Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Fabulous Furniture 

When I first got the idea of launching The Evangelist about a year ago, it was in part an effort to archive a certain intersection of information: the things I like to promote and my compulsively created categories of related things.

The “film festival” posts are examples of my compulsive categorization of relationships. This first expressed itself visibly when a high school English teacher taught our class the “cf.” abbreviation while reading Shakespeare. As I recall, we were originally using it to compare common uses of imagery in Henry IV, Part I. It became some sort of a hunt for me. How many references could I find to whatever image it was we were tracking in the text? Suddenly I was adding “compare with” abbreviations to my copy of Henry IV until every other page was scrawled on. I don’t know if this was creating a new compulsion or simply making visible some hidden function that was already well at work in my little, hormone-addled brain. But it’s been there pretty much ever since.

The desire to share and promote things that I’ve discovered came much later. But it’s probably born of the same kind of intensity in some part of my personality. Probably the first evidence of it was my early devotion to American crafts. There was a store in the town I grew up in called The Craftsman’s Gallery. My father was quite fond of it and it was a continual source for the many little gifts he liked to give his friends, staff and family. (You could count on there being Craftsman’s Gallery boxes under the Christmas tree every single year.) I became a peculiar juvenile fan of the store. I’m not sure what Sibyl - the store owner – made of this peculiar twelve year old making regular pilgrimages on foot or by bicycle into downtown to see her latest show - and bringing his friends, to boot. “Isn’t this COOL?” I’d say pointing out some pin, brooch or ceramic sculpture to a friend I’d dragged along. Most of them would nod uncertainly, “Uh, yeah.”

As an adult, when someone inquires about something I own or asks for advice in furnishing their home I develop lists for whatever the topic might be: rugs, housewares, lighting or furniture. Recently, K. and I went to see our friends Sarah and Jimmy’s new place and saw that they had purchased a fabulous bed from Scott Jordan, one of our recommendations. Suddenly, I remembered creating the list of places they should look and I thought, “Darn it, I should put my current ‘places to consider for quality furniture’ list up. I meant to do that ages ago. Here it is:

Berkeley Mills
We first chanced into BM on our honeymoon in Santa Fe. They offer a stunning array of designs that are a fascinating mélange of influences: Frank Lloyd Wright, Mission and Japanese woodworking. The Harp Chair (http://tinyurl.com/3kdo3) and the Wave Table (http://tinyurl.com/7yftb) are great examples of how those styles can come together in wonderfully original ways. The BM stuff is expensive, but when you see it and touch it, you’ll understand why.

Design Within Reach
I have been bemused by the boom in “mid-century” home furnishings. Seeing the Scandinavian and Eames-influenced designs that furnished my childhood home lovingly restored and priced through the roof is just plain peculiar. It’s not that I don’t value the design aesthetic, I do. But the Tulip Table? That was my parent’s kitchen table. The Compact Sofa? I used to watch TV on it.

Anyway, given how this trend has taken off, the “within reach” brand is something of a misnomer. But if you long for the mid-century style that is now lauded by the Museum of Modern Art and don’t want to buy an original, DWR is the place to start.

Do you like timeless furniture that respects the source of its beauty, using only joints and no nails? Do you love tables with unfinished edges, including the bark? Whether or not you know the source, you are a devotee of George Nakashima. A warm and gentle spirit who made his home in New Hope, PA, Nakashima launched an American furniture vanguard that incorporated the ethos of his homeland into the American craft movement of the 1960’s and 70’s.

Your choices with the master’s furniture are not as limited as you might think. You can buy an original through a dealer or an auction. Better yet, there is a studio of artisans who are working in the Nakashima tradition under the direction of his heirs so you can have a new piece made that suits your needs. You can even select the wood yourself.

Pompanoousuc Mills
PM specializes in quality, affordable furniture with a range of traditionally influenced, yet modern styles. Their pieces are great quality and are generally available in a range of finishes. The combination of quality, affordability and design range has made Pompanoousuc Mills has made their customers into real fans. My experience is that people who buy “Pompy” furniture usually end up owning several pieces from their different collections.

Rocky Coast Joinery
I’m the sort of person who loves to know who made the things that I own. And I also like to LIKE the people who make the things I own. Lowrie Sargent is about the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. He and his wife got off the corporate treadmill down in Washington, DC, relocated with their sweet (and massive) dogs up to Maine and Lowrie turned to his true vocation: quality furniture. If you’re headed up to Maine, stop into Lowrie’s studio and hang out for an afternoon. It’s a treat. (When K. and I get more space, Lowrie’s already designed our ultimate dining room table!)

Room and Board
R&B have just moved into NYC from Chi-town and I was pretty impressed. They have a tremendous range of furnishings and they offer an unbelievable range of options on pretty much every piece. If you’ve got a lot of furnishing to do, R&B is a great way to go.

P.S. - Their paper catalog is GENIUS, coming complete with sticky tabs to bookmark the pieces you are considering.

Scott Jordan
SJ specialized in extremely tasteful, hardwood furniture. It’s the sort of stuff you like AND your parents would approve of. SJ is a very small, local producer of furniture, so it’s a great compromise between knowing the craftsperson yourself and buying mass market furniture.

Stickley is one of the premier brands of the American Arts & Crafts movement. But unlike the other major brands of its time, Stickley is still being produced today by the heirs of one of the largest Stickley dealers: the Audi family. In NYC, you can go down to the Fifth Avenue EJ Audi store. On the web, you can go to the eponymous Stickley site.

PS – If you like Stickley, but want something in a lower price range, The Michaels Furniture Co. of San Francisco makes some quality Stickley-style pieces. You can’t find it online, but in NYC they are retailed by Laytners.com. Here’s what a Michaels bookcase looks like.

I enjoyed your recommendations as recently I made a purchase from DWR. It is a wonderful piece, but be cautious: DWR is outrageously expensive. Tare are other hidden gems to be found if you search. Namely, another supplier of designer furniture supplying legal commissions off the original designer blueprints. http://www.eurway.com. Also, if you like chairs that extend the arts and crafts ornamental movement into sleek contemporary modernism, here is one of my personal favorites: http://store.famous-classics.com/willow-chair.html
Lastly, behold the beauty of drop dead gorgeous scandanavian design at http://www.flexformusa.com Feast your eyes on these marvels.
Room & Board has rocked my world for years. Classic pieces.
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