Notes from the Shop...

Mad Dash Coffee Table

In March, after I made a new Demon Bench to bring to the Architectural Digest Home Design Show at the end of the month, I took stock of what I had available to bring and realized I needed at least one more piece. This was about two weeks before the show. As I envisioned my booth space, I realized I could use something like a long narrow coffee table. I thought if I kept the design simple enough and worked like mad, I could possibly come up with a design and crank it out just in time...

At first I thought it would be cool to take a design of a step stool I've made and blow it up into a coffee table:

IMG_2176 IMG

This could work, but I wasn't sure how well it would scale up. I also realized I wanted the top to have a generous amount of overhang. So here was another sketch. I do like this design but I didn't think it was something I could crank out in time.


At this point I thought of a long, narrow, tallish coffee table that my brother has, and though the legs and details are quite different, I've always found the overall shape and proportions to be pleasing. Thinking more about construction at this point in the process than I normally do, I latched onto the idea of a two-piece top and closed-loop legs. See below. Second 'sketch' was done in Google's SketchUp drawing program which is a wonderful, free(!), 3D drawing tool.

IMG_0002 coffee table2

At this point I was pleased with the concept and the amount of time I thought it would take to build it. So, with about 5 days to go, I launched into the wood selection and construction.

I didn't quite finish it before the show, but it was close enough to bring anyway. My wife approvingly said that she wouldn't be disappointed if I didn't sell it because she wouldn't mind having it around for it is:


The top slabs are curly soft maple and the legs are cherry. There's no finish on the curly maple while the legs have oil and shellac. The top slabs are fixed at their outside edges to be flush with the legs and are free to expand and contract inward.

At the show I learned a few things about this coffee table...first and foremost, it is not a coffee table at all that I've made, it's another bench!! The people have spoken. While I think it can happily exist as a coffee table, bench, or both (why choose?), when I watched people sitting on it again and again, and listened to them telling me how much they loved my bench, I realized it was best to just smile and not quibble about any notions that I had regarding its intended function...

I also like the the top unfinished. I had planned otherwise but just ran out of time. Now I find that I prefer it to the sample boards on which I tested various finishes. I still have to clean up some tearout and rough spots, soften the edges a tiny amount, burnish it, and call it done.

Finally, and this had been nagging me but I couldn't quite place it, I realized the design owes a lot to a mid-century classic that surely was lodged somewhere in the image bank of my brain. (Do a search for Nelson platform bench and you will see the shared characteristics right away.) Perhaps I lack the necessary distance, but I think my design -- with the stout nature of the top and legs, the two-piece top, and the outward splay of the legs, the more upright proportions, etc. -- stands on its own with a bit of fresh perspective. Nonetheless, the Nelson piece was certainly an unwitting influence on this design. It's too early to tell if this one completely 'works' or not or is really me, but it was a rewarding project and I'm pleased with what I've created.


April 2009

Earlier Notes from the Shop (Fall 2008)