If you search “live edge table”, about eleventy million images pop up of contemporary or modern furniture with a natural or live edge. Leaving a bit of the tree just as it came from the wild was the signature of George Nakashima and reflected his reverence for wood. Yet this isn’t a modern or contemporary design idea at all. Architects have been employing “rustication” in their building designs for at least 2000 years. Rustication often involves leaving portions of stone in the rough state and contrasting it with a smooth stone or brick wall. Often it’s used in the foundation which helps establish a clear beginning and gently hints that the building sprang from the earth organically. Rough cut stones can mark the corners of a wall or act as a border to emphasize a window or doorway.
Rustication can take on many forms, but all involve introducing texture to contrast with the adjoining surface. Sometimes it’s applied with a carving tool to create a natural texture or stippled to make the stone face appear weathered by water or wind. Often texture is introduced by cutting a deep chamfer between the joints on smooth stones. The fun part is that all these design ideas are applicable to wood. Case in point is this wonderful application of stippling by Wilson Burnham from Brokeoff Mountain Lutherie.
We can leave wild surfaces intact or use carving tools or stamps to create a contrasting texture. On your next visit to town, check out the courthouse or post office and take note of the rustication. Try to imagine what the designer was trying to do with it. Did they use it playfully? Was it overdone? It happens. Check it out from different vantage points. Often I just squint at it and let my eyes go out of focus. Try it. That out of focus view lets you block out detail and just see the major elements. Who knows, you may just find a spark to inspire your next project.
George R. Walker