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.