Limit the palette and make it memorable

This simple form for a sideboard uses a small palette of simple proportions. Drawing by author.

One of the lessons I keep learning over and over again is limiting the palette. Artists often confine themselves to a small handful of colors for a painting and in some cases are able to achieve incredible results working with a small number of colors. Sometimes it’s different shades of blue or small palette of browns. It’s hard to get this through my thick skull. Some of the best meals that Barbie prepares are simple. She puts together a killer bowtie pasta dish with hot sausage tomato sauce and rosemary breadsticks. I’d walk a mile for that meal and the best compliment I can offer is that it’s memorable.

My temptation is always to overdo a design. I want to pile on the bells and whistles, try out a new technique, add some sliding tambour doors, and inlay some shiny brass. Barbie usually comes to the rescue with a “Whoa Trigger”. She’s right, even the work that includes amazing carving or inlay usually stands out because the artisan understood how to use restraint to make the piece memorable.

 So here is my challenge. I’ve been working up this sideboard design. Last weekend we settled on an overall size for the piece. It will be 48” wide, 32” high, and 16” deep. Perhaps it’s not right calling this a sideboard as that form is often more massive but this fits our modest dining room. It still will serve the purpose of catching the overflow of steaming dishes of scalloped corn during a big family meal. I took that envelope and sketched out a number of versions based on input from Barbie. She toyed with an idea of something with a shelf near the floor and a row of drawers under the tabletop.

This buffet table with a shelf near the floor crashed and burned along with six or eight other versions. Drawing by author.

 I also went through a half dozen versions of something akin to a hunt board. Note, I fell to temptation and tried to sell her on something with lots of curves and bling. “BAD DOG! BAD DOG!”

Finally we settled on this form. It’s based on a simple 2:3 overall rectangle. Vertically the open space vs cabinet above is 3:2, the drawers horizontally again mirror this with a 2:3:2 proportion in their widths, and the heights of the drawers are a ratio of, you guessed it 2:3. If you smell a pattern here, I’m limiting my pallete. This illustrates what can be done with something as simple as one ratio. I think it works.

Getting close to a final version.

This design is far from complete and at this point can go in many directions. I saw a similar form in a gallery where the top was gently carved with tiny ripples and the front edge had a spot like the edge of a waterfall where a small cascade tumbled down the front. Although this is built around simple rectangles you can add curvature back into the drawer fronts, top, and legs if you like. This form could go contemporary, arts and crafts, you fill in the blank. In my case I’m thinking about using some cherry for the legs and frames and figured maple drawer fronts and top. I was impressed with how the beading worked on the small empire chest I just completed so I may work that into this piece. My challenge now is to take this simple form and make it memorable.

George R. Walker

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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2 Responses to Limit the palette and make it memorable

  1. tico vogt says:

    The proportions do look good. I wonder about the structural aspect, what will counter the weight in the middle to keep it from sagging. A skirt/rail? It could have a curve. Lots of possibilities

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