Sublime echoes

I enjoy canoeing in the backcountry. A few days in solitude can work wonders on my outlook. One route we used to take was a loop that crossed a small pond called Echo Lake. It was close to the starting point so you could catch it going out or at the end of a trip coming back in. As you can imagine by the name, the water was smooth as glass with towering cliffs on each shore causing the slightest sound to reverberate back and forth. If you passed through at the beginning of the trip with a gang of rowdy teenagers the effect was sort of like going through a funhouse at a carnival. On the other hand if you saved echo until the end of a trip, and allowed the stillness of the wilderness to work its magic on your soul, the lake could be sublime. I’ve sat for twenty minutes just trying to be as quiet as possible. Listening to a lone warbler song fold back on itself and becoming a chorus of sound, or just snapping my fingers and straining to hear how many times it doubles back.

Baltimore Sideboard facade

I was working up some sketches for an upcoming article for my Design Matters column in Popular Woodworking Magazine when I noticed something obvious that had somehow escaped me. Maybe I was looking at it with a bunch of rowdy teenagers the first few times. This sideboard viewed from the front has a gentle curve in the center apron. The radius of that curve is the same length as the length of the leg from the carcass to the floor. Simple and elegant. Now look at the shape of the top. Can you see the echo?

Top echoes facade, or which echoes which?

 I see this often in period work, many times a gentle curve repeats or folds back on itself. It can be accomplished in many ways sometimes very quietly. Note to self: slow down, be still, you may be pleasantly surprised at what you see.

George Walker

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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10 Responses to Sublime echoes

  1. adam says:

    nice discussion – It also looks like the origin of the circle defined by the curve from the top/plan view originates from the very back of the piece, or am i just seeing things?

    • walkerg says:


      You are correct, it originates from the back. Also something I’ve observed when I see these echoes is that they are usually separated, have a little space between them.


  2. Christopher says:

    I wonder if some of the echoes arise out of expediency. For instance, if I’m working on a piece of furniture and I’ve drawn an arc and created a template for one part, I might be searching for a design element and say, “Hey, where’s that arc I just drew.” Because it was close at hand it was reintroduced.

    To continue your linking of design and music, I was recently playing some guitar piece by George Harrison and hit upon an extremely familiar part that sounded very difficult but was in fact quite easy. It was easy because your hands were already right there — it was, in fact, the easiest thing to play at that time.

    So I wonder if elegance in design can be defined as what is most expedient in that situation?

    • jlsmith says:

      Being an architect/furniture designer who is quite steeped in matters of design (some clients say so steeped that I am weighted down by them) I am extremely confident that the repeating of particular geometries and dimensions isn’t a matter of convenience. One of the underlying principles of good design is reiteration. It is one of many ways the parts of a design can be brought into harmony with each other. When you see/discover a repeating element/dimension in a design you can be confident its there because the designer wants it there to support and develop the underlying design idea.

    • walkerg says:


      Many times we may stumble upon an idea or an inspiration for a design element by chance, if our eyes are open. How we apply that idea to make it work, is usually well thought out. I would suggest looking for this when you observe good design to help inform your eye.


  3. jlsmith says:

    Your post holds true to form and is therefore thought provoking. If you are correct, that both arcs have identical radii, then they are positive and negatives of each other, (or an example of western version of yin and yang) at least in 2d drawings. Therefore the claim could be made that the plan and the elevation would be more accurately described not as an example of ‘echoing’ but an example of the related technique of inversion or more precisely reiteration by inversion. Or does your design sensibilities tell you that this claim amounts to a case of the dog chasing its tail (which unfortunately is the end result on many design conversations)?

    • walkerg says:


      I can’t be certain the radii are the same as I worked this up from a photo that had a straight on view of the facade but a less clear image of the top. My point on this post is that I often do notice this subtle repeating of elements and the pleasurable effect it can convey.


  4. John Griffin-Wiesner says:

    Another nice post, George.

    Here in Minnesota we have the BWCA. Your backcountry sounds similar. I try to get up to the BWCA each year but I haven’t found a lake that echoes like yours.

    I’m really enjoying your blog.

    • walkerg says:


      I used to feast on the writings of Sig Olson and his love of the BWCA. It’s on my bucket list of places to go and spend some time.


  5. Jim Tolpin says:

    The other recurring theme I’m seeing when exploring classical furniture design–dividers in hand– is that you can almost always find a relationship between any element in the piece. From macro to micro scale. Again, as Christopher mentioned…also may be due to expediency!

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