What is “fine” furniture? If you type that sentence in google, you will find a list of furniture dealers wanting to sell you expensive pieces but no definition. So does that mean expensive furniture is fine furniture? Maybe it’s expensive because the designer or craftsman has a reputation in the fashion world. If that’s the case, what is he/she doing to qualify it as fine furniture? To find the answer I started with the simple word, fine.
The word, fine has several means. For example, how many times have we answered the question of, “How are you today? I’m fine, thank you, and you?” When used in a sentence, such as that, it is an adverb and the definition is “in a satisfactory or pleasing manner.” But when used as an adjective the definition is “of high quality.” This now takes on a whole new meaning.
To many people, the word “fine” furniture, means ” the quality of workmanship”. The methods of joinery to build and keep a piece of furniture together. The furniture should last not just for a few years, but for a lifetime. Fine furniture typically has joinery more complex than standard furniture. The joints are a tried and true method to keep the piece of furniture strong. Furniture is often abused. Pushed, pulled, tipped, stacked, and stood on are some of the ways in which furniture is often mishandled. Fine furniture should be able to withstand any of this abuse.
Besides joinery, visually it has to be correct. The correct height, width and length all play a part in making it a “fine” piece of furniture. Every molding has certain dimensions that help bring a cohesive balance to the whole piece. Knowledge and study of past historical styles can educate us on learning these tiny details. It all helps lay the groundwork for any future piece to be built.
Franklin Gottshall lists 3 rules to building quality furniture. One. It must serve a purpose and be useful. Two. It must be made with the highest quality of construction. Three. It should be beautiful but the beauty should never compromise the first and second rules.
I also believe a study of past furniture styles helps contribute to making fine furniture. Learning of the past helps give a deeper appreciation of the craft that is being done today. The hidden means of the carving or symbols, as well as what was going on economically and politically back then, all contribute to the understanding of the work.
But another meaning for the word “fine” could be “the purity of the discipline”. Keeping not only the methods of the craft but the heart and soul of the creating process. There is a responsibility involved in creating a piece. Using a piece of wood that has taken many years to produce, sometimes hundreds of years, demands respect. Creating a piece of furniture that is worthy of this wood should not be taken lightly. Each piece of wood has different qualities. These qualities need to be brought out in the building process. It could be the stout strength of the wood, or the elegant beauty. The graceful sweeping of a curve or the bright shimmer of the grain. Combining uniquely and sometimes wildly different woods together, yet keeping harmony and balance to a piece is a process that is often refined. To build a piece that respectfully honors what it was, to what it will be, is a process that should be given the highest reverence.
Each piece of furniture I build is near and dear to my heart. In many cases, it is difficult to hand the finished piece over to the client. A special bond has been formed between myself and the piece. It was a journey of past, present and future. Knowing I was able to take something that gave life, shade, and shelter, and formed it into something that now gives a specific task ,yet with beauty and style, is a process i will always give proper homage in doing.
With my hands, I carry on the tradition of the craftsman before me. Always knowing that I do not own these tools but I am the caretaker of them until the next generation of craftsman comes along. I strive to build pieces that keep the integrity of the definition of fine furniture. I hope one day that my furniture will become valuable antiques. Not for the self proclaiming of my name for ego’s sake, but for the self satisfaction of continuing to carry in this noble craft. I wish to produce useful, strong, beautiful furniture that generations will enjoy to use and admire. That would make me dance in my grave!