Revelations in Wood and Light

It's quiet in the house this morning. Stretching into late morning and only my oldest daughter and I have stirred from our warm cocoons to face the day. If there's nothing planned, the rule in this house is Saturdays are for sleeping in. I was never good at following the rules.

On mornings like this I will make a cup of coffee and settle down in "my" chair in the living room and read. No television blaring it's incessant inane babble, no radio, internet or otherwise, playing less than 66.6% of the songs I like. Only the occasional, easy to ignore, iPhone jingle as it finds an errant email or a "Words With Friends" update. My 16 year old daughter sits at the nearby dining room table working on a large pencil drawing and the only consistent sound in the house is a mixture of the rhythmic light scratches of graphite on paper and the muffled passing of the occasional car on the highway outside.

I get my best reading done on mornings like this. Not the simple fantasy books I often bake myself to sleep with, but books that require a commitment, books that demand thought and engagement from me, books I want to learn from. It was a morning like this I read the last section of "The Anarchist's Tool Chest" and it made such an impression on my life, pushing me to align my woodworking values with the rest of my life.

This morning I'm paging through a wonderfully inspiring book, "Greene & Greene Furniture: Poems of Wood and Light" By David Mathias. The book has been since 2010, and to my shame, it took me this long to pick it up. I love Greene & Greene furniture, I've been hooked since the first piece I saw on the cover of a woodworking magazine, but I had a couple Greene & Greene books already and I decided to wait. To my detriment, I decided to wait.

A handful of times I've watched something, read something, or used something that has changed the way my eyes see things. James Krenov's books opened my eyes to the material I was using. Now when I design and build a piece of furniture I pay more attention to the stock I choose and the flow and direction of the wood's grain and color. Chris Schwarz's work made me more mindful of the tools and techniques I use and changed my world from the power tool, production line mentality I had before, into a more comprehensive and enjoyable view of how I can work.

This morning Mr. Mathias's work opened my eyes again and caused me to think about furniture in a way I have not before. A simple shift in my personal furniture design paradigm, that, for me, transcends specific styles or tastes. I have seen lots of pictures of Greene & Greene furniture, originals, reproductions, and pieces inspired by. I can't say I have often seen pictures of their furniture in its natural environment. in the rooms they were designed to live in.

It is one thing to design and build beautiful and functional furniture in a vacuum, focused wholly on the details and construction of the piece itself. Choosing a style you want to work in like an artist might choose oil paints over watercolors. Furniture that can cram itself into anyone's eclectic home makeover style.

In the end, after the sawdust and shavings have been swept up, the last drop of finish has been applied, and the glamour shots are taken against a white generic background with point specific lighting, the work finds it's permanent home. Placed with careful, haphazard precision between the antique credenza/entertainment center and the Ikea couch in your living room, lit only by the warm glow radiating off your 60" flat screen television and the lava lamp in the corner.

It is completely another thing to design and build a piece of furniture that will compliment and counterpoint the space where it will live it's life and serve it's purpose. The most revered of architects design their buildings  with consideration for the property that will surround it. They pay attention to the views that surround the home and how to maximize or minimize them, they pay attention to how it will appear in silhouette within the environment, to the cardinal orientation of the building so the light of the sun can play it's game of highlight and shadow.

Grasping this idea, a holistic approach to furniture design, is pretty new in my mind and I haven't worked out how it will assimilate into my larger brush strokes. At the moment it's still like removing your sunglasses midday and squinting your eyes to adjust to the bright sun. I've got some new eyes and some new ideas from here on out, but I'm not sure where I will go with them.

But that's part of the adventure.

Ratione et Passionis

-- If you don't have yourself a copy of David Mathias's book "Greene & Greene Furniture: Poems of Wood and Light" then I'd say you should head over to his website (CLICK HERE) and buy a copy from him. The Greene's furniture is so fantastic on it's own, but the fantastic photography and informed writing inside the covers of this book is so inspiring. I wish I hadn't waited so long.


  1. HA! Great Post. I too sit in the morning and get my best reading done.
    and under my feet of the coffee table I can see Poems of Wood and Light--soon I too will do more than just flip through it!

  2. The David Mathias book is incredible! I got it last spring, while browsing at the Winterthur Museum bookstore in Delaware. I could look for hours at the pictures of the staircases (pp92-93) or the front doors of the Blacker and Gamble houses (pp144-145).
    If you live on the east coast, you can see a sideboard and two chairs from the Blacker house in the Virginia Museum of the Arts in Richmond. I was thrilled to see examples of Green and Greene furniture without having to go to California. What a treat! These chairs and sideboard are in a Charles Green sketch on pp124-125 of the book. The inlay is really beautiful.
    Bill (Baltimore County, Md.)


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