Design Critique 04/07/2010


Inspiration abounds if we have ours eyes open

I have to say I’m delighted at the response to our little experiment with a design critique last week. You exceeded my expectations with lively and interesting comment and helpful criticism. You encouraged me and sparked my imagination. Currently I have a design for a sideboard/server table I’ve been toying with. My thought is I’d make two pieces. One for my wife (very tough customer) which will be a bit conservative, and the second piece a bit more adventuresome. Your ideas from last week are still rolling around in my head and percolating. Thank you. This concept of offering up our thoughts on a project is intriguing. That initial phase when the canvass is blank can be both a bit scary and at the same time exciting. Not sure about you but I find myself going down more than a few blind rabbit holes. That’s ok. Creativity isn’t linear and the detours play a role in the final outcome.

Reading your comments also reminded me of how many places it’s possible to draw inspiration. Some may draw directly from a furniture masterwork, some from a compilation of furniture pieces, some from nature, and a few may draw from a universe in their own head where the sky is a different color. It’s invigorating to hear from all vantage points.

 This week we have a design presented by Jason Young. In this case a piece nearly completed. Thanks Jason for letting us take a peak at your work and offer comment. Text from here forward is from Jason.

The design is largely shaker inspired with some arts and crafts influence through the inclusion of the “corbels” in the center bay.

In the interest of disclosure, I am reproducing this piece off of a picture I found online somewhere but have modified it somewhat to my own taste and ability and have “engineered” the structure of the piece to make it into what in my opinion is “fine” furniture.

Sketchup drawing of design concept by Jason Young

 A couple items of note:

 1. The four drawer fronts will be cut from a single board of either bird’s eye or curly maple. I think this will contrast nicely with the remaining cherry.

 2. I haven’t decided as of yet if I’ll incorporate evenly spaced through dovetails on the drawer fronts. This may be too busy on a figured board. Perhaps you can offer some insight.

 3. All of the panels have been prefinished with dewaxed shellac and three coats of Danish oil. The rest of the piece will receive the same finish, though I may topcoat the top of the table with a gel varnish for added protection.

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
This entry was posted in design critique. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Design Critique 04/07/2010

  1. Tom says:

    Nice piece thank you for post it.

    I would definitely not do through dovetails. The maple will be a nice contrast to the cherry by itself.

    The corbels bother me for some reason. Maybe if they were of maple? The curve being vertical seems out of place with the rest of the piece.

  2. bpassaro says:

    I like this, too. A lot of work in a piece like that. Nicely done.
    I think I agree with Tom’s comment on the drawers — through dovetails may be too much especially if you’re using a figured wood for the drawer fronts. If you were using cherry like the rest of the piece, maybe through doves would be OK. I tend to err on the side of restraint, though, so maybe that’s just me.
    Through dovetails will definitely give you more of an Arts&Crafts feel. I actually don’t really get the Shaker sense from this piece, but that’s probably beside the point.
    A couple quibbles:
    * To my eye, the arched shape of the lower rail and the backsplash seems a bit too curved. Just a little.
    * I understand Tom’s reservations about the corbels, but trying to imagine this piece without them and I think that space would seem a little bare. It would seem to want something — maybe need a third door. So I’m OK with them. Wonder if they seems to fight a little, though, with the long horizontal arches.
    * Finally, it’s hard to tell from the photo, but it looks to me like all of those parts that make up the front of the piece (with the exception of the door panels) are in one plane. I have found that if you set various pieces back an eighth of an inch or so it can give the piece a wonderful depth. You get more shadow lines, more texture. Perhaps you could have set the corbels back inside the case just 1/8. The rails on the doors could be set back from the stiles 1/8, and the middle muntin an 1/8 or 1/16 back from the rails. The dividers for the three top drawers could be set back from the rails. You can see this sort of thing in the work of Greene & Greene, for instance. It’s not that you notice the individual setbacks, but they do seem to give the whole piece a little more life. Then again, maybe you have done some of that, and I can’t quite make it out in the photograph.
    Just some thoughts. But overall, I really like it.

    • walkerg says:

      I really appreciate the point you make about breaking up the front even if it’s with slight offsets. I tend to think of introducing bolder curves or offsets and your explanation made me rethink this. Breaking up the facade even by a small amount can have quite a visual impact providing shadow lines and emphasizing borders. I’ve also been thinking about how using very slight curvature might be used to advantage on furniture. I’m thinking of curves that you have to double take to register whether they are straight or not. This is something that I intend to explore on my own and your comments have encouraged me to move forward. Thanks.

      • bpassaro says:

        I should mention (giving credit where credit is due) that the idea of using these small setbacks is something I learned when I studied woodworking with Gary Rogowski at his school in Portland, Ore. — the Northwest Woodworking Studio. This is something Gary often emphasized in design.
        Entirely separately from that, an architect friend of mine once noted how rich the texture of a typical 1920s era bungalow was — the relief provided by lap siding, window trim, double hung windows, moulding, etc. There are all of these different levels of relief. Same idea. It affords a texture and richness you don’t get when everything is in one plane.

  3. Jason Young says:

    This is great, I love getting this feedback!

    I’m sold on the idea of no through dovetails. I agree that it’s too much.

    I understand the reservation about the curvature of the lower stretcher and crest rail. This piece really caught my eye when I first saw the photo of it and as I analyzed it I considered reducing this curvature. When I did so in the skecthup model, I found the piece lost some of its appeal so I put it back in.

    I like the corbels as is, they appeal to me and I’ve incorporated them into a few other pieces I’ve made. i think they give a feeling of robustness and strength. And for the record they are inset 1/4″ from the rest of the face.

    The rest of the “face frame” elements are in a single plane and though it’s not apparent from the pibture, each element is joined with a sliding dovetail. Something like you’d see in one of Chris Becksvoort’s shaker dressers. Once the drawers are built, i’ll try insetting them to see what it looks like. I’ve done this before on a stained piece and was upset by the fact that the drawers wore through the stain.

    I’m a bit surprised no one has commented on the proportions of the door rails and stiles. They look a bit heavy to my eye.

    I’m inspired by Marc Spagnuolo’s recent router based inlay post to add a maple leaf inlay to the front right corner of the top. I’d do some snad shading to enhance the veining/shadows in the leaf. What to you guys think of that idea? Any input on the species selection for the leaf?

  4. Mike Siemsen says:

    I would say no on the through dovetails. They will look like box joints anyway from the front. Leave a little something to be discovered when you open the drawer.
    I agree on the curvature of the splash and lower rail being too great. I think the outside ends of the lower rail are too close to the floor too.
    As to the corbels, try changing that to another arched rail running across the top of the opening and see how you like it.
    Nice craftsmanship.

  5. Tom says:

    Now that you mention it, why are the side panels shorter than the middle panes? Did you try narrowing the rails and stile in sketchup?

  6. Jason Young says:

    Sorry, I’m not sure what you mean by middle panels?

  7. Tom says:

    Sorry I meant the ends of the cabinet vs the panels you see through the corbels.

  8. bpassaro says:

    As for the door rails and styles: Now that you mention it, I guess they could have been slimmed down a little. But it’s a pretty massive piece, so I think it can handle that width. They didn’t strike me as way out of proportion. I feel like I need to see the drawer fronts in there before I could really say for sure. But I see you did change the door design from the sketchup drawing. Curious what lead you make those changes?

  9. Frank Vucolo says:


    Great piece. I like the overall design and idea a lot and like what you’re doing to refine it through taking some time and sharing thoughts.

    I mean, if you build it, as is, it’s going to be a wonderful accomplishment.

    I would agree with the consensus that the through doevetails would not be good. Go with half blinds.

    I like what Tom mentioned about an arched rail below the center drawer.

    I do think the door stile and rails are too beefy.
    There are too many flat, wide boards there competing with your drawer fronts. How about pairs of doors on either side with lighter construction?

    As for your idea of birdseye and cherry, I love it. Take a look at this piece
    While it’s in a completely different style, look at how those birdseye drawerfronts crossbanded with cherry on a cherry frame look. Stunning; you’re on to something!

    I hope you will be able to share your final decisions and finished work here when it’s done. I’d love to see it.


  10. jlsmith says:

    I would offer the follow comments, hopefully you will find them useful:

    Given the ‘language’ of the piece (the gravity bearing nature of the arch, the stoutness of the overall proportions and the proportions of the stiles and rails, the drawers and even the pulls) the way the piece touches the ground, with the thin edge of the side panels, is inconsistent with the robust nature of the design. This detail may also be part of the reason why some find the arch to be too severe.

    Regarding your comments about the proportions of the stiles and rails, is it that the stiles and rails are too wide or is the panel to narrow? With any component, within a larger design, there is the proportions of the piece itself (in this case width:length) and the proportions of the piece to the other components and to the entire piece. Perhaps the relationship between the width of the s/r and the width of the panel is really the cause of the perception that the s/r are too ‘beefy’. In the model the the ratio between the width of the s/r and the width of the panel is maybe 1:4 whereas in the finished piece it looks to be more like 1:2. This similarity between widths creates visual confusion regarding the hierarchy. Maybe introducing the middle stile was a material necessity but the stile could have been design so that it wasn’t identical to the other two stiles. So instead of the door being A:B:A:B:A , it could have been A:B:C:B:A where ideally A>C. This would allow the perimeter s/r to read as something surrounding the panel (which is made up of two panels and a different stile).

    Regarding the detail at the opening, think of it this way: if you were to show the picture of the model to a middle school aged child and tell them there is something in the picture that doesn’t belong, how likely do you think it would be that they would pick the ‘corbels’? Liking a particular detail is not, in and of itself, a reason to include it in a design. As a designer you must be ruthless in your ability to edit yourself.

    Good luck with the project.


  11. Jason Young says:

    First, I’ll address Tom’s comment regarding the lengths of the side panels versus the lengths of the panels you see through the corbelled center section. The length of the side panels was governed by my want to have the top and bottom stretchers to “wrap” around from the front of the piece to the sides. You’ll notice that the depth of the top stretcher on the side concides with the drawer blade. The length of the panels you see on the inside are governed by the fact that I wanted a 2″ wide bottom rail. The top rail depth is immaterial since you won’t see it once the drawers are in.

    Secondly, I’ll address the comments regarding the layout of the door s/r’s. The sketchup model had a wide panels about 14″ wide and 13″ high. For some reason that design didn’t sit right with me so while in the process of construction the doors I changed it. I quickly drew some different center stile widths on the model, both wider and narrower, and having the stile match the edge stiles seemed right to me. I hinestly thing I rushed that process a bit too much and should have explored these options further. Both the doors and the center corbels are glued up now so I won’t be changing them but the critique is a real learning experience.

    For jlsmith’s comments, thank you for your candor. I hadn’t really thought about the bearing point of the relatively thin frame and panel sides compared to the mass of the piece. During the design process, I struggled to come up with a way to join the bottom of the case and the stretchers etc to the sides. it was hard to find a good example of this since most pieces of this nature typically have a solid corner leg. That being said, it’s not unusual to see a heavy piece having narrow turned feet. Food for thought…

    I’d like to mention that I didn’t build a scale model of this piece. The modelling process may have changed the design somewhat but to be thruthful, both my wife and I are very happy with how it looks and that’s the most important thing.

    • jlsmith says:

      Your point regarding narrow feet is well taken, however, as in most things, general rules don’t always apply to particular situations but as you said this detail of the piece is in fact fixed so the point becomes moot.

      Ultimately the goal of any piece is to satisfy at least two masters, the maker and the client. Since that goal is being accomplished the project should be considered an unqualified success.

      Good luck with the rest of the project


  12. walkerg says:


    Kudos to you for putting your work out there and letting us have this discussion about design. Some things I like about your design – I like how you mirror the curve from the backsplat to base and it apears on the sides. I enjoy the small veiw of the inset panels in the center opening, one of those little surprises that one wouldn’t expect. I’m sure the figured maple drawer fronts will add some wonderful contrast.
    Concerning the possible changes based on the above observations. I’ve yet to make a piece of furniture that I wouldn’t change the next time around. My gut tells me the masterworks that are icons today, were the result of numerous revisions and tweaking. Yes I might have made the curved parts slightly less steep. But I also know I’m looking at a photo and those judgements are best made up close. I join the others in complementing your work and look forward to seeing a finished photo. Great job!

Comments are closed.