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Field Trip to Pope-Leighey House

Date added: 05-10-2009

Last week, a bunch of us from Hardwood Artisans visited the Pope-Leighey House, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1939. Though it was moved from Falls Church to its existing location on the grounds of Woodlawn in Alexandria in order to make way for the new Interstate 66 in 1964, the home is still oriented the way it would have been in Falls Church and great care was taken to adjust the topography of the new location to closely match the old.

Unfortunately, taking pictures inside is not allowed, but the photographers in our group (Alanna, our marketing coordinator, Jason, a craftsman and design team member and Mark, one of the owners) got some great shots of the exterior.

Here’s a selection:

The cantilevered roof makes the home appear much larger than it actually is. In reality, it is only 1200 square feet.

The cantilevered roof makes the home appear much larger than it actually is. In reality, it is only 1200 square feet.

A great view of the entirety of the cantilevered roof.

A great view of the entirety of the cantilevered roof.

View of the private side of the home from behind the hemicycle garden.

View of the private side of the home from behind the "hemicycle" garden.

Holes cut into the cantilevered roof in back allow more light to enter the childrens bedroom at the back of the home.

Holes cut into the cantilevered roof in back allow more light to enter the childrens' bedroom at the back of the home.

By leaving the wood unfinished, the home requires no paint and no exterior maintenance. It was designed to weather to match the bark of the trees on the property.

By leaving the wood unfinished, the home requires no paint and no exterior maintenance. It was designed to weather to match the bark of the trees on the property.

Most of us were fairly disappointed by the furniture, which was innovative, but not particularly well-designed. For example, all the tables in the home are the same size and height, which meant than the owner could use them to create one very large table, but the legs were awkwardly positioned in relation to the chairs, meaning you would nearly always be straddling either a leg or a seam between the tables. The furniture was also all plywood, which was a new, hip, expensive material when the home was built, but which looks rather unfinished to the modern eye.

That said, there was some fabulous floating shelving in the living room where they used L-brackets, but put the bottom part of the “L” behind the paneling so the shelves are more stable than the floating shelves you would typically see today.

All in all, it was a really fun trip. Despite our reservations about the furniture, the architecture is interesting and getting the story behind the home and the two families who owned it was enlightening.

Hi from Jason, Mark, Alison, Alanna, Katie & Edwin!

Hi from Jason, Mark, Alison, Alanna, Katie & Edwin!

Bookcase buying for book lovers

Date added: 21-09-2009

It seems like whenever I see bookcases in a magazine, they always have more stuff on them than books. They’re usually very pretty. For example, this post by one of my favorite DC bloggers.

The problem is that such an artful arrangement might work for some people, but it would never work for me. I simply have too many books. See, like many of our customers, I am a book-a-holic. I love to read them, shop for them, browse them online. A life-long love affair with books is both a blessing and a curse.

If you’re not the kind of person who can arrange their books by color or intersperse them with vases and artfully placed shells and folk art either, this guide to buying bookcases is for you. Some of these steps might be a little rough so take a deep breath.

1)Get rid of some books. I like to do this with the TV or music on to distract me from the pain of parting. I use the following categories:

-Books I did not like

-Books I liked but probably would not read again

-Books I liked and will read over and over and reference books

-Books I have not read yet

2)Get rid of the books in the first two categories. A local used bookstore is great, but there aren’t as many of those about any more. I sell my books to Powell’s through their website and they give me store credit so I can get more books.

3)Put the books you have not read yet into another pile within easy reach of your bed, favorite chair or other favorite reading place. If you have not picked up a book in that pile within the next three months. You never will. Get rid of them and buy something you will read.

4)Put the books in the order that you like to store them (topic, alphabetical by author, your own system of classification).

5)Measure for total length, height and depth of books.

6)Now measure the length, height and depth of your space.

7)Bring these measurements into your chosen store.

Hardwood Artisans can build bookcases in any size and we have seven woods and lots of styles to choose from. If you want built-in bookcases, we can do that too. Just let us know what you need.

Happy reading!

Creativity in the Kitchen: Cinnamon Pecan Cucumber Bread

Date added: 20-08-2009

When I stated in this earlier entry that Mark gave me a ton of food, I really meant it. The sheer amount of cucumbers alone barely fit in my veggie crisper bin in my refrigerator! While I was on the baking kick, I decided that cucumber bread sounded just as delicious as cucumber muffins, and my dear sous chef/boyfriend was more than happy to help me prepare it.

Cinnamon Pecan Cucumber Bread

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cucumber, peeled and pureed (though you could also grate them if you’re really feeling domestic)
3 cups white flour
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon
Pecans, as desired (walnuts might be good, too)

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Fill loaf pans evenly. Bake at 325 degrees for 60 – 70 minutes. Makes 2 loaves.

Since I took the cucumber muffins to work with me, dear boyfriend took the bread to work with him. He reports that the bread was devoured with the morning coffee. There are also reports that the Spicy Peanut Butter Frosting of the cucumber muffins fame also makes a good spread for the bread.

If you make this, I’d love to hear how it turns out!

Soda Bottle Collecting

Date added: 17-08-2009

I have a dirty little secret. Very dirty and very secret. It has been going on since I was about 10 years old. As a child growing up in what was once the farming area Dranesville (now Great Falls, VA), my buddies and I would go to old farm dump sites and dig for hidden treasures. What could possibly be better than rummaging through 50-year-old trash, finding all sorts of curious and unidentifiable tractor parts and used cans of Spam. Without a doubt, I would end up going to the medical center for a tetanus shot as a result of some piercing metal object. Man, do I miss doing that stuff.

The result was my interest in soda bottle collecting. Specifically, I collect painted label, or ACL (applied color label) soda bottles. A lot of them date from the 40’s through the 60’s. I like the period look the bottle labels and shapes took on. I like the weird marketing they were trying to create. It takes on a very Norman Rockwell feeling. It’s just cool to me.

Last year, I built a home office/display cabinet for myself. Now that the collection is in full view, I have been buying additional bottles on eBay. While I have enjoyed this to a point, it really is just not the same as digging for them myself. Half the fun of collecting the bottles is the stories and scrapes and bruises that go along with the collection. A collection is not about what you own, but rather about the experience of acquiring, sort of like the process of buying Hardwood Artisans furniture. I think a lot of people come back because of the positive, engaging experience they have with us.

I have decided that I want to spend the time to go treasure hunting on my own. I live on an old piece of land that has a few trash pits on it. I’m thinking I need to go and get a metal detector and a shovel and just have at it. My neighbor has one as well that I already dug on, but I think not deep enough. Also, I have been doing some other research, and there is a lot of talk and YouTube videos on privy digging… My wife has told me in no uncertain terms that she has no interest in joining me in the pit. Like I said, I have a very dirty secret.

A study in peanut butter

Date added: 30-07-2009

Aside from always wanting a Barbie Dreamhouse, I can’t say I have always been particularly attuned to furniture. It’s a love that came on later in life.

Growing up though, I recall my parents being fairly preoccupied with paint. When I was around five or six, they painted our living room forest green. It was a very nice color. In fact, I have something similar in my own living room now. However, in our Spanish Colonial revival home in California, I remember them going for a faux-painted look later on that, well, ended in tragedy. It looked more like peanut butter that had been smeared on the walls than stucco or marble or whatever it was supposed to look like (they did have it repainted).

Decorating mistakes are easy to make, whether it’s believing the painter who says that the faux-whatever is going to look fantastic or choosing a trendy dining room table. The thing about furniture is that it’s a lot more expensive to change than paint. That’s why choosing great basics so important.

This was part of the idea behind our new Essentials Collection. For under $10,000 including delivery and set-up, the Essentials Collection provides a bedroom, a dining room and an office that are designed to grow with you, your family and your home. For example, the office is compact enough to go into a corner of a condo living room when you’re just starting out and good enough quality to serve as the backbone of a home office later on, unlike some of the furniture made of “engineered wood” available out there.

Do you have a decorating tragedy in your past?

Bending wood (Plywood 101, part 2)

Date added: 24-07-2009

This is the second post in our series on lamination. For the first post, go here.

In the past year or so, we have been playing around with more curved forms. For years all of our curves have been cut from solid wood stock. Seldom have we ever bent wood, and certainly not on a production level.

With the introduction of the Linnaea collection, this has all changed. The entire line has various curves, and some bending needs to occur. One of the more challenging things was the seat on the Linnaea Chair. We wanted a curved seat, but not of solid wood. Greg, our Founder and lead chair maker, came up with a two piece bendable plywood seat that follows the curve of the brace below it. It really is the perfect solution for this application. It is both comfortable and good looking.

What is bendable plywood? It is laminated ply that is not cross laminated. The layers of ply are all oriented in the same direction, making it easy to bend either across the grain or with the grain. This is basically a one directional bend. People have said this is not good for structural use, but once we have glued up two layers on each other into a curve, it is pretty much solid as a rock. One brand name for this is Wiggle Wood.

Another kind of bendable stock a kerf-cut type, where you can buy plywood that has been cut 80% of the way through on the back side at 1/8” increments. This allows you to do pretty tight radii, but there is no real structure to the stock, even after gluing. Assorted brand names and various styles are: Econokore, Flex Green, Kerfkore, and Timberflex.

In our third post in this series, we’ll discuss how we do curved bends and laminations using only solid wood.

Closet clutter remediation

Date added: 22-07-2009

If you’re anything like me, folding fitted sheets is pretty much a horrible, traumatic proposition. Okay, perhaps not traumatic, but at least irritating.

Here’s a great guide to folding a fitted sheet that will leave your closet, blanket chest or other storage free from balled-up, badly folded sheets.

Plywood 101 (part 1)

Date added: 18-07-2009

Lamination is a four-letter word in the consumer’s mind today. This is largely because so many people have been screwed over by poor laminates over secondary substrates. Ply, as it applies here, is a single thickness, fold or layer. Our plywood is referred to as hardwood plywood. This is because the substrate is made up of layers of hardwood. Specifically, poplar, basswood and luan are some of the woods used to make up the core.

Other plywood cores are made up of particle board, straw board, wheat board and medium density fiberboard (MDF). These are often viewed as inferior because they don’t last very long. There is far less strength associated with these other cores because they are not laminated (except MDF). Lamination is simply the process of building up something in thin sheets or layers. Ply is therefore the thing, and lamination is the process.

Layers of ply are oriented at right angle to each other. When you look at the end of one of our adjustable shelves, you see dark and light alternating colors. What you are seeing are the alternating grains. End grain is darker than long grain. This is what makes plywood strong and stable. In this case “stable” means that it doesn’t expand and contract nearly as much as solid hardwood does, making it in some ways, a more versatile material.

The top coating on plywood is called the veneer. The wood veneer that is applied to the surface of plywood is about 1/32 inches thick. Each strip of veneer you see on the plywood is referred to as flitch. The seams are called flitch seams. The flitch pattern should be a perfect match, much like the book matching on our doors, done over and over again. Another veneer process, though less common, is called rotary cut veneer. This would be like rolling a log with a knife against it, peeling up the wood in a solid continuous sheet. This is a more sophisticated machining process, as you can imagine.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll explain more about plywood and how it functions in good quality furniture.

In the meantime, here’s a video from Bob Vila about how plywood is made.

I just don’t understand kids these days

Date added: 10-07-2009

Yesterday my 23-year-old marketing coordinator was reading this article from the Washington Post about generational differences and how members of different generations can adjust their expectations and communication styles to get along better in the workplace.

I had my own experience with inter-generational communication break-down a few jobs ago. I had this very bright young assistant who nevertheless wasn’t particularly detail oriented. One day when we were sitting on the floor of our office stuffing name badges into name badge holders, I pointed out that she had misspelled the person’s name and asked her to fix it. She did, but only after rolling her eyes at me and arguing that she didn’t see why it was so important.

A few weeks later, I attended a seminar by a Marriott executive that explained why that interaction had gone so badly. See, certain members of the youngest generation currently in the workplace have never really been criticized. They all got trophies even if they didn’t win. Self-esteem is paramount. (All according to generational theorists of course.)

What it all came down to was that if I sandwiched criticisms with praise, I got a lot farther with her than I did by just giving her the criticism. In that instance, I should have said, “I really appreciate how quickly you finished printing those nametags. I noticed that a couple of them were misspelled so if you could fix them that would be great. And by the way, I heard how you handled that irate caller earlier and I was impressed with how well you kept your cool.” It didn’t take a lot of effort on my part to totally reinvent my relationship with her and now we’re still in touch after several years.

Of course, any discussion of generalizations, including generational ones, are always subject to alteration for individual characteristics. When my marketing coordinator and I were looking at the generational profiles at the end of the article, she and I both thought some of the markers of our generations (Gen Y and Gen X respectively) weren’t entirely accurate.

Read the article and let us know what you think.

Collection or clutter?

Date added: 07-07-2009

I’m as guilty as anyone. My grandmother had these great glasses from the 1960s. I have fond memories of sitting next to her while she sipped vodka martinis and we watched Jeopardy together. I was stuck with a Shirley Temple and I never got the answers right, but when I saw those glasses at a flea market a few years ago, I couldn’t help but snap them up.

Nearly everyone has collections of things that mean something to them now or meant something to them once. I think there’s still several boxes of Barbie paraphernalia sitting around at my parents’ house somewhere.Ten years ago I thought that stuff was important. I’m pretty sure I don’t any more. I guess I should call mom and dad and tell them to give it all away.

Via a website called Unclutterer, I discovered a very funny man named Marc Sotkin, who has a website called Boomer Alley. Marc used to write for Laverne & Shirley, Golden Girls and Gary Shandling and, well, you can tell when you watch his videos.

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