Rustic furniture can be classified in many categories from American primitive to Western and lots of stuff in between. I have been designing various kinds of rustic furniture for over twenty years, I design all kinds depending on the project and the house it is for.
One of the styles I design is rustic but is very organic in its origins. By that I mean that it is very much of the earth and the forest. These designs start with the trees and the species of wood. The wood source is dead standing. It has died of old age or some sort of beetle or disease. When a tree dies as long as it stays standing it will take a long time to rot. Some trees one of which is Jack Pine is a good candidate because it can stand dead for a long time. I especially like the “Wolf” tree with in the Jack Pine species, that is the seed producer or the gnarled one with all the pine cones. That is not a biological term it is an old woodsman’s term. Jack Pine is a harder version of the various pine species. You can use most of the tree right down to the small twigs, cones and burls. The large trunk of the tree can be cut into slabs for dining tables and smaller tables. The branches are used for table legs and for posts and parts for beds. Small branches and twigs can be used for detail work and ornamentation. The first pieces I designed were my series of “Forest Beds”. My idea was you would feel like you were sleeping under the trees in the forest. I look at the branches, and select them for different parts of the bed. I draw the bed and connect the branches from one piece to another, sort of like a puzzle. Most of the joinery is hip notch, pieces rest on other pieces in the natural curves, sometimes you help it a little. I work with various craftsman who actually build the designs and finish them. The finishing process is also very natural and the final step is a wax that is hand rubbed. Over time these finishes harden and develop a wonderful patina. I have some examples of the many, many beds that have been designed and placed in homes in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.
I was inspired to write this blog because of a project I am working on now. My client is changing the interior design of her home from very traditional furnishing to a combination of modern and organic designs. She asked for a slab style dining room table of 40″ x 60″ made out of live edge maple. A simple request you may say. Well yes except for the fact that we must find the slab. One problem is a slab of over 40″ in diameter is a very large old tree. We could use two slabs cut them for a book match and join them with butterfly joints. For the time we are putting the effort in searching for just the right slab. Here are some photos of the best we have found so far which are two completely different looks. The big broad leaf maple slab would be very natural with the edges as you see. The cherry slab would be what I described taking two slabs trimming one side of each and joining them with showy butterfly joints.
Some of the dining tables I have designed using ash, oak, jack pine, basswood, maple and elm have a natural edge and are made up of three to four pieces to get to about 40 – 42 inches. The length can be anything. I have designed tables up to 10 feet long.
Occasional tables are really fun, you can leave the top pretty thick and let your imagination go based on the shape of the pieces. One of my favorite designs, is my “Squirrley Leg Table” and the favorite piece of furniture I own. This is usually about 30″ in diameter and about 30 ” tall. It is used between two chairs or at the end of a sofa. The top starts out as just a big thick cut and then small twigs are applied in what is a Molesworth edge. (Thomas Molesworth,the pioneer of western furniture design). The legs are anything but straight and are fitted together in a natural fashion.
There is no end to the designs you can come up with for the function you need. It is all about the piece of wood and keeping in mind balance, scale and proper proportion for the overall finished piece. I always draw all my designs to scale, be it a piece of furniture, a room or a home or cabin, it is so important to make sure you get it correct!!
As I said in the beginning there are many types of rustic furniture, this is just one category. Maybe next week’s blog should show case the rustic furniture designed and made from reclaimed woods. Stay tuned!