A simple chamfer strikes a clear tone on this clock case, photo by author.

 I read an article recently about an interior designer in New York touting clarity as a key element in a design. Strip away the clutter, simplify, and create a sanctuary. This quest for clarity strikes a chord with many and has been repeated and re-interpreted many times in our past. Left to our own devises our world can get cluttered and chaotic, till finally it’s time to sort out, edit, and pare back. Those thoughts have been re-echoed it seems countless times as new design movements attempt to define themselves. There’s always this effort to get back to purity or nature or some sort of simplicity we once knew and has somehow been buried in a world of clutter. That’s my view as to why Shaker furniture has had such an lasting hold on so many. It’s stripped down and uncluttered till just the bare form and function are left. Even 18th century American furniture which may appear busy to modern eyes, is quite constrained and stripped down compared to the work coming out of London or Paris. Without getting too philosophical about why “simple” usually has more staying power than ”bling”, or why more is not always better when it comes to furniture, I’d like to share a couple of thoughts.

Corinthian capital, drawing by author.

The more elements contained in a design, the more difficult it is to achieve a unity. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we revere a Corinthian capital. So much going on and yet it all works. Thinking more along the lines of furniture design though, a piece of furniture is part of a larger interior space. Ideally we are striving for a unity with that interior space as well as the piece itself. The more complex, the harder it is to achieve.

 Oddly enough although I’m going on about clarity and simplicity, it provides some unique opportunities to introduce carving, inlay, or ornament. A well thought out and restrained carving can have a much more powerful and delightful effect if it’s set off by a plain surface. A lone inlay of a hummingbird or maple leaf is much bolder if floating in a sky by itself than competing with a busy background.

 I ask myself. Can I see the form clearly? Do all the parts have a function (even if that function is to emphasize the form)? Do you have similar questions you pose when editing and searching for the right notes?

 George R. Walker

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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4 Responses to Clarity

  1. jlsmith says:

    “A well thought out and restrained carving can have a much more powerful and delightful effect if it’s set off by a plain surface.”

    This concept is neatly captured in the phrase:
    Contrast heightens the experience.
    This concept is not restricted to a particular set of experiences but span the entire range human activities.

  2. jared says:

    I think the paring down happens at very particular times in society, take for example walter gropius and the bauhaus. It was WWI and its influences that made those guys question what was important and led them to pair their furniture and architecture down to it’s very essence.

    I feel like that is what is currently going on in the world right now, at least in my mind. I am so excited to be part of the design community at a time like right now, when we are clearly entering a period of time in which i feel like we will create our own “period furniture”.

    I have made a conscious effort to take a step away from “the bling mentality” and move away from laser cutting, cad, etc. I have made an effort as well to pick up some hand tools and see where they take me.

    I think in design intent is everything, in life too. I feel like my furniture projects have moved in a direction that I am very excited about because my intent is so different. I intend to take time cutting dovetails and fitting mortise and tenons, this gives the pieces so much more life. These projects feel different sitting in my studio. I connect with them more and they emanate a different vibe (i can’t really explain). I hope clients connect with that too.

    Anyway, you blog is a huge inspiration! It has given me the opportunity to think about projects and design so differently! I look forward to each post!

    best regards,


    • walkerg says:


      Glad you are feeling inspired. I jumped over to your blog for a look. Your enthusiasm comes across and I respect that you are experimenting, pushing your skills, and design vision. Perhaps I could stop by your shop if I get down near Cincy?


  3. jared says:


    That would be killer man!! Anytime you are in Cincinnati feel free to stop by! I think it would be rad to talk furniture and design over some brews. I am new to the world of woodworking, it has totally changed my perspective on life. The opportunity for learning excites me beyond description!

    I live in mt adams so there are plenty of pubs just steps away from the shop.

    I will definitely look forward to you stopping down sometime!

    I just ordered your dvd from lie nielsen. I am super excited to delve into all it has to offer. Your blog has really opened my eyes to new things. I have studied design, but to come at it from the angle that you are coming at it from is so dope! the use of dividers, proportions, and column order were things that I had not studied. I can’t wait for more.

    Thank you so much for peeping my blog! yours has been a huge inspiration to me!

    best regards brother!


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