Design Critique Nov 2011

Chuck Curtis submitted a few drawings of a desk/table he is designing and requesting some feedback. I have to comment that I get a great deal out of your collective feedback myself. Often I hold back my initial thoughts only to see one of you echo what I’m thinking, often with additional insight. The following comments are from Chuck.  

I am in the process of designing a desk/table for use in a home
office.  I want the work surface to be low enough that it is
comfortable to type on, which limits the space for drawers under the
work surface.  I am currently planning on constructing it out of red
oak, but staining the wood dark (I have a ton of red oak on hand – so
it is easier/cheaper to use the oak and stain than get a dark wood).
I have attached prints from SketchUp, but would love some input on the
design – or suggestions for more/fewer details.  For a size scale, the
top is 60″ wide by 37″ deep, and the legs are 3″ square.  Since this
is for my own use, there are very little design constraints – but it
is to be a functional piece of furniture first.

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17 Responses to Design Critique Nov 2011

  1. Nathan says:

    The way that the corbels meet the front apron stops my eye from flowing across the piece. I get stuck in the corner between the corbel and apron; I feel that it would be more pleasing if you could fair the curves into the apron. Also, I would like to see the stretchers mirror the shape of the end aprons, the square stretcher with the shaped aprons looks clunky to me. Overall though this looks like a promising start.
    As for some details of wood selection. Since Red oak is ring porous you should plan on filling the grain at least on the top surface, unless you never do any writing by hand. As for obtaining the dark color It might be worth looking into ammonia fuming with either Janitor’s or blueprinting ammonia. I hope a few of my thoughts might be helpful to you.

  2. Pingback: Design Critique | The Curtis Website

  3. Steven D says:

    You might consider chambfers on the legs or increasing the thickness of the other components to balance the visual weight

  4. Like Nathan, my eye is trapped at the join between the bracket and apron. They could be mistaken for a later modification to stabilise a design deficiency. How about leaving them off and go with only the cloud-lift motif on the aprons. I think the two stretchers link the two legs together but make the left and right sides disjointed, you could add a central stretcher linking the left and right stretchers (and lower them) or have no stretchers at all. Perhaps decrease the top overhang? just some ideas to think about, good luck with it.

  5. Mark Dorman says:

    I like it; It looks like a Libray table I’m thinking about building. It has a center stretcher that looks good but I wonder about chair and leg room. I would like to see a sketch of the corbals on the outside of the leg. I wonder how that would look. I like corbals but maybe you don’t need them. Sometimes less is more. The shape of the apron is appealing to me it looks good and adds leg room. It might loose drawer space but I’m sitting at a desk right now without drawers and it works and looks okay.

  6. Mark Dorman says:

    One other thing Steve’s chamfer idea might be worth a look. A stopped chamfer that starts at the bottom of the apron might pick up the shape of the apron.
    Thanks for posting your design.


  7. Chuck Curtis says:

    Everyone, thanks for the comments. I agree that the corbels/apron don’t work so well. I like the idea of a stopped chamfer. I hadn’t thought of putting the corbels on the outside. That might be an interesting idea, maybe make them so they visually pick up the aprons. I agree that the stre stretchers look clunky, but I’m concerned about leg room if I add a stretcher between them. Maybe a stretcher across the back, and leave the front open? I also think I’ll need to mirror the shape of the aprons on the stretchers.

  8. Jarrod says:

    I like your initial design and can tell that functionality is the core of your aim with the piece. I agree that in the sketchup model the corbels stick out but I’m assuming that in actually building the desk the joint between the corbels and the apron won’t be so noticeable? I think matching the curve of the corbel and notch in the apron will assist a seamless look and make the corbels work in their current position. Have you considered extending the curve into the front legs of the desk? That could add a nice touch while also bringing the focus inward into the form from all angles.

    • Chuck Curtis says:

      I like the idea of curving the legs, but I’m not sure if that will make the project too difficult to build. I had planned on making the corbels stick out, but after comments, I’m thinking of getting rid of them (or maybe put them on the other side of the legs). What are your thoughts about getting rid of the notch in the apron, and just using the corbels as the accent?

  9. Chuck Curtis says:

    Ok… A couple thoughts here on possible changes (based on comments so far): 1. Move the corbel to the outside of the legs. 2. Add a chamfer on the legs (stopped chamfer – starting below the apron and ending maybe 1″ before the end of the leg). 3. Change the curves in the apron to more of a cloud lift. 4. Make the legs 2 1/4″ square vice 3″ square. 5. Get rid of the stretchers – though I’m concerned about the table being sturdy enough without stretchers. But, I really do like the idea of curving the legs… I’m just still at a loss on how to make that work. But please, keep the feedback coming – it really does help.

  10. Brian says:

    I like the straight legs as the weight makes it feel more like a solidly planted desk than a table being used as a desk. A shaped corner on the legs would add some nice detail, and a stopped chamfer with a depth profile similar to the apron might tie the elements together without losing the weight. Another nice detail would be to slightly thin just the short ends of top with and ogee-ish profile on the bottom so that the long edges echo the apron profile.

  11. Kris says:

    I like the other ideas about removing the corbels and possibly echoing the apron shape in the stretchers. It would also be interesting to see it with the legs chamfered or perhaps with a thicker top to help balance out the visual weight. I wonder too about moving the stretchers a little lower. Did you use some type of ratio to determine their width and placement?

    I have a kitchen table that’s pretty close to the same dimensions and though the legs are tapered I find the 3″ thickness at the top a little heavy. For a library type table though I like the look of extra mass.

  12. Austin says:

    I like the corbels and feel they add dimension to the design. I would elongate the corbel to the top of the leg, place the apron between the corbels, and add corbels to the sides, eliminating the need for the stretcher, and giving balance to the view from the oblique. A very slight maybe 1/4 inch taper on the legs will do wonders for the overall balance of the piece.

  13. Aaron says:

    I agree about tapers on the legs as well as thickening the top. It looks a tad too thin right now, and in general the whole piece feels bottom-heavy.

    Some thoughts I have that would require more radical changes to the design:
    1. making the legs thinner in both dimensions. This would make thickening the top less necessary.
    2. adding a stretcher to join the left and right stretchers you already have. This can be offset from center toward the back so your legs dont have to hit it.
    3. decreasing the width of the of the stretchers you already have, they look tall enough for a workbench! 😉 I wouldnt get rid of them, but they can definitely stand to be shorter.
    4. making the whole thing less deep (that 37″ dimension). That depth seems sort of standard for offices, but personally I have always felt like it’s a waste of space, especially with flat screen computer displays. In terms of proportions it also tends to make things look boxy. Obviously this is a functional piece, so if you need the 37″ by all means design around it, but I mention it just in case you hadnt considered it.

    Anyway, overall I think that decreasing the mass below level will help balance the design.

    • Chuck says:

      Thanks for the input. I think that the bottom (lets/stretchers) are too heavy. I like your idea of making the legs smaller, and the stretchers a bit smaller.

  14. David says:

    Chuck – Several comments about the design, materials selection, and finish schedule. First, the design: The overall design, to my eye, looks good, though I tend to agree with the other posters that I would move the corbels to the outside, or eliminate them altogether. Assuming that you’re securely mounting the top to the table’s aprons, a center stretcher is completely unneccesary unless you want to add it for visual weight. But I would go in the other direction (lighter rather than heavier). Rather than echoing the shape of the aprons in the side stretchers, I would use the principal of “related but different” and use a shallow elliptical curve on the lower edge. I would also consider something a bit different for the chamfer on the legs – use an approximately 1/2″ wide chamfer on the upper part of the leg, and fade it narrower and narrower all along the legth until it dissappears at the floor. (Use it on the outside corners only) This will yield the illusion of a tapered leg in the Asian style (which fits with your overall design theme).

    Materials: Red oak has a lot of challenges to use as a fine furniture wood. One of its greatest challenges is that cheap ‘n crappy veneered “termite barf” office furniture typically uses the grain pattern of flat-sawn red oak as a standard “wood finish” surface. QS red oak is a different story, and building the table out of that or out of riftsawn red oak would be spectacular. But please, please don’t build it out of flatsawn red oak just be cause you have some. You will hate the result for the rest of the decades that you have the piece, and constantly wish you’d spent a little more an made it out of a wood that doesn’t clash with the clean lines of your design.

    Finish Schedule: Red Oak is notoriously difficult to dye/stain to get a pleasing result. In particular, the wide rings of flat-sawn R.O. leads to an incredibly ugly result when it is pigment or dye-stained becasue of the huge differential adsorption between the early and late wood. The result ends up looking like (you guessed it): cheap office furniture or the products of an unskilled birdhouse builder at your local craft fair.

    You can start with fuming – this has the desirable effect of darkening the wood substantially without developing that hideous contrast described above. Then, you need to coat the whole piece with about 6 coats of shellac to seal all of the wood. Then, mix shellac with Transtint in the color that you desire, and apply thin coats of this until you wind up with the dark tone you want. Finally, seal it with another 4 or 5 coats of clear shellac or laquer.

    But – What would show off your design and make a truly beautiful piece of furniture would be to ebonize the whole thing. That would also allow you to use flatsawn R.O. to make effective use of the materials you have on hand and still wind up with a handsome piece.

  15. Pete Peel says:

    I would chamfer the top a bit and also stretch the four legs out more towards the corners a bit. The overhang seems out of proportion to me. I very much like the corbels and the apron. The corbels wouldn’t be a problem (room wise) if the whole bottom were larger in proportion to the top. Overall I really like the design though

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