It’s in the Details

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When I first set out to design this lounge chair, the client gave me free range. Of course, this is always the best-case scenario for a furniture maker and I love the feeling of full creative license. As a shop owner trying to make ends meet, conversations with fellow furniture makers floated through my head. These conversations are generally centered on this question:  Are certain details included just for the satisfaction of the furniture maker himself and/or other furniture makers? If the details are only important to us, is it logical to include such details when designing furniture for a business?

The details I’m talking about are those minute considerations that some clients may not notice or appreciate. They take the most time and make it harder to make a living at woodworking.

Philip Morley's Lounge Chair Detail
The arm is shaped in several different directions but quite subtly so it doesn’t stand out straight away. It has a slight curve downward from front to back and also has a convex shape going across the width of the arm.  Finally, of course, there is the D shape of the armrest and the cove cut on the underside that ends up creating a nice hard line that I maintain throughout the arm.

Philip Morley's Lounge Chair Detail
The detailing of the back of the seat frame. The two stiles protrude past the back rail and have a nice radius profile to the end grain. That same profile continues on the back of the back rail. Everything is then eased by hand to keep the lines throughout the piece crisp.

I started designing this chair with that conversation in mind. This particular design is obviously not something super original. It is heavily grounded in Mid-Century Modern design, which is the aesthetic I am typically drawn to. Within that framework, I fully intended to keep the design simple by keeping everything on the same plane and adding no subtle details or edge profiles. . . . you know, all those nuances that add time and expense. Who would notice those details anyway?

Philip Morley's Lounge Chair Detail
The back side of the leg has a very subtle fingernail shape to it. The transition to the apron steps down in all directions while maintaining a hard line that transitions up to the arm. Also shown is the round tenon of the bottom back rail.

Philip Morley's Lounge Chair Detail
The back panels are constructed from shopsawn veneer, a book-matched panel with a continuous grain from top to bottom. What doesn’t stand out too much is a very shallow shadow groove that goes around all four sides of the panels to create a point of interest.

But once I started getting into the design, I found that I just could not do it. While the practicalities of trying to run a business are still there, I simply cannot design a piece that is not for me at some level.  Why? Multiple reasons! For one, it is just not fun if I am not including all those elements that excite me. More practically, I cannot compete with mass-produced items on price anyway (nor would I want to) so I need to stick with what makes my work worthwhile.

While the craftsmanship certainly sets my work apart from factory-produced pieces, I can only conclude that it is those details that really make the difference. I know this from the pieces of handcrafted work by other craftsmen that I have in my own home, whether is pottery, textiles, or woodwork. The difference is a communication between the craftsman, the owner, and every other person who connects with the piece. That subconscious conversation is communicated through those unique, subtle details that flow from the mind of the creator to the rest of the world.

Maybe the client does not initially notice these small details: the pillowing of edges, the hand-shaped edges, the hand-shaped profiles and the skillful maintenance of hard lines. But I realized that even if the client does not consciously recognize the details of the piece, hopefully what they do glean from the piece is that it has a beautiful and unique presence in their home. As they live with the piece, sit with it, and run their hands over it, they slowly start to pick up on those subtle details . That unique and very human communication of aesthetics and skill is highlighted throughout.

Making a piece of furniture not just a functional tool in a house but is essential to the essence of a home.  I have been fortunate enough to find discerning clients who are willing and able to value that distinction.

Philip Morley's Lounge Chair Detail
A bridle joint holds the back arm to the back rail. Also notice the subtle pillowing of the top and the bottom of the arm. The back rail itself has a thumbnail-like edge on the top and the back edge. This is one of my favorite images where everything transitions and blends together. Trying to keep those transitions crisp is always important to me.

Philip Morley's Lounge Chair Detail
This image is really just to show the skeleton of the piece with its cushions. Also it shows the side panels that share the same shadow groove on all four sides as the back panel. It is subtle, but this panel is a trapezoid. I played around with the shape of the panel to optimize the appearance of the negative spaces.

Philip Morley's Lounge Chair Detail
The front rail has a subtle arc on the bottom and also has a pillowing of the front face which is almost impossible to see in this image. The front of the seat frame has a subtle curve that sweeps underneath.

The same pillowing is shown on the top edge, with the end grain polished out to make it an accent while keeping everything crisp. I really wanted to show this to convey the fluency of the design language throughout  the piece. However, none of these details are really screaming at you. I love it when clients discover them over time.

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