On subtlety... the walnut bench.

Designers, no matter which medium they've chosen, often have to negotiate between subtlety and boldness. Do you make something that will catch the attention of whoever sees it - or is your aim to draw the "finely tuned" eye? It is easy to go one way or the other. That is to say that most pieces will either be bold or subtle by design. We negotiate this conflict by ignoring one or the other.

But with careful work, one can design and build a piece that straddles the two characters - a piece that quickly pulls the audience in with daring statements of form, or colour, or some other thing, then offers something more that reveals itself slowly, with time, and with careful examination and experience of the work. 

This was my goal in designing and building the walnut bench. 

At a glance, there is little nuance to be found in this work. Three or four strong elements command the first look. The bit of live edge on the seat, where the bark would have been, offers a reminder of the natural shape of the tree. One one end of the bench, the leg is mitred into the seat to offer a continuous flow of grain. The cantilever on the other side contrasts with this organic look. It is more engineered, more manmade. Then there is the abrupt colour variance between the lighter sapwood and darker heartwood, growing up and over the mitred waterfall leg. 

After all of this, what is left to the realm of subtlety? How can something quiet be found among these exclamations? 

They are there, to be found by the keen eye. 

One is the way the cantilevered leg seems to push down the grain of the stretcher beneath it. A small dip in an otherwise straight-grained board, where a knot had sprouted, is placed at this intersection. In this way it curls down into the ground, as if pressed there by the joint above it. 

Another is the end of the stretcher and the end of the seat above it. Both cut at the angle of the cantilevered leg, both scalloped with a sharp gouge for a smooth, textured finish. 


But another detail is, perhaps, my favourite: the way the stretcher emerges from the cantilevered leg as a train emerges from a tunnel. The dome of the tunnel made from the darker heartwood of this walnut board; the stretcher long, thin, streamlined. This is real movement in wood. 

This bench is a piece that came to me slowly and naturally. I had the single walnut board in my shop for some time, leaving it for a time when it would reveal its purpose to me. Unusable for many jobs because of the significant wane, but wide enough that I did not want to cut the wane off altogether. So there it stood in my shop as I waited for it to tell me what to do. 

When it did speak, it spoke rapidly and clearly, and I had the piece designed and built in very short order. I am happy to have waited for it to speak.

This bench is for sale, and will be on display at the Jack Byrne arena in Torbay, Newfoundland, on December 3rd and 4th at the North Pole Christmas Fair.