It’s All in the Details
We asked subscriber Darrell Peart of Darrell Peart Furnituremaker to write about how he executes the features of Greene & Greene style. Mr. Peart delves into the details and reveals the importance of order, hierarchy, and time in the Greene & Greene style.
Designing and working in the style of Greene & Greene is all about the details. This is something I confirmed on my first visit to the Gamble House about ten years ago. Countless details await discovery at every turn: so much so that a single visit cannot possibly take it all in. Greene & Greene is something that needs to be experienced over time. I have since visited the Gamble House on numerous occasions and have even had the good fortune to spend extended hours there shooting photos for my book and filming a video for Fine Woodworking Magazine. You would think I had seen it all, but I have yet to pay a visit and not discover something new. This has greatly affected the way I approach the design of my own furniture, which is heavily influenced by Greene & Greene among others.
Though a piece’s overall production and balance, two basic elements of design, form the basis of our first impression, for the piece to excel it must continue to reveal more subtle details long after the initial encounter. Much thought and a good deal of artistic vision are required to employ these secondary features. Merely placing them about the piece without reference is a sure recipe for creative anarchy. The context in which the detail is to be placed must be given careful consideration. Also of prime importance is a detail’s position within the hierarchy of the overall design. Each detail must serve in support of the piece as a whole and not shout for attention above its rank.
Let me first draw upon my version of the Gamble House dining table as an example of how I endeavor to implement the details of a design.
With this piece, as I most often do, I took a few artistic liberties. I stayed true to what I saw as the design’s overall vision but I allowed my intuition to have the final say. On the first impression the table’s tsuba (Japanese sword guard) shaped top stands out prominently. As the design sinks in the next thing to catch our attention is the slightly raised solid edging that wraps around the top. A wonderful little discovery awaits the eye at the point where the edging changes width at a crucial bend in the sinuous end curve.
At this juncture two of the solid edging segments are joined. The top face of this joint is pinned with a pleasing arrangement of four proud ebony plugs. Along the side of the joint runs a sensuously smooth proud ebony spline. They each in their own way pay homage to the more prominent detail that came before them. They do not outshine the previous detail but may at times push the limits in that regard.
Thought must also be given to what effect a particular detail has upon the design. That is, what is the context in which the detail must contribute, and what is it exactly that the detail is supposed to do?
Greene & Greene’s Blacker house “leg indent” feature is frequently (to my eye) misused. I see this detail as a device to visually anchor the design to the floor. The idea behind this detail is nothing new. The classic “claw and ball” feature serves a very similar purpose.
The indent detail is most effective on legs that are not heavy enough themselves to contain an abundance of mass. Rather the legs act as a conduit in which weight is transferred from the piece’s mass to the indent detail below. Looking closely at the indent it appears to push down and transfer the incoming weight of the piece to the point just below the deepest part of the cut-out.
That bottom portion of the leg (below the indent) is thus receiving the entire weight of the piece. With the visual weight directed to this bottom-most point there must be a sufficient amount of mass to receive it. The slight round-over/taper below the supporting mass serves to visually contain the weight and not disperse it to the floor. It is out of context to use this detail on a large massive leg, and eliminating the bulk just below the deepest part of the cut-out leaves the visual weight without a place to reside.
A good design, whether it is Greene & Greene or something altogether different, should not reveal all its subtleties upon first encounter. Details should be placed with careful thought and an understanding of the design at hand. Even the smallest of details must serve a purpose that enhances the overall design. In a really good design there is nothing superfluous.