Twig furniture blends the growing tree with the personality of the builder.
I capture the power of saplings and want some chairs to dance.
As the tree grows, so the chair goes. That's the almost magical transformation that accounts, at least in part, for the increasing popularity of rustic furniture-chairs, sofas, even beds made from full saplings or branches, often with the bark left on. For the city dweller, such furniture carries with it a touch of nature. For those in the country, it's yet another gift from the nearby forest. And for those who like handwork, making these functional sculptures can turn into a challenging and rewarding craft.
I make my living designing and building rustic furniture. Occasionally I teach others to do so and have yet to find a student who can't create a satisfying object. It is a truly democratic craft, both primitive and immediate. As such, it doesn't really have as much to do with sticks and twigs as it does with the people who put them together.
The main roots of rustic furniture making in America reach to the so-called Romantic Movement that flourished in the nineteenth century and was marked by the attitude that contact with nature had a soothing, spiritually healing effect. Summering in the mountains was seen as the clear antidote for the debilitating, relentless, confusing stress of ur ban industrial living. As a result, the "Great Camps" of the Adirondacks and the various resorts and retreats in the Smokies, Appalachians, and Catskills sprang up. Their architecture and furnishings reflected the romantic notion of intimacy with nature. More practically, however, the use of native building materials kept building costs down while also employing local craftspeople. Finally, both builders and users found something immensely pleasing in this crude but beautiful furniture.
Many of these characteristics contribute to the appeal of creating contemporary rustic furniture today. There's true excitement in finding, cutting, and drying just the right piece of wood. There's also a delightful bewilderment in the many choices the rustic furniture builder faces in design, assembly, and finishing.
You make what you are. Because simple rustic furniture can be built with a minimum of formal woodworking skill, it could be said to be a translucent and sometimes transparent window into its maker. Every workshop I teach reaffirms this. The selection of woods, and the arrangement, the assembly, and even the intended use of a rustic chair tells more about the person who made it than it does about trees or furniture. A rigid person is likely to produce a straight conventional piece, while a more flexible one will explore the possibilities of wood shapes more freely.
When making my own furniture, I try to capture the power of saplings that have fought the good fight-battling for light and nutrients; surviving frost, gypsy moths, lightning, browsing deer, and Boy Scouts. I want that forest epic, which is written all over the bark, to be able to be read by the people who see my furniture.
Secondly, I want to bring humor and illusion to my work. I want some chairs to dance, others to look like they're about to be reclaimed by the forest. Many tweak the nose of high-style furniture by sporting Queen Anne legs and Windsor backs-all formed by natural growth rather than by the lathes of the royal carpenter.
Finally, I strive to instill a quiet grace and beauty in my work-a chair or bed is an opportunity to marvel at the airy curves and exploding forks made by the trees. I want to set this 'beauty apart from the forest and celebrate it. That's what I try to do and-just sometimes-it happens. With the information that follows, you can pursue the same rewarding, if elusive, ends.
Use wood that's available. Cut it yourself, and talk to local tree surgeons, developers, or the highway department. Because I sell my rustic furniture, I prefer to cut live hardwood saplings so I can avoid the insect and fungal damage that generally afflicts fallen wood.