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This tells us, maybe, that they believe that the majority of their potential customers are uninformed as to Wrightiana but nevertheless wish to sign on to the cachet of the Wright name. I'd be interested to hear otherwise . . .
Solid wood furniture construction is not unheard of among Usonians; even when the house wood was redwood, a soft and poor choice for freestanding furniture.
It would be interesting to document which Usonians plans do read as ply specifications for millwork.
A possible exception would be the sides of hassocks such as those made for the Lamberson house -- though even there plywood wouldn't be ruled out, I should think. You're right -- someone could do a survey of the drawings.
Peter and Stafford Norris could provide some input on the Lamberson hassocks and the choice of solid wood for them. I can think of a couple of reasons for using solids on those . . .
Because they were made of solid Mahogany I was able to repair as needed (numerous animal bites, claw scratches, urine stains) and re-finish them with the original shellac and paste wax.
If they were made in plywood they would needed to be trashed.
As Palli mentioned they were intended to be used at a moments notice.They were not intended to be storage containers.
As for the solid wood hassocks, the wood is typically running in the horizontal direction with mitered corners, so no end grain is revealed. The Lamberson hassocks are drawn with the grain running this way.
The plans are clearly labeled, at least at Lamberson: 3/4" plywood, with solid wood edging. I would be curious what other Usonian furniture plans show.
Paul J Trier house, 1956. Photo from a 1989 publication authored by David A Hanks, showing pieces from the Domino's Pizza Collection.
W and M Palmer house, 1950. Photo by Paul Rocheleau
R Grant's comments prodded me to do some research. I have a different Heinz photo book, which doesn't show the Willits table. But here is what I found:
To start, a brief 1965 exhibition at the U of Illinois, mounted by a "Committee of Architectural Heritage" whose purpose was to fund restoration of the Robie house, resulted in a booklet containing the following exhibits. First, a photo of a small dining table from the Dana house. Then, a drawing of that table, purported to be a measured examination, shows the surprising construction of the top; I show a detail of the drawing below.
The photos seems to show end grain of giant planks, while the drawing reveals a three-ply construction, with end blocks mitered to a veneered top panel.
Thus, if that drawing is accurate, we see that an effort was made to present the appearance of solid wood, concealing a perfectly respectable and conservative composite construction.
Then, I looked at some of other tables. Here are two pieces from the Coonley house, a desk and a small table. In both cases, the edges of a slab top have been pieced from veneer or (more likely ?) solid pieces -- in the same way as shown in the section drawing above, and not unlike the appearance given by the much later Trier table further above.
Photo: Art Institute of Chicago
Photo: T A Heinz
Here is another Dana table. Each top panel (plank ? veneered board ?) is capped on the end with a piece of side-grain wood. The orientation of the grain on these blocks is most evident on the far-right and far-left ends of the table. I don't see any pieces which clearly display the growth rings seen in end-grain wood.
Photo: T A Heinz
Here is a curious hybrid of the two construction methods shown so far. In this table from the Isabel Roberts house, the end of the table is fitted with a collection of mitered pieces (note the seam along the top, and the nails added over time to keep the pieces in place) which do not, in most cases, align with the seams in the top. Although the grain of the pieces is difficult to read, the misalignment makes it clear that these are not simply exposed plank ends.
Photo: T A Heinz
While I agree completely that there is no sin in exposing end grain, in fact it appears that, to Wright or to his furnituremakers, it was preferable -- to conserve wood, or to simplify the job of the stainers and finishers ? -- to find alternatives to simple plankwork, of the kind that pleased a different generation of woodworkers . . .
It may well be that the Prairie-period tables shown here have veneered edges -- but the student (?) section drawing of the small Dana dining table suggests that, in that case at least, the ends are made of 3/4" blocks mitered to the top -- wouldn't you say ?
Those tops whose age has permitted visible evidence of wood movement, reveal gaps between mitered parts, as I see it. The Roberts and Coonley tops, at least, show open miters, to my eye. This suggests not veneer, but solid pieces -- though of course veneered solids could move in the same way . . .
SDR where did you find the photographs of the Isabel Roberts dining room furniture?