Design Critique Oct 2012

Michael Cran submitted a recent project requesting your input, below are his comments. As always for these on-line critiques, if you share an opinion, please bolster it with the why behind your veiw. Thinking through your conclusions  helps all, even the one offering constructive advise.

This was a small coffee table I made for my sister.  The design constraints were a small living area, a small budget, and the wood available.  I was very fortunate to find a nice piece of figured walnut for the top and legs.  I chose a half blind mitered dovetail for the corner joint, (dovetails visible from the side).  The mitered aspect was chosen for continuity of the grain over the edge, the dovetail aspect for structural integrity and well, because I’d never cut one before.  The stretcher is curly cypress.  I chose it because it had very little commercial value, and plenty of character.  The cantilevered edge was in response to the length of the cypress, and the space the table was meant to fill.  I am pleased with the contrast between the cypress and walnut, in color but mostly form.  What wildness is it that holds this formal world together?

I welcome any critiques but am particularly curious to know how others respond to the proportions.  They were somewhat constrained by the material itself, but mostly it was a matter of right…about…there. Something seems a little off to me.

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27 Comments

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27 responses to “Design Critique Oct 2012

  1. Walt

    What are the dimensions

    • Michael Cran

      Can’t recall exactly, but something like 18h 14 w 40 long. An unusually tall coffee table, for a tall family.

  2. I normally don’t care for pieces with free edges and asymmetrical elements. But I like this. A lot. I would put this in my house. Bravo.

    • Michael Cran

      Thank you kindly. I take willingness to live with something I’ve made as high praise. If you are willing to articulate what sets this piece apart from others with asymmetry and free edges, I’d be glad.

  3. The live edge stretcher was just a fantastic idea. It’s a bit hard to catch the contrast between the cypress and walnut in these photos, but I think it was a great use of an interesting piece of stock that took a lot of imagination to actually use in a piece. My initial thought is that the mitered dovetail corner is a bit out of sync with the rest of the design. You have a very natural free-flowing design in the stretcher and the figured leg. Then you have a very sharp, crisp corner on the other side with very symmetrical and neat joinery. I think you liked the challenge of the mitered dovetail, but I’m not sure it complements the natural, free flowing lines of the rest of the piece. The joinery and that mitered corner almost compete for the attention. I might have done something more similar to the other leg on this side and maybe just offset the overhangs a bit. But in some ways, the stark contrast you created might be exactly what catches peoples’ attention, I’m just reflecting on my first reaction to the overall form.

    • Michael Cran

      Thank you Chris. I did indeed enjoy the challenge of the mitered dovetail.
      I am sure it (or rather the crisp corner) is complementary to the live edge, as yellow is to purple, or orange to blue. They may not be saying nice things about each other, but each element’s inherent character is set off in relation to the other. Unsettling yet compelling.
      Your thoughts have brought me closer to understanding my feelings about this piece.
      Thank you very much.

  4. Chris

    Very nice piece, I like it a lot!

    The only part I’m not sure about (and it may be partially that there’s no photo of the other end of the bench) is that the leg under the cantilever seems too much a part of the top, and not enough a part of the stretcher. The way the stretcher twists off to the side is beautiful, but the way it hangs off in mid-air makes it seem unfinished, somehow. Perhaps if you had found a way to skew that leg off to the side to meet it (without unbalancing the bench), it would have felt more organic.

    Anyway, it’s a nitpick – very nice work and well executed.

    • Michael Cran

      Chris, thanks for your comment. The little nub of the stretcher hanging out beyond the leg was troubling to me as well. It does lie within the plane of the table top edge, and as such ‘fits’ from most points of view, but not all. I think your suggestion of widening the leg would have been an elegant solution. I almost cut that nub off, but as I brought the saw to it, I saw (wow, isn’t the English language great!) that it would compromise the rather strict relationship with the rest of the table.
      What you’ve written is not a nitpick, it’s thoughtful and perceptive, and I thank you for it.

      • Michael,

        Instead of widening the leg, I think I would simply move it further to the right. The third picture shows an unnecessarily large mass of the leg to the left of the stretcher.

        Chris

  5. Jeremy

    I like the combination of the two styles; it works well. There is something unbalanced about it to my eye from the photos provided (which can lie.) The overhang may be more effective on the opposite end. The cantilever and the jutting live edge corner on the same side tend to pull my eye in one direction only. I can’t tell if the piece has finish, but whatever can be done to increase the tonal contrast between walnut and cyprus will be advantageous. Perhaps the miter should have been a blind mitered dovetail, to minimize the elements at play, but I like the exposed joinery. After finish, it might also compete for the eye. Good work, nice piece.

    • Michael Cran

      Jeremy, I very much like your suggestion of putting the overhang on the other side. The way my eye has been trained to read, left to right and down, might appreciate the finality of the corner leg being on the right side of the page, as it were. However, walking around the table gives that perspective, albeit with a different relationship to the curve of the stretcher.
      I regret I don’t have pics from that point of view.
      The table has since been finished with tung oil, and I think you are right about tonal contrast being advantageous.
      Thank you Jeremy.

  6. I am not a big fan of live edge but I do like the curly cypress. There is a lot going on in this piece and it’s difficult to know what to focus on. The cantiliever is nice but my eye keeps going back to the energy and movement in the cypress which seems constrained by the two legs.
    I think I would have made the cypress the focal point visually and physically moving it to the top to take advantage of all the energy it suggests, rather than enclosing it.
    Alternatively if there was no way to make a top from the cyress, it would have been nice to see the cypress go through the legs so all that movement and energy were able to flow vs. coming to an abrupt stop. The contrast between the organic shape of the cypress and the machined modern design of the top and legs I think would give the piece a “focus” or resting place for your eye.

    • Michael Cran

      My initial idea was to extend the cypress through the cantilever side leg- alas the piece wasn’t long enough without bringing the leg in and making the table tippy, if someone chose to sit on that end. It is taller than a standard coffee table.
      Forgive me for being cheeky, but free energy is hard to come by.
      Thank you for your comments Tim.

  7. Chris Mann

    Not enough cantilever. Either the top should be longer, or leg moved in more. You could probably break it down into proportions to figure out exact amount, but I’ll leave that to George. I just do it by eye

  8. Jim Maher

    First of all, the wood and craftsmanship are beautiful and your sister will – and should be – proud to own it and pass it on to her children. Very well done. As it is, it’s a very fine piece.

    The rest of this is just my unqualified personal opinion.

    It seems that you were trying to fuse modern style with natural forms, right? To me, the nearly symetric rectilinear form of the overall shape and the thickness of those elements fails to evoke a “modern” style. I would have found ways to accentuate asymmetry; for example, extend the cantilever to about double its current proportional overhang. And I would probably have added dynamics to the overall shape; say, the broad end like a right leaning “A” and the narrow just slightly wider than the cypress, and centered on the end of the cypress, with the top either angularly cut to match those flows or with curvilinear shape (perhaps opposing the curves in the cypress). Much more negative space and much less symmetry.

    But those are very significant proposed changes, that would drastically change the nature of the work. Bolder, perhaps, but also maybe much different than you had in mind.

    Again, what you’ve DONE is wonderful! Your sister will enjoy it, and you can spend the next 20 years reviewing it and considering what you might want to try with the next one.

  9. Kris

    I like both live edges and asymmetry but I find my eye flitting between the two on this piece. Almost like their are two focal points. As always it’s challenging to evaluate from photographs.

    That’s just nitpicking though, it’s very nicely executed and if I saw this piece at a craft fair, store, wherever, I’d certainly spend a fair amount of time looking at in detail.

  10. From the perspective of the second photo, I am conflicted by what design element to most appreciate, the natural edge shelf or the asymmetrical cantilever. They appear to compete for my attention, creating tension and conflict.

    To focus attention solely on the natural edge, you can make the right end as shown in the second photo, look like the left. Alternately, simply balance the overhang on both ends.

  11. Steve

    The craftmanship and the use of the woods are well done but I agree with Michael that it seems a little off. I’m no designer and my woodworking skills have me in the utilitarian component, but I suspect that the cantilevered “shelf” is what is might be throwing things off a little. Had it not been included (and if the photography was a little more descriptive), there would be no question that it is artistic.

    Nicely done, nonetheless.

  12. curt seeliger

    I really like a mix of Cartesian boards and rustic/’natural’ wood, it’s a mix I’ve used before (and I’ll do it again). Thank you for putting this up for review.

    I question (in the sense of not knowing) whether the stretcher is strong enough to support the collection of books, magazines or whatnot that accumulate on every nearly flat surface (at least everywhere I’ve lived).

    Secondly, the overhanging top is distracting. The cypress is beautifully framed by the bold rectangle, but that strength is hampered by the excess — few of us would frame a picture in such a manner. As was mentioned above, asymmetry is a wonderful thing but it’s at odds with the natural lines of the cypress and the classical walnut.

  13. Hi Michael,

    I like the piece very much, although the photos don’t show it all that well. I like the contrast between the live-edged stretcher and the rest of the table, but I would like to see the leg near the cantilevered end positioned more to the right as seen in the first photo for better visual balance. As one of the other people named Chris commented, I feel the cantilevered end should extend further to balance the proportions. I would have also liked to see a hint of a live edge in the walnut too.

    Chris

  14. jlsmith

    From all appearances this is a finely crafted object. That said, there are conceptual design choices that are open to debate. My first uncritical reaction was that the design ‘buries the lead’ by locating the most visually interesting element literally at the bottom of the design and not in a place of visual or physical prominence. Being a coffee table only adds, negatively, to this issue. In actual use, due to its dimensions (not proportions), the Cypress will be even harder to see. Given its horizontal orientation the question of it’s structural integrity (as another has already said) is also a concern. Will it resist the forces a pair of propped up feet might apply to it?

    While it is easy to understand how someone would wish to incorporate this piece of Cypress into a project, given its inherent limitations, developing a design that is able to fully exploit it’s character would be a challenge. So I understand the desire to use it I am just not convinced of how it was used.

    Did you consider rotating the stretcher 90 degrees into a vertical position? This would have eliminated the ‘need’ to locate the ‘leg’ asymmetrically and it would remove the potential structural overloading issue. I could also see Cypress as a ‘puzzle piece’ (inlay) located within a large surface. Admittedly, this would be quite a challenge to pull off.

  15. Woodster

    I work with live edge pieces all the time.

    Don’t much care for this piece – it looks too studied, too student-like. The top needs to be centered.

    But live and learn, am I right?

  16. The contrast between the live stretcher (a wonderful shape!) and the rigid geometry is certainly interesting, but perhaps a bit extreme — the parts of the table aren’t talking to each other enough. Perhaps curving the long edges of the top to slightly echo the shape of the stretcher would say, “I wish I could be like you, but at least I can show recognition and respect.” And the stretcher has so much interest that I don’t think the contrast between the hard corner and the cantilever is needed. But this is just my subjective take — it’s a wonderful table just as it is.

  17. Austin

    Wow. Amazing peice. I don’t work with live edge, and really consider it to be overdone, but in this instance I feel it fits perfectly. Using it as the secondary surface as opposed to the primary is not seen often, and (in my opinion) increases the tables utility.

    I don’t really see this as a coffee table so much as a “room divider” and feel it would look best with the non-cantilevered end going up against a wall. I know you said you were limited by the length of the cypress, but if you make a second I would consider extending the stretcher past the leg on the cantilevered side by maybe 2/3 of the length of the cantilever, in order to add a continutity between the two horizontal surfaces in relation to the leg.

    Again, Beautiful work, cudos.

  18. I love this piece and to echo what many others have said, I don’t normally go for the natural edge look. There is something about the way this has been composed though, it’s been designed with an appreciation of the Art and executed by skilled hands. The bottom section flows like a river and invites you on a journey from one end to the other, perhaps even, whether Michael intended it or not, from raw materials to the finished product – well that’s what I get from the third photo. Well done.