About Dunstone Design

Dunstone Design is one of Australia's most respected bespoke furniture makers, and caters to those who appreciate beautifully crafted and well designed pieces. At the heart of Dunstone Design is designer, craftsman, educator and writer Evan Dunstone. Evan is a 2001 Churchill Fellow in contemporary chair design and manufacture. He has travelled widely and worked with some of the finest craftsmen in the English speaking world.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Riverstones sideboard

The Riverstones sideboard was commission by a couple who are long-time clients of ours. They first bought my work a decade ago and now have an extensive collection of Dunstone Design, from some humble Waterfall stools through to some of our most technically challenging work. Designing and making for this couple is an absolute delight; we all know each other so well. It is a truism that the best clients get the best work, simply because we know (and care) who we are making for and can respond delicately to their taste.

Riverstones is made from exquisitely figured river red gum with rock maple drawer internals and adjustable shelves. The handles are made from African wenge with intense red gum burl as the feature timber. The foot detail is also wenge.
Riverstones was crafted by Rolf Barfoed, with calligraphy by Shannon Henry. The single large drawer will house a cutlery tray (not shown in the images) and the drawer will therefore be relatively heavy. Rolf developed and installed double muntin runners for the drawer. Instead of the drawer running off the sides of the drawer cavity, the drawer is guided by a pair of runners set in line with the handles. The action is exquisite

Red gum is an extraordinary timber to work with; hard, cantankerous and unforgiving but oh-so-rewarding when handled well. Rolf is the master of the crisp line and the soft curve, and his detailing on this piece is sublime. Every surface and edge is a treat for the fingers. No other timber has the almost stone-like quality of red gum. When my hand first ran over the curves of the top, the surfaces felt like river stones, hence the name of this piece.

Designing a piece like this is an interesting journey. The configuration is neither radical nor daring. The function is mundane; to store all the paraphernalia of dining. It is not a re-interpretation of storage, nor even centre-stage in the room. The commissioning couple have one of the best collections of Aboriginal art in Canberra, as well as an extensive collection of our work spanning a decade; how could I allow this one piece roar above the rest? The design required this piece to function, to be beautiful in its own right and to work within a greater scheme.
Then there is the material; it is exceptional. In one breath it is technically challenging and visually dazzling. How to play with its strengths and side-step its limitations? 

I consciously chose to design this piece within the constraints of “craft”. The construction of Riverstones is a combination of traditional solid timber and re-sawn veneer techniques. It is not an intellectual piece, as there is no higher message or hidden theme. It is not technically innovative, as there is no process or use of material that a 19th century cabinetmaker wouldn’t recognise (and, I hope, approve of).  

At the commencement of this piece, Rolf and I looked at all the options for the composition of the grain. We flipped boards back and forth, skimmed surfaces looking at colour, held up sections horizontally and vertically to watch how the light fell differently on a piece of timber.  We discussed the feel we wanted from the piece, the context, the direction from which it would be approached in its intended location and how it would look in a different location. We considered previous work for the same clients. We mocked up the size and detailing of the round-overs and edge treatments. We had collegial arguments over grain patterns.
All this was part of the “design” process, but hardly any of it was done with a pencil and nothing was done on a computer. We didn’t apply the Golden Ratio or use the Fibonacci series. Rolf and I used craft, material and experience to arrive at a piece that, I think, has simple integrity.

A final word on craftsmanship and design; I would have arrived at some different detailing if this piece was to have been made by a different maker to Rolf. At this level of work, each maker has a “voice” that cannot and should not be masked. Rolf approaches the process of making differently to me. As a practical example, on the side of Riverstones, the re-sawn veneer panel meets the round leg with a “kiss” joint. To pull this off, the kiss joint has to be perfect; of even depth and visual weight across four joints. Though apparently simple, this is a very technically difficult detail to command (at least, I think so). Had I been making the piece, I would have inset the panel by 2mm, creating a shadow line and a subtle change of level. I would have justified it by saying I was reflecting elements of the floating panel on the door; in reality, I would have been avoiding a detail of which I was uncertain. Such is the nature of designing for craft and the integrity of the individual craftsman.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"The Grotto" and the Waterfall Stool

Many people tell us how lucky we are to work wood professionally and how relaxing it must be. Well, sometimes it’s all hand planes and chisels, while at other times it’s just hard work and dust.

Our workshop has a sanding room called “The Grotto”.  It is in this room where the really hard yards take place, and in this series of shots by Bronwen, you can see the grit more than the glamour. 

The Grotto is a sealed space with its own dust extractor and lighting. The rule is that any serious sanding takes place in The Grotto and there is no bigger sanding job than a stool run. In this series of images you can see the hard work it takes Alex and Dan to put the “love” into thirty blackwood stools.
Alex is the undisputed champion of the Dynabrade random orbital air sander. He uses the Dynabrade with the same skill, flair, dexterity and confidence that any classical woodworker ever applied to chisel work.  
Alex working the Dynabrade random orbital air sander.

Dan works away in tandem with Alex.  They work as a team to do the final shaping and finish sanding. Dan is the bloke you want on your right hand side in the shield wall while the barbarians attack. Dan doesn’t get ruffled, never stops and never backs down.
Dan works on a stool in "The Grotto"

This is hand work at its rawest. Make no mistake; Dan and Alex are in competition with each other. Like two gun shearers trying to ring the shed, if you get in their way they will steam right over the top of you. The game is to do the best possible job in the shortest possible time; its is more about professional pride than anything else. These two know that they can do a better job than anyone else and in less time than the next-best person. This is what it means to be a professional craftsman. This is what a day’s work looks like.

Waterfall stools are still our most popular pieces. The design is 12 years old and we sell about 85 of them a year. From The Grotto they go to the oiling room where they get four coats of oil (with 48 hours between coats). Dan and Alex have seen the stools through from a pile of rough lumber to the finished product. 

A pair of finished Waterfall Stools, in blackwood (left) and jarrah (right)
A finished pair of blackwood Waterfall Stools
The saddle of a jarrah Waterfall Stool
Finished Waterfall Stool in jarrah

Waterfall Stool in blackwood

The last thing they will do to this run of stools is place the Dunstone Design maker’s mark on the front left leg of each one. A team made these stools.

The Dunstone Design makers mark on the underneath of a brand new Waterfall Stool in blackwood

Monday, July 30, 2012

Glitteringly special. The Oxbow Suite.

Last week I had the daunting task of photographing the Oxbow Suite.  It is without question the finest piece here in the Showroom at Dunstone Design.  There are clients in China that are interested in it, and we needed to send photographs across.  We don't currently have a studio set up, and so photographing a piece like this in a pure showroom setting is a compromise, and made me worry about doing the piece justice.  It still deserves to be done absolutely properly, and we do intend to do so, but for the time being, we got by with what we had.  

It may turn out that pieces like this, in about a month's time, are no longer available here in the Australian Showroom, with future pieces of this quality likely to find their way overseas to China.  The Oxbow is made of a rare and special tree, that was nearing the end of its life on a property in the Otway Ranges in Victoria.  Evan has written it's story below:

The Oxbow Suite

"This Oxbow dinning suite is made from a single log of highly figured Victorian blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon). This particular log came from the North face of Mt. Sabine in the Otway ranges, Victoria. The North face of Mt. Sabine is the “dry side” (the wet weather comes from the South, off the ocean) so this was a very slow growing tree.

The tree was selected and milled by Mr. Denis Brown of Corsair timbers, Yackandandah.  The blackwood was approximately 180 years old and had reached the end of its life at the time it was felled. The bole of the tree had rotted out in the middle, and only a relatively small amount of timber was salvageable. Mr. Brown expertly milled the log and seasoned the timber for 11 years before selling it to us. The highly figured nature of the wood is very rare and is only found in the biggest and oldest slow-growing trees. It is exceptionally rare for a whole dining suite (chairs and table) to be made from solid timber out of one special log.

Mr. Brown has been milling blackwood out of the Otways for more than 20 years. He has various “in-house” grades for his timber that go beyond the normal designation of “select” and “fiddleback”. The highest grade he has is super fine dark fiddle back. This log is one of only four logs that he has ever given this designation to. Dunstone Design has hand crafted furniture from three of the four logs with this designation.

Timber of this quality is usually made in to very thin veneers, which can only be used on flat or gently curved surfaces. It is not possible to make the shapes such as those found in the Clearwater chair or Oxbow leg design from veneers.

The detail timber on the suite (seen on the legs and as the slats in the chairs) is a West African timber called wenge (Millettia laurentii). I have used it to highlight the colour and grain of the blackwood. 
The Oxbow suite took nearly 300 hours of labour from our master craftsmen to make. It consists of one table and ten chairs and will only be sold as a complete set.
The price for the suite is AU$55,000 including GST."