Fashion Proof

I approach my woodworking avocation from several different personal view points. I want to build things that will last the test of time. I want to build things that are beautiful and artistic. I want to build things that are challenging, I want to build things that others will appreciate. I want to build things . . .   you get the point.

If I boil all those strained and sometimes conflicting desires into one homogenous sauce it would taste and smell like independance. I want more in life than to be the consumer I've been socially conditioned to become. I hate, HATE, the built in obsolescence of nearly everything built and sold today, where it's cheaper to throw away and buy new than it is to repair, renew, and replace.

Flipping channels the other day, I found myself watching "Hometime" on PBS. It's a standard home improvement / remodel / build stuff television show. The episode covered part of a complete kitchen tear out and remodel. The host was interviewing the lady the show had contracted to do the design work and create the layouts and elevations for the custom cabinetry shop to follow. I was a little struck when she said what I found to be the oddest thing.

"You have to be sure you like the design of the kitchen cabinets you put into your home because you're going to have them for the next twenty to thirty years. I tell customers you have to think about them like they're permanent furniture for your home."

If "twenty to thirty years" is the equivalent to "permanent" then I am swimming in the wrong depth of water. By deductive contrast the "less permanent" furniture in your house should debatably be swapped out for new every three to five years.

How could anyone reasonably keep that pace and still pay for high quality furniture? By the default of rotting replacement you'd be relegated to the purchase of cheap, big box store, pressboard crap. Better yet, if you only have to look at a furniture shaped object for four years, then the proportions, design, and affect of the piece are things hardly considered.

I want to build furniture that is fashion proof. Pieces that will stick and stay around for generations, not something that will be set out on the curb or discarded for a shiney new poly finish on the supermarket shelf. The strategies to accomplish that are several fold. Foundationally it happens through real wood construction using traditional, strong joinery. As woodworkers we can all appreciate these things in spades, but truthfully it's something only only another maker truly notices or cares about. The average man on the street isn't able to discern between mortise and tenon joinery over a handful of pocket screws unless he's educated about it, and even then the amount he retains or cares about is probably minimal.

The real strategy to get someone who doesn't know a thing about woodworking to give a crap is in the design of a piece.

We have a new home we are getting used to and everywhere I look I see spaces for furniture to build. I have the technical skill and ability to build these things, but it's important to me to do things right and build things that count for the long term. I'm just smart enough to know the ability to cut dovetails and joinery isn't the complete picture to filling a home with furniture. Thanks to Jim Tolpin and George Walker's book "By Hand and Eye" I've been doing a lot of learning and thinking about design lately. There will be more of these thoughts to come.

Ratione et Passionis


  1. This struck a nerve with me - in a good way; I agree with you completely.

    I am frequently struck by how many people buy in to the disposable marketplace; they seem to feel that buying crap gives them the opportunity to re-do their house every five years or so and relieve some sort of boredom. Many people seem to have no interest whatever in having anything of heirloom quality - as if it's too much responsibility.

    I'm flummoxed by it all. I want to build something that people will fight over when I'm dead.


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