven's succesful trellis and privacy fence ... I'm sure there's lots more, but that's a five-minute tour right there.

Gary Katz's Craftsman Mantelpiece


Gary Katz devotes his time to trim and finish carpentry and architectural millwork. His name may be familiar as the author of Finish Carpentry and The Doorhanger's Handbook; his website has a number of articles on trim techniques, with lots of good info on mouldings, columns and other detail work.

He also has a terrific and easy-to-follow tutorial on how to build this very attractive and detailed mantelpiece, with cloud lifts and inlaid panels strongly influenced by Greene & Greene. The final result is shown above, but if you have some interest in his technique and the process of building one like it yourself, you'll have to check out the drawings and step-by-step instructions, all documented with photographs.

Building Heirlooms: A Visit With Whit McLeod

Sharon Letts had the opportunity to meet & speak with Arcata-based furnituremaker Whit McLeod recently, and The Eureka Reporter published her story on August 8, 2006:

Whit McLeod came to Humboldt County as many have — to attend Humboldt State University.

He graduated in 1976 with a degree in biology with an emphasis on wildlife management. Initially, he worked at Redwood Science Lab in Arcata, but soon found himself building wooden boats with the likes of boatwright David Peterson in a shop behind another wooden boat master, Ken Bates, on Gunther Island.

“I started out making boxes for bottles of wine,” McLeod laughed. “Then I made the folding chair.”

The folding chair is now as well known as the boxes the wine comes in, and is a common sight around town. Built from wine barrels, it’s a little folding chair for patio or beach use and it now makes up anywhere from 40-50 percent of sales for McLeod.

Since the chair, McLeod and his team of four — which includes his wife Kristy McLeod — have created beautiful craftsman-style furniture using the same wine barrels, as well as other types of reclaimed and salvaged wood. The furniture is made the old-fashioned way, using the mortise and tenon joint method.

the full article is available online from The Eureka Reporter

Wooden Shutters by Copper Moon Woodworks

Add to the list of things I never really thought about but now, after seeing them, desire or even need: very attractive handcrafted exterior window shutters, in a wide variety of designs and many different sizes and grades of stain. See the whole range of products on Allentown, PA-based Copper Moon Woodworks' website.

Berkeley Mills in the News


The San Francisco Chronicle recently ran an article on one of my favorite furnituremakers, Berkeley Mills. Their Japan meets Craftsman style is instantly recognizeable and really enunciates many of the best features of each aesthetic. As seen in the photograph above, they do architectural millwork and cabinetry as well, not just furniture.

A good friend just completed a Craftsman-style house for his family, and he was looking for furniture that would match its authentic style. On a recommendation from the Craftsman Home in Berkeley, we headed for Berkeley Mills, one of a small handful of Craftsman-inspired furniture-makers in the United States.

When we wandered into the showroom, I did not announce that I was a Chronicle contributor, or that I was a wood butcher who'd fashioned a variety of cabinetry projects (along with dozens of houses) over the past 30 years. The guy on the floor approached us, discovered our interest, and promptly led us to a sideboard, stating in an offhand way, "This is one I built."

James Plachek & Berkeley

PlacheklibrarygreenOne of the houses I grew up in is a 1917 wood-shingle quasi-bungalow at the base of the Berkeley Hills, near the Solano tunnel. The house was designed by James Plachek, who was responsible for the art-moderne Berkeley Library, Berkeley's Heywood Building, Epworth Hall, the Grace Congregational,  and a number of other structures throughout the state, including the now-closed UC Theater (also 1917), where I worked on weekends and in the evenings after school in the late 1980s. Plachek built and remodeled a number of theaters between 1915 and 1930, including the Chimes in Oakland and the Lorin (now the Phillips Temple Church) at 3332 Adeline in Berkeley. In the mid 1930s, Plachek was focused primarily on large-scale WPA projects like the immense Moderne Alameda County Courthouse on the shore of Lake Merrit, shown here in Michele Manning's beautiful plein air pastel drawing.

Before my father bought the house, the previous owners hired woodworker and light fixture designer Kip Mesirow, who made a number of alterations and improvements to Chez Panisse (in the same building where, coincidentally, my father lived as a student at UC Berkeley, before it was a restaurant) in the 1970s, and a collaborator of printmaker and illustrator David Lance Goines' - to finish the attic and turn it into a beautiful, raw-redwood-wall master suite, a sort of mixture of rustic cathedral, nordic cabin and Japanese country house.

Mesirow's improvements to both my father's house and Chez Panisse are a bit more Rennie Mackintosh and Wright  than Maybeck, embracing the austere and geometrical forms that Mackintosh loved and Wright emulated; these shapes repeat in much of the Chez Panisse style both in and out of the restaurant itself, most notably Goines' many poster and cookbook designs for the restaurant and the lettering over the restaurant's entrance. Goines even uses the Mackintosh rosette in a few of his own illustrations.

Sonoma Woodworks

This is one version (vertical queen) of a neat Craftsman faux-armoire murphy bed made by Sonoma Woodworks in Sebastopol. Click on the image to see a larger picture and read the full product description.

Taimi Barty, furnituremaker

Taimi3 Swedish-born Taimi Barty's style is spare, a sort of modernist and Asian- and Nordic-inflused Shaker. A recent desk and chair set (here's another similar desk by Barty, with interesting inlay) of hers has elements of classic Swedish design in the organic and slightly bowed legs and arms of the chair, and the flare in the legs of the desk - as well as an asymmetrical shape to the desk that is both Victorian and modern at the same time. Her Pillar of Drawers is as much sculpture as it is a well-designed use of vertical space, and items such as her deceptively simple wine rack show that her mind is as much on practicality as it is on aesthetic. She is part of the Mendocino Coast Furnituremakers guild/organization, and with woodworker Robert Sanderson, owner of Fort Bragg's Sanderson Hardware, produces furniture as Wood Joint Studio.

Taimi studied engineering at Harcard and Radcliffe, and after a few years "cleaning up petroleum hydrocarbons" in San Francisco, she began a course of study in the Fine Woodworking Program at the College of the Redwoods. She and Sanderson both studied there under the great James Krenov.

Free Woodworking Plans

The web may be the antithesis of the Craftsman ideal - chaotic, full of junk, hard to navigate, inconsistent, and hardly workmanlike - it does contain endless excellent references for woodworkers engaging in their own attempts at craftsmanship. Using the collaborative social bookmarking experiment Delicious, I've found plenty of plans and other useful resources - some for beginners and other for more advanced woodworkers - that will be helpful to people contemplating Arts & Crafts-style furniturebuilding. While there are plenty of plans for sale out there, I'm focusing here only on those that are available for free:

Dana Robes Craftsman Rocker

Craftsman_rockerupdate 09.02.07: I have been informed that a) Dana Robes furniture is no longer in business as of 09.06, and that Eric Gesler left the firm in 2002.

I wrote about Dana Robes once before, but I just wanted to point out a beautiful Craftsman rocker that is in their most recent mail-order catalog. The chair was designed by Eric Gesler, the head designer at Dana Robes (he also teaches workshops at their Enfield, New Hampshire workshop), and is comes in either cherry, ash, oak or maple. Most of their work is orthodox Shaker, but this pieces (and some of their custom built-ins) has very strong Craftsman lines, although stretched out a bit in a sort of compromise with its makers' Shaker background. The rocker sells for about $2000.

J. D. Lohr

Love_seat_72_dpi_copyJeffry Lohr is a woodworker and educator living and working near Valley Forge, PA. His large studio houses a regular workshop series priced at various levels for both the serious student as well as the hobbyist;  J. D. offers a solid machine-based 48-hour (week long) course for beginners through much more advanced students. Other educational opportunities include two-year apprenticeships.

His own work is very strongly influenced both by Prairie and Craftsman traditions, and many of his original designs merge elements of Asian and traditional American Craftsman styles and such Prairie elements as fine spindlework and the more cubic, grid-based geometry of Frank Lloyd Wright and other furnituremakers of the Prairie style. His casework is particularly interesting, showing an interesting mix of Mackintosh's Glasgow style and the Japanese-influenced cloud lifts and soft edges popularized by Greene and Greene.

If you are near Valley Forge and are a woodworker youself, you will also find his wood gallery - and his recommendations of various area woodsellers - particularly useful.

Tom McFadden Furniture

Mcfaddensideboard_1Way up along the California coast, not far inland from Point Arena and not far from Mendocino, lies the tiny town of Boonville. Furniture designer and builder Tom McFadden – who does double duty as a woodworking instructor at Medocino Community College and cabinetmaker for Navarro Vineyards – has been living and making beautiful A & C -inspired furniture in this area since the early 1960s. The liquid lines and soft lifts of his work evoke Greene & Greene and aspects of the Nouveau movement, with a sort of pared-down simplicity. He writes that he currently works primarily in two styles: one characterized by the straight lines and square corners of the most formal Shaker work, and the second incorporating a rounded design element that he calls "steps," which echoes the Asian cloud lifts used so effectively by the Greenes. The most iconic characteristic to Tom's work, though, is his tendency to combine woods of very different colors and shades in the same work, giving some of his finest work a kind of graphic contrast not seen anywhere else. This theme is even visible in his much more conservative office furniture.

Sugartop Furniture


I'm not sure exactly how to classify much of the work of Meredith, NH based Sugartop Furniture; a lot of owner/proprietor Jeff McAllister's work is a sort of modern Shaker, but there are very strong elements of Asian-influenced Mission and Craftsman design present as well. Some of his work – a cherry and curly maple coffee table, a curly maple computer desk, a cherry and maple blanket chest - are recognizeably Shaker, with the clean and spare and very modern looking lines of that style. However, items such as these inlaid media shelves are much more fanciful and expressive.

And when visiting Jeff's site, make sure and read his illustrated article showing the entire tree-to-finished-furniture process.

Ma_3711_tigThere are a number of really fine artists and craftspeople making doors in traditional Craftsman styles right now (we've got a few photos up in the galleries of Brian Lee's excellent and very creative work at Mendocino Doors), but what stood out about was more their business model and application than anyhing else - the doors are nice, the glass good-looking if limited, but they have this "door quote wizard" on their site that allows you to go through a 10-12 step process of specifying everything from finish to sidelights and transom, size, drip cap, hardware and of course general design. Owners Todd and Lori Preimsberg sell only over the Internet and keep their stock in Renton, Washington.

Reclaimed Wood

ReclaimedwoodfloorA number of firms sell wood flooring reclaimed from a huge variety of sources - rosewood railroad ties from Thailand, southern yellow pine from catalog warehouses, Great Salt Lake railroad trestle pilings, Douglas Fir ("distressed picklewood") from pickle vats, maple from factory floors, remilled oak, chestnut, pine and other woods salvaged from old homes and barns - the list goes on and on. In addition to flooring, some companies market millwork and beams made from reclaimed wood. It's so nice to know the provenance of your floors - to walk around on that kind of history and know that there's a story behind it. Given the increasingly competetive pricing and availability of this type of wood, the shipping costs that used to rule it out for many projects are less and less an issue.

Alice Roth-Suszynski, cabinetmaker


"Aunt Alice" has been working as a cabinetmaker for over 25 years, and has spent the last 10 years focusing on furniture design and manufacture. Her focus has been specifically on the Prairie aesthetic, but her interpretation of those straight, wide lines is certainly original and modern; she's integrated Asian design elements and techniques into her work as well, and the end result is recognizeably orthodox Prairie and, at the same time, very contemporary. She lives and works in San Diego county, and sells her furniture through her web site and is available for hire for other projects, such as the built-ins she has concentrated on for much of her career.

Jim Becker, cabinetmaker

MissionarmoireJim Becker is just one of the many gifted cabinetmakers in the Guild of Vermont Furniture Makers. Since first being introduced to the trade at a boatyard in Friendship, Maine in 1979, Becker has gone on to develop his craft by designing and building furniture that combines elements of traditional Shaker cabinetry with those of Mission and Craftsman styles. His Ming Shaker line integrates the simple plainness of Shaker design with the detail and angularity of contemporary modern woodwork. My favorite piece, though, is his Mission armoire, which can look monumental from one angle and subtly austere from another.

Sotheby's: Greene & Greene

GreenelightRich Muller notes that "many of the pieces that have been in the Huntington's Scott gallery are now up for auction (through Sotheby's). There are a lot of high-resolution images that I've never seen anywhere else. Get your checkbooks out, or at least download some of these images!  There is also information on each lot." Catalogs are US$43; the least expensive item up for auction is significantly more expensive.

Of special note, at least to those interested in the graphic arts: some of the most expensive cuts (of such a small size, at least) ever.

Todd Exter


Todd Exter is one more of the finite but large number of tremendously competent and creative cabinetmakers living and working in Vermont. He is primarily self-taught, and in light of that his technical skill is especially impressive; his use of grain and his mortise-and-tenon work is artful and subtle, just as it should be. Working in a variety of woods, mostly local maples, Exter has made a niche for himself by integrating traditional Craftsman forms with contemporary style and the smooth, clean uninterrupted lines of the Vermont Shaker tradition.

Custom Tile Frames

TileframeaDavid Eklund makes custom tile frames in a number of different styles. Each frame is made from a single piece of oak, cherry or walnut to maintain the consistency in grain and color, and David can make a frame to any size to accomodate different types (or numbers) of tiles or friezes. Frames on his website are shown with tiles from a number of tile makers, including Ravenstone, Mulberry Street Studios, Motawi, Grueby (via Bungalow Bill),  Handcraft Tile and others. Picture and mirror frames are also available.

John Struble

StrubletansuThe Japanese influence has been tremendously important to the evolution of the Craftsman aesthetic, and is a central part of some of the West Coast craftsman styles. It's hard to imagine Greene & Greene furniture, for example, stripped of the cloud lifts, bat forms and various other Asian imagery and decoration that the brothers integrated into so many aspects of their work.

John Struble, a woodworker based in Philadelphia, has been integrating design elements he has seen on his trips to China and Japan into his own work for over 20 years. His case pieces - step and other types of tansu (chest) - integrate traditionally North American materials like curly and birdeye maple into very traditionally Japanese and Korean forms, with a surprisingly contemporary result. Struble shows his work every year at the Philadelphia Furniture and Furnishings Show.

built-in cabinetry & interior architecture

Creative and technically adept cabinetmakers used to be the norm, and they still exist, albeit in small numbers compared the the number of new homes being built every year. Unfortunately, we see this craft becoming more and more the sole purview of kitchen design firms and very high-end contractors who specialize only in kitchen and bath work. Most homes are not made by the same sorts of craftspeople who built our old bungalows; they're assembled from pieces made in factories all over the world. There are, however, a number of fine woodworkers specializing in casework and other forms of built-in furniture for all parts of the home and various other types of interior architecture working across the North America today, and I've spent a little bit of time reading up on a few who have their work up on the web to peruse.

This list is, of course, very incomplete and totally subjective; please feel free to append other listings in the comments, below.

Continue reading "built-in cabinetry & interior architecture" »

Two Tours

GamblefrontdoorWhen I lived in Berkeley, there was a big storm one night. The next day I noticed that a huge branch had fallen off one of my favorite oak trees in a place called Live Oak Park. City workers were cutting up the beautiful piece of wood, which was at least 5 feet in diameter at the widest point, into cross sections using a chainsaw. It seemed a waste of such a great piece of wood. I asked them if I could have a few sections, they said sure, so I loaded a few chunks into my truck.

Continue reading "Two Tours" »

catalog & mail-order hardware

2004catalogThere are a number of fantastic paper resources out there for anyone renovating their craftsman home. One of the most complete resources is the Van Dykes Restorers free catalog, which sells everything from Victorian gingerbread to oak and brass registers and every kind of stripping and finishing product known to humankind. They also carry kits for building a wide variety of furniture items.

At the top of the list as far as quality goes is Rejuvenation Hardware, which sells all sorts of fixtures and hardware (especially lighting!) out of their shop in Portland. They also do a thriving mail-order business.

The folks of the Craftsman Homes Connection, who seem to do most of their business online now, have a very attractive and jam-packed catalog, with an emphasis on decorative hardware and accessories. 21st-Century Arts & Crafts

cherylwilliamsBuilding on the Arts & Craft movement of an earlier time, is a treasure trove of current artists working in metalwork, ceramics, printmaking, painting, fiber, glass, wood, lighting, furniture and tableware.

The Arts & Crafts masters of yesteryear would have enthusiastically approved of The Guild's Philosophy: In a nutshell, we believe that when you live with art that you love, and it's made by a gifted artist with skill and care, it adds something rich and sweet to your life, every day.

Continue reading " 21st-Century Arts & Crafts" »

Craftsmen and Letterers

namasteMartin O'Brien and John Stevens create, together, some of the most stunning carved lettering I've ever seen. I don't know how many of you go crazy over this sort of thing, but typography and lettering have always been huge interests of mine since I was quite young and their work really resonates with me. Martin O'Brien writes that John, his "partner-in-crime," does all the design and layout work and that without him Martin wouldn't be able to carve his way "out of a wet paper bag," which is humble but I am sure not wholly true.

Martin is also a well-known cabinetmaker, and even in this field their collaboration has had an effect. From pieces that expertly combine the art of the letterer and the craft of the wood- and stoneworker, to Martin's own wonderfully detailed furniture design, building, repair and conservation work (much of which expresses both classical and modern Craftsman style), their work is a real treat. I hope to see much more work from this remarkable partnership.