Design Critique 08/12/2010

I’ve been away with Barbie enjoying the rugged coastline of Acadia National Park in the state of Maine. We love to grab a sandwich and park ourselves on a rocky outcropping as high tide rolls in. Amazing how that immersion in sound, smells, and light seems to quickly scrub out all the cobwebs inside the scull. It chases out all the competing data flying around in my head and allows me to pause and watch a black guillemot dive for small fish in the frothy surf. It never fails to reignite the creative spark.

I received a note from furniture builder Kate Taylor asking for some help on a hall table she built. She voices a concern that I hear on a regular basis from builders. Somehow she’s not sure that the legs work in the overall design. I’m often asked

“How do I proportion legs to the overall piece?”

Or more often, “I know this just isn’t working for me but I’m not sure where to go with it.”

Comments below are from Kate. I’m certain she’d be grateful for some thoughtful input.

George R. Walker

I have a table that I’m wondering about and thought I’d see if you would be interested in critiquing it. My main question is about the legs. I wanted the table to have more of a flowing feel to go with the live edge. It’s made to go against a wall in an entry way, so needs to be narrow. I’m not sure if the legs work or not. Any comments are welcome.

Thanks, Kate

 Kate Taylor Creative Woodworking

http://www.wooden-box-maker.com

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Design Critique 08/12/2010

  1. Tom

    Kate

    I think the problem is with the stretcher. The legs are okay, but look flat. How are they attached to the top? Maybe if you turned the stretcher 90 degrees it would start to flow with the legs rather than be in-congruence with the top? My eye sees the stretcher competing with the top. The scale of the legs make them ….. not a focus at all?

  2. Michael

    On first view, it looks like you’ve got the bottom built and have put a piece of rough stock on top to see if it’s big enough to be used for the finished top.

    I looked at your web site and it looks like you like to mix the random nature of wood in your work. But you put order to that random nature.

    In the pictured table, you’ve gone to great lengths to order the wood for the legs and stretcher, but left the top in chaos.

    I’m with Tom that the stretcher is catching the eye. The eye is expecting the top to mimic stretcher.

    It may not be your goal, but making a top with lines similar to the stretcher would make for an attractive piece of work.

  3. Michael

    Nice to have you back George. You know they make phones with cameras that let you blog while away, but having talked with you at Popular Woodworking, my money isn’t on that happening.

    One of the things I love most about my visits on the coast of Maine was that the phones were rotary and the TV got static.

    My dad died 10 years back so I haven’t been back since. If on your next trip, you’re overcome with the need to temporarily adopt a 44 y/o “son”, drop me a note.

    • The trip was all about getting unplugged from the busyness of the day to day and reconnecting with my wife. It was amusing to overhear the occasional teenager complain that they couldn’t raise a signal on their cell phone.

      George

  4. I, too, find the top too raw looking, though I see the curved grain line along the front, which the stretcher picks up, offering potential.

    From the picture it is difficult to pick up on whether the pairs of legs lean in a bit, or splay. That would be good to help the piece from wracking side to side. A slight, splayed angle would also not be inconsistent with how the inner edges of the legs taper above the stretcher.

  5. KMarx

    Not a good design. Why? The pieces might look good on their own, or with other elements, but put together like that – they don’t work well together. The top has one natural edge, but flares out on both ends. The shelf/stretcher doesn’t relate to the shape of the top at all – it tries to mimic the curve, but then goes astray where it meets the legs, then, once past the legs, sticks out too far and has ends that don’t remind me of anything else on the table. The legs look as though they are trying to form an X, but then curve outwards in a way that imitates animal legs, plus they are flat. Either they need to be more dynamic in their curves or less so – as they are now, they fall somewhere in the middle and just appear to wander.

    As I go back and look at the table again, I think that perhaps the legs look weak – knock kneed, even, and maybe they should have descended straight down from the top, not headed towards each other above the stretcher. They don’t give visual support to the top. Maybe they are strong enough, they just don’t look it. I think that’s the portion of them that is fails, at least for me.

    Also, if you have cobwebs in your scull, you need to row more. If you have them in your skull, I suggest sleeping with earplugs to keep the cobs out of your ears.

  6. LizPf

    I see the legs echoing the front line of the top — but imperfectly, the feet bother me. I’d like to see the legs flare out a bit at the top, and not flare at the bottom, in echo of the top.

    The stretcher has been mentioned … I also think it looks out of place. Again, a refined echo of the top would look better.

    Finally, the ends of the top are too straight-line. They need some curve.

    It’s hard for me to figure out if the stretcher height is proportional to the total height. I’d check that and see if it fits one of the ratios George has mentioned.

    Despite all the comments, I do like this piece, very much.

  7. Wow, these are great comments, keep ‘em coming.

    Thank you everyone. I want to run out to my shop right now and try another – oh wait – I want to grab my drawing tools right now and sketch some more.

  8. Norman

    Kate, I think you need to step back from focusing on the table’s parts—whether legs, stretcher, or top—and think more about what effect you’re trying to achieve for the entire piece. In my view, you simply have too much going on, too many competing design elements or ideas, and as a result the eye isn’t quite sure where to focus.

    Writing teachers sometimes say it’s better to say a lot about a little than a little about a lot, and your design feels as if you’re trying to say a little about a lot of ideas. I’d recommend thinking through what you’re trying to convey with this piece and eliminating some of the busyness of the design to unify the focus more strongly on that.

    If, for example, you want to focus on the shape of the top, you might consider simplifying the stretcher so it doesn’t draw attention away from the top. You might make the line between the curved leg bottoms and top splay out a bit, rather than in toward the stretchers, to make them appear to be working in service of the top—appearing to support it more forcefully—rather than going off in their own eccentric direction. Right now the legs seem to be more about their own shape and about supporting the stretcher than about the top.

    You seem to have lots of fertile ideas; the risk of having such a lively mind is that you try to address too many ideas at once, in the one piece.

  9. I wonder if they seem to not fit because of their (lack of) girth. What if the stock was square instead of being about twice as wide as it is thick? Or maybe change the orientation of the legs, so the feet point towards the corners?

  10. Sherlock

    Kate,
    I really like the top. In fact, I could easily imagine it as a low floating shelf instead of a table.

    I’d suggest making the stretcher a little smaller by minimizing the ends that extend past the legs and straightening the back, to more closely mimic the shape of the top.

    My suggestion for the legs is to simplify the shape. Perhaps they could also mimic the curve of the top by curving in.

    Sherlock

  11. In my mind the key to good design is simplicity and repetition with variation. I would straighten out the legs and the back of the stretcher, then better repeat the live edge of the top on the front of the stretcher. The straight lines repeat the back and sides of the top. The single repeat of the live edge calls attention to the most interesting part of the top and creates a simple design.

  12. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate you taking the time to give me feedback. I have lots of ideas about changes I’d like to make.

  13. An interesting piece. I agree that the top and the stretcher do not seem to go together. Perhaps straightening the back of the stretcher to imitate the top would work. I like the natural edge on the top but not the straight cut across the ends. The piece appears to me as though it would tip over easily. Perhaps having the legs continue the flair out at the bottom instead of coming back in would give it a more stable feel.

  14. I like the table and the legs. The stretcher was the one thing that looked out of place to me. A simple stretcher would be more pleasing. How about an upward arch similar to the arch of the top in a rounded triangular shape almost egg shaped. Or a bent “natural” branch with the same upper arch, pierced at each end for the stretchers. I would stay away from a second shelf look. Someone might try to put a dried flower arrangement down there.
    Bill