Copeland's Usonian Furniture

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SDR
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Post by SDR »

The Goetsch-Winckler millwork sheet indicates the dining table as ' 7/8" plywood mitered to 1 3/4" edge.' I believe that Peter is correct: Usonian dining tables had solid-stock edges -- among other things, a useful stiffener for a large horizontal panel. It is the smaller tables and the chairs which sometimes did without edgebanding.



While I was into the T A Heinz book I should have copied this photo, of the Mossberg end table and hassock. It also shows an example of
the Usonian brickwork, and that Wrightian rarity, brick flooring.


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I also neglected to show this early example, the dining table at the Oak Park residence. I'll leave it to readers to determine if this is a veneered or blocked table end. I don't believe I see end grain -- though there appears to be a joint aligned with a seam in the top surface. Think how heavy this square (?) table would be if the timber top were solid ! Remember, too, that Wright was always looking for ways to trim the budget, especially on his own property ?


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Photo: Ron Blunt (detail)

sjnorris
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Post by sjnorris »

I Agree the Dana drawing shows solid 3/4 for the ends and veneered ply for the top. But i'm not sure how accurate the Dana drawing is when compared to what was built.

peterm
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Post by peterm »

Nice...

I believe the brick floor in the Mossberg photo is actually the hearth on the same plane as the floor, and the off white to the right is carpeting over the red concrete.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

If the as-built drawing of the small Dana dining table is accurate, it would indeed be interesting -- as it shows what pains the designer and/or builder went to for the effect of a solid-timber table top. I believe that the photo evidence presented here supports that claim -- odd as it may at first seem. The "breaking up" of the larger Dana table, as shown in Heinz's photo, would delight those who went to the trouble of concocting their little intrigue . . . ?



DRN sends along photos of the Sweeton house and its furniture, now strewn to the four winds. He writes:

An example of late career Wright minimalism...the Sweeton drawings indicate the furniture as constructed from 3/4" plywood, presumably off cuts from the partitions, closets, and cabinets. There are no notes relative to capping of end grain of the plywood sheets, but the linework does seem to illustrate mitering joints where sheets meet at outside corners. The remaining chair in the house has a mitered detail at its seat leading edge, with exposed plywood endgrain elsewhere. All plywood at partition corners is mitered, as is the top of the built in speaker cabinet in the living room....this is significant as this cabinet and the adjacent pier mated with a 4' square coffee table surrounded by hassocks. The auction photos of the coffee table indicate the plywood table top and its plywood edge skirt (similar to seat edge) were mitered to hide endgrain at the top, but end grain was left visible at the legs and underside. Photos of Nancy Sweeton's desk show similar detailing.




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48" x 48" x 24" table

Roderick Grant
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Post by Roderick Grant »

Peter, the ground floor of Mossberg is all brick (GI10/116-123; Selected Houses 5/160-189). Upstairs, I'm not sure. There's so much carpeting, not much bare floor shows, and what does is not clear. There does seem to be a unit line showing in the daughter's bedroom, so I think the flooring may be vinyl ... the date seems about right.

This odd trick to cover up end grain on the Prairie furniture seems like a trip out of Pinter's "Zoo Story," a long way to go for very little progress. I have an A&C desk with solid oak planks on the top with no treatment of the end grain, which looks just fine. It's a different pattern, but no less interesting. I find it odd that FLW would go to such extremes to end up with something fake.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

It is interesting -- and surprising -- isn't it. There is a history of concealing end grain in the woodworker's trade -- almost a moral imperative, to hear some tell it. In the case of these tables -- made at the same time as the A & C pieces we all know and love -- other issues may have been involved.

I can only guess that the makers of those pieces (Hanks mentions more than one Chicago or Milwaukee maker) convinced Wright that they had the answer -- to problems he may not have appreciated. After all, some of those tops are three inches thick, more or less -- and it's surprisingly difficult to find half a dozen 12/4 boards which match each other sufficiently to make an architectural-grade table top, to say nothing of the weight involved. And, stain takes to end grain much more readily than to face grain, so we could expect the ends of those tops to be very dark -- much darker than they appear in the photos. For whichever reason, several of these tables, at least, seem to have been made in the way described here -- which I must say took me aback. Thanks to Roderick for raising this interesting issue.

R, you were intimately involved in the recreation of the Hollyhock living-room mega-furniture, I believe. I see from photos that there is a lot of mitered material in those. Can you tell us what was involved ? Were there original drawings available, or did the piece(s) have to be reverse-engineered from photos ?

SDR

pharding
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Post by pharding »

I own a small cabinet from the Coonley House. It does not thin veneer edge banding. The edge is actually approximately 1/4" thick hardwood. I will post a photo shortly.
Paul Harding FAIA Restoration Architect for FLW's 1901 E. Arthur Davenport House, 1941 Lloyd Lewis House, 1952 Glore House | www.harding.com | LinkedIn

outside in
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Post by outside in »

You may be giving Wright a little too much credit for cabinetry done during the early period. Most Dining Room Tables were made from 3/4 or 7/8 inch thick strips of wood that were glued together with a tongue along the long edge, each being about 6-8 inches wide. A good craftsman like Ayers would carefully select each piece of 1/4 sawn so that the edges would match and the grain would not contrast greatly from piece to piece. The end pieces were mitred "waterfall" ends, to give the appearance of a continuous wrapped edge grain turning downwards - the long edges were mitred with similar boards and graining. Each table would then give the appearance of a solid, 2-1/2 inch thick piece of white oak. I would not give Wright credit for this type of joinery.

SDR
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Post by SDR »

Thanks. That accords with what we're seeing in the photos, I think. So, we'll give the credit to Ayers or whoever. It's the maker who, in the end, has to choose method and material to achieve a satisfactory outcome. That I know from experience . . .

The black-and-white photo of the smaller Dana table has a couple of end pieces with the appearance of diagonal/arc-shaped grain checks, which seems to go beyond the simple waterfalling of the top board -- as if the maker sought out curvy/cross-grain pieces to further the illusion of true end grain ?

(If that photo was taken in 1965, at the time of the UI exhibition, then the table would be only half as old as it is today. In the photo, there is no indication of the kind of warping and separation seen in Heinz's photo of the larger table, taken some 30 years later. Perhaps the two tables don't share the same history as to housing and care ?)

Even if the young drafter of that as-built drawing was in error as to the top planks -- which he indicates with the convention denoting plywood -- he may still have other details right. His plan view shows a c. 3/4" border all the way around the table, which would be the bottom edge of the mitered-on pieces he shows in the elevation/section.

(His legs are shown in section as solid trunks. I wonder about that . . .)

SDR

peterm
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Post by peterm »

Craftsman will build with different solutions. I am curious what the drawings call for vs. what was built.

Roderick and SDR- I was mistaken about the floor at Mossberg...

DavidC
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Post by DavidC »

I know that Wright said something along the lines of that Stickley (and A & C furniture in general) 'should be out in the barn'. Perhaps he chose to hide the end grain in his designs to set his early furniture apart by having it look 'more refined'.


David

SDR
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Post by SDR »

It is easy to mistake Wright's intentions with those of his contemporaries in the Arts & Crafts arena. While the Greene brothers would make use of Stickley pieces for the bedrooms of, say, the Gamble residence, and though David Hanks tells us that Stickley pieces appeared in the Bradley house (p 42), Wright was explicit in one passage in the Autobiography, likening Stickley (by inference) to the plain-ness of a barn door.

So far, the evidence we have, including a single drawing made after the fact, comments by outside in and others, and the photos gathered so far -- of only a few tables, granted -- all seems to point to a construction of 1x boards, supported from beneath and edged with mitered-on pieces of solid material, to achieve the desired effect. None of the photos presented so far is in clear contradiction to this description -- as I see them. I will be looking for further examples; reliable drawings and descriptions would be valuable. The matter would be easy to verify by simply looking "below the skirts" of any available original pieces . . .

SDR

DavidC
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Post by DavidC »

The Carlson House hassock that I have is made of solid Douglas Fir, with the 'body' of the hassock made from two 6.5" edge-joined boards and mitered at the corners.


David

SDR
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Post by SDR »

dtc is certainly correct that water-damaged plywood is far more difficult to repair than is solid wood subjected to the same effects -- typically.


S

Reidy
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Post by Reidy »

This may have been a matter of what clients could afford. Perhaps Wright used solid woods or high-end veneers if they had the money and plywood if they didn't, just as some of the prairie houses have limestone trim and others cast concrete. Furniture would typically be the last part of the design, when clients are likeliest to be cutting corners.

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