Mark (TheCraftsmansPath.com) on November 30th, 2008

Usually, I do not design pieces with very contemporary styling.  However, when I was asked to design and build a table for my brother-in-laws vacation home, I knew that I would need to change course a bit from the more traditional.  My brother-in-law and his wife’s tastes lean a bit more toward the contemporary side.   Also, the house where the piece is to reside features very dark wood floors so, I knew that  lighter colored wood was a necessary design consideration. The immediate need was for a hall/sofa table for the main living room of the house.  So, with more modern styling in mind as well as a known need for a lighter wood for the project, I set off to develop some ideas.

The dark floors in the house drove me to choose Hard Maple as the main wood for the project.  My first thoughts were to start with traditional Shaker styling due to its simple lines and to modernize the look from there.  Adding some curves was a consideration and with Maple as the primary wood, I also considered some other types of embellishment or accents for the piece without deviating too far from the clean modern lines.

Modern_Shaker_Table_Sketches.jpgIn the picture, you can see the initial sketches for the piece.  I incorporated tapered legs that are traditionally found on Shaker pieces but, I decided to also splay them by 2 degrees to each side to give the piece a more modern and graceful look.  I also added gentle curves to the aprons and replicated those curves on the ends of the top to accentuate the more modern styling for the piece.  As you can see in the sketch, I also explored adding some darker inlay to follow the curves. My thinking was that this detail provided a bit more of a more modern look.as well as potentially providing some embellishment to the bland Maple.

Armed with these rough sketches, I moved on to Sketchup to further develop my ideas.  As you can see in the Sketchup drawing, I changed the side aprons to provide a more open and modern look.  I also simplified the inlay to avoid competing too much with the simple lines of the piece.

Modern_Shaker_Table.jpgAs shown, the piece is 28 1/2″ high, 48″ wide and 12″ inches deep.  This sizing should allow it to work either as a hall or a sofa table.  The designed height allows for the surface of the top to sit just below the top of most sofas.  The width fits nicely centered oalong the back of a standard 84″ wide sofa and also works well for a spot along a wall.  The depth is  enough to allow things to be displayed on the table top in either setting while not occupying too much space in a typical hallway.

This design effort is not unlike most where there are certain constraints and desires to be balanced in the resulting piece.  Rarely is a design effort for a functional piece of furniture an open book.  However, with the basic constraints in mind we are free to explore any alternatives for the form.

Next up I’ll work on roughing out the pieces for the table and commiting the design to wood.

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5 Responses to “Modern Shaker Table: The Design Process”

  1. Mark,

    I really like this design, particulary the end apron parts that are open on the top. Traditionally this is a strong asian component like the floating tables you see around a lot, but the fact that you ancor the long apron parts brings the Shaker influence back into the picture. The inlaid cuffs around the feet remind me of a Federal piece, but I think you are on the right track to go light on the inlay embellisments or you will overpower the piece. Have you thought about veneering a figured maple like Bird’s Eye to the top inside the inlay? It won’t distract from the lines, but could add a contemporary feel that would differentiate from the standard Shaker.

    I think this is the essence of contemporary design in that we have to fuse what has come before to define today’s style. Looking great so far and I am excited to see you bring it to life!

  2. Shannon,

    Thanks for your thoughts on the design.

    I had thought about doing some veneering on this piece, but I decided to go with solid wood for the build. That’s an interesting idea for a Bird’s Eye maple for the center of the top, though I would have had to opt for a different construction method for that – maybe on th next one!

    Please continue to follow and give me your comments on how it comes to life.

    –Mark

  3. I really like this design. Have you built it? Do you have any pictures?

  4. Mark,

    Yep, it’s built. Keep reading the other posts in this series!

    –Mark

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