Do You Really Need That Gourmet Outdoor Kitchen?

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Edouard Manet, “Dejeuner sur l’herbe”*

A recent search of kitchens on the internet turned up several articles on gourmet outdoor kitchens. These articles described in glowing terms a range of “necessities” for outside entertaining. Among these objects appeared the predictable favorites—comfortable seating, easy-to-clean tables, umbrellas for shade. But there was more. It seems that Harry and Henrietta Homeowner have moved beyond the Styrofoam cooler, charcoal grill, and paper towels of days gone by. Today’s outdoor kitchen is designed to duplicate, or perhaps even outdo, the cooking facilities inside the house. The modest cooler has been relegated to the garage in favor of an outdoor fridge and ice well sink. The charcoal grill has been replaced by a “professional” version powered by gas and made of stainless steel. Families were once content to revel in basic outdoor senses—the balmy warmth of the sun, the gentle twittering of birds, and the occasional crack of Johnny’s softball bat as he ran around the yard with friends. But now, apparently, it is essential to incorporate into this outdoor scheme a large flat-screen TV. And for those engaged in such modernization, it may also be worth considering a marble fireplace for the outdoor kitchen, to help create a living room atmosphere in their home’s backyard….

Far from contributing to the actual possibility of meal preparation, the proliferation of such “gourmet level” facilities stems from marketing pressure exerted on behalf of the manufacturers of kitchen-related appliances and building products. The desire for state-of-the-art equipment is not born of any genuine need—consider the very plain kitchens of many truly great cooks, even professionals—but from social one-upmanship and a culture which has persuaded people that consumption should be regarded as a patriotic duty, as well as one of life’s greatest pleasures.–Excerpted from The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History by Nancy R. Hiller, author of “Making Things Work

(It seems that what you really need is to put some clothes on.)

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Dejeuner_sur_l’herbe#/media/File:Edouard_Manet_-_Luncheon_on_the_Grass_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg (public domain)

WOO!

Last Friday I gave a presentation about Making Things Work at A Workshop of Our Own, a collaborative professional shop in Baltimore for women and gender nonconforming woodworkers. Several months into their lease, the group, founded by furniture maker Sarah Marriage, learned that their building, which is located in a great old industrial neighborhood, was going to be put up for sale. They secured first right of refusal to buy the building and have since been racing to raise the necessary funds for a down payment. Please consider making a donation! Every donor’s name is added to the wall; yours can join those of Nick Offerman, Megan Fitzpatrick, Laura Mays, Wendy Maruyama, the American Society of Furniture Designers, Penland School of Arts and Crafts wood studio, the Philadelphia Furniture Show, and many others.

Here are a few pictures from the evening.

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Just your typical darkened room — well, other than the ubiquitous woodworking equipment — ready for the slide show (Photo by Sarah Marriage)

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A few girls goofing around. At left is Jorgelina Lopez of La Loupe Design (www.laloupedesign.com), who kindly met me at the airport. I have never had an escort from the airport to my destination, but I was grateful for the help in schlepping a heavy suitcase of books. Thanks, Jorgelina! Jorgelina’s website is well worth a visit.  (Photo by Sarah Marriage)

Audience at Nancys talk

Discussion after the talk (Photo courtesy of John Holmes)

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Your name could join those of many others on this wall. (Photo by Sarah Marriage)

With Sarah Marriage

With Sarah after the presentation (Photo taken by our kind bartender)

Thanks also to Laura Cohen of Lady Brew Baltimore and her partner, Ryan, a professional upholsterer, for hosting me and returning me to the airport in the morning.

Size is relative

For the past week I’ve been having a grand old time working on a smaller-than-usual commission: a 2/3-scale baker’s cabinet based on one I built a few years ago that Popular Woodworking turned into a video. That earlier cabinet was made for a client in Chicago; she recently commissioned the miniature version as a gift for her mother’s 75th birthday.

It’s so little! I thought, charmed by the unfamiliar proportions. When I texted my client a snapshot of the tip-out bin (which is all of 11″ tall), I couldn’t help commenting “Squeee!!!!” 

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A bit dusty, but you get the idea

 

That was before today. At lunchtime I opened my email to find a message from Althea Crome, queen of tiny knitting. We’d never met, but her reputation preceded her; Althea’s the one who knitted the star sweater and striped gloves for the main character in the movie Coraline. (Well, to be precise, she didn’t just knit one sweater and one pair of gloves. It was more like 14 sweaters and six pairs of gloves, thanks to the demands of stop motion filming. “I’d get these little body parts in the mail so I could fit them,” she said, calling to mind a bit of distinctly Tim Burton-esque imagery.)

“Why I am really writing,” went her missive, following a friendly preamble, “is because I was recently made aware of your work and it just so happens that a dear friend of mine is in town for a few days who I would love to introduce you to. I think you may have a lot in common and would truly enjoy meeting each other.

“His name is Bill Robertson (A.K.A. Wm. R. Robertson) and [he is] one of the finest miniaturists working in wood and metal in the world.  He is also an avid collector and self-made scholar of antique tools and techniques.  In 2015 he won the Joe Martin Craftsman of the Year award: http://www.craftsmanshipmuseum.com/Robertson.htm.”
She happened to include a link to an image of a miniature tool box, the same image that a friend had posted on Facebook a mere few days before, tagging my husband and me. The tool box was completely out of control: so tiny. And so perfect. When I see such things, my mind feels ready to explode – first with How?, then WHY?, followed by “OK, this person is a god.”
Obviously I was not going to say no to a chance to meet that guy, not to mention Althea herself. The two of them showed up just before 5 and sat down for a cup of tea in our kitchen.
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Althea is holding one of a pair of earrings. Inside the glass ball is a hand-knitted sweater at 1:80 scale, with about 80 stitches to the inch. No, you can’t really see it, especially in this picture, but even in person. It’s that tiny. The sweater is fitted on an armature made of malleable plastic that she eased into the glass while the plastic was still soft. How? Why? This person is definitely some kind of god.

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Bill brought over a miniature table. The frame is dovetailed together. All of the parts function just as they do in the full-scale version. He even selects wood that has the same relative number of growth rings per inch (in miniature scale) as the original piece.

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I know what you’re thinking. “OK, that top, at the very least, is plastic.” Nope. Each one of those 35 porcelain tiles was handmade and hand-painted (each with its own biblical motif) by Bill’s friend LeeAnn ChellisWessel of DemiTasse Miniatures. (http://leeannchelliswessel.com)

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Here’s a glimpse of the table’s underside.

Althea, a former respiratory therapist, has been knitting miniatures since the turn of the millennium. You can see her work here. Bill, who built race cars in his youth, has been supporting himself as a world-renowned builder and teacher of miniature furniture making for 40 years. And no matter how successful he becomes, he continues to push himself. “You can’t just float,” he says. “Each piece has to be better in some way than the one before.”
All of which was more than enough to blow my mind. Needless to say, my 2/3-scale baker’s cabinet seems positively elephantine.
If you’re going to Handworks later this May you’ll find Bill at his friend Chris Vesper’s booth.

David Berman of Trustworth Studios, Part Two

Wallpaper: both literally and figuratively in the background…the setting against which the real action takes place. Yawn.

Not.

I’ve been a fan of wallpaper ever since the early 1980s, when my friend Bronwen and I drooled over each new edition of the Laura Ashley catalogue. (I know, you’re thinking “Laura Ashley? How twee. And aren’t their paint colors now sold through Lowe’s?” But those 1980s catalogues were gorgeous productions, not to mention surprisingly forward-looking in their use of dramatic settings to showcase everyday products.) From Laura I graduated to Bradbury & Bradbury, whose swatches I could count on to lift my spirits on even the gloomiest day. Starting in the mid-1990s I became aware of more period wallpaper makers, among them John Burrows, Carol Mead, and the masterly Adelphi Paper Hangings. But for years I’ve had a special fondness for Trustworth Studios.

Among Trustworth’s offerings you’ll find E.W. Godwin’s fabulous Aesthetic creation Bamboo, as well as the luscious Hydrangea, based on an 1896 pattern by Lindsay P. Butterfield. But the main reason why Trustworth has become my go-to source for late-19th century style is Voysey–or more precisely, David Berman’s interpretation of the architect C.F.A. Voysey’s designs. They’re not just gorgeous to behold, but often also funny: Always clever, sometimes dark, they were created by an artist of small stature and large intelligence whose grandfather, an architect, knew Ruskin, and whose father, a reverend, was expelled from the Church of England for denying the doctrine of eternal damnation; he later founded the Theistic Church with help from prominent individuals such as Charles Darwin. More (much more) on that in my book on English Arts & Crafts furniture, which will be published in 2018 by Popular Woodworking.

For now, take a little romp through a fraction of the work by means of which Trustworth Studios patterns come to life. This is no case of crude cutting and pasting.

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The process begins with David tracing an original design, using a stylus. Here the pattern is Trustworth’s “Falcon and Lily.”

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Next begins David’s work with color. Look closely at the outlines of the lily petals and you’ll see that they are made up of two lines, one a medium terracotta, the other darker. The same will eventually apply to the stem; here, David is building up its texture.

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The pattern becomes richer. David is working on the colors and introducing texture to emulate that of the original design, in the following image.

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Here the pattern contains far more detail, but there is still more to go.

Lebus sideboard with Trustworth paper at Popular Woodworking shoot

Here’s “Falcon and Lily” as the background for the book cover shoot at the studio of Popular Woodworking in Cincinnati. That’s Megan in the mirror. As this picture shows, the effect of the paper is quite different when the pattern’s spread across a large area. Instead of reading as a distinct pattern, it imparts to the room a certain feel.

David Berman of Trustworth Studios, Part I

David Berman of Trustworth Studios is a man of uncommonly varied accomplishments. Born in Brooklyn, he was raised to follow his father into the family business, D. Berman and Son, which sold high-power electrical equipment. But after a stint as a purchasing agent at his father’s plant he rejected this white-collar fate.

“Boredom with the corporate world forced me into my true nature,” he says, recalling the satisfaction of changing his old car’s exhaust system on his off hours and the joy of restoring antique musical boxes to working order.

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David Berman at his restored 1901 Aeolian Pianola 65-note push-up player with Merryweather standing by

Berman moved to Massachusetts in his mid-20s, as did many of his college friends. It was the 1970s; as so many of us do today, you earned a bachelor’s degree (Berman’s was in English) and promptly found work in painting or construction. In partnership with a friend, he formed a company that specialized in rehabilitating old houses. Learning on the job, he found he had a knack for shingling. One day, while working on the roof of an oceanfront house, he happened to glance toward the water and saw the Mayflower sailing by. “I’m having a hallucination from heat stroke,” he thought. But it really was the Mayflower.

As his skills increased and his appreciation of historic buildings grew more refined, Berman took on more challenging projects. In 1979 he moved a barn to Nantucket and converted it to a house. He then constructed a frame house entirely from scratch: the fictitious house to which the barn might originally have belonged. The new “old house” would be used to accommodate guests.

The business partnership dissolved in 1982, and Berman moved to Trustworth in Scituate, Massachusetts, the iconic Arts and Crafts home of Henry Turner Bailey. “H.T.B.,” as Berman calls him, famously championed public education in the arts and authored the 1914 book Art Education. “It was like moving into Sleeping Beauty’s castle for Arts and Crafts,” he muses. He spent years restoring the house, hoping to purchase it from Bailey’s heirs.

While living at Trustworth he began making furniture in the style of New England antiques. “No one wanted to buy it,” he comments, so he turned his focus to furniture in the English Arts and Crafts style. An English course in high school had introduced him to late-Victorian literature; in an effort to bring the period to life, the teacher had shared a photo of the parlor at Wightwick Manor. Berman was entranced by the vision of wood-panelled walls, stained-glass windows, and Morris wallpapers, which he says “percolated in the back of my head.” The archives at Trustworth offered a treasure trove of research material. Berman immersed himself. Especially fascinated by the work of C.F.A. Voysey, Berman built a clock, numerous light fixtures in wood, glass, and copper, and a variety of furniture in his favorite designer’s style.

David Berman light fixture

One of Berman’s Voysey-inspired light fixtures made in wood, glass, and meticulously hand-cut metal

 

In 1994 Berman’s dream of buying Trustworth fell through and he moved to Plymouth, where he purchased a 1910 shingle style cottage. “Not really habitable,” he describes its state at the time, what with broken windows, a leaking roof, and no working plumbing or electricity. He threw himself into restoration, then ran the place as a bed and breakfast for a few years. In the meantime he returned to building furniture and lighting, the income from which proved barely enough to scrape by on.

It was at this point that Berman realized he could parlay his knowledge of historic architecture and interiors into period design consulting. Which brings us to the subject of wallpaper. The digital technology for printing papers was “just good enough” at the time. He taught himself to use a computer, and as the printing technology improved, his skills grew with it. Basing his patterns on meticulously researched original Arts and Crafts designs, Berman produces a growing line of wallpapers and fabrics for residential and institutional interiors, in addition to commissioned papers for historic houses. You’ll find them at the Peabody Essex Museum, the High Line Hotel, and other institutional and commercial locations, as well as in homes on several continents.

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An original Voysey chair with “Isis,” one of Berman’s Voysey wallpaper patterns

 

“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had,” he says of his work translating original drawings and paintings by Voysey, Godwin, Mackintosh, and others into wallpapers and fabrics. “When I am drawing and have music playing, I am happy. It’s a bit like puzzle solving: You have to break [a basic design] down into color, and you have to figure out the pattern breaks. There’s also the bliss of color—things that shouldn’t go together, but when you put them together, they just go.”

Coming next: The nuanced art of period wallpaper design

A spirit-filled exercise

Please join us at Bloomington’s own craft distillery, Cardinal Spirits, on Wednesday, April 26, from 6 to 8 p.m. for luscious locally produced spirits (check out that copper still!) and a book signing.

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Putting pictures to names

A reader of Making Things Work remarked that it was nice to see a picture of Daniel (a.k.a. the returning hero), because it enabled him to put a face with the name. Here are a few others.

Mary Lee with drill

Saffron Walden view over rooftops to cathedral

The view from the attic room of our skinny house in Saffron Walden, on a rare snowy day in 1986. The beauty of this image makes my heart ache.

Nancy working circa 1976

I have often wondered how I came to be smiling in this picture, considering how much I hated my weekends working with my mother and stepfather on those houses in London. It wasn’t the work I minded, but the cold, which was miserable. Hence the many layers of clothing you see in this picture, circa 1976. (Don’t even ask why I was using a surform to flatten a board. That was the tool provided to me.)

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The munchies cart from which my [now extraordinarily law abiding and ultra-responsible] sister happened to take some cash circa 1969: a marvel of ingenious construction.

No exaggeration

Henceforth, UK and European orders of Making Things Work will be handled by Classic Hand Tools. But I will be a little sad not to be handling those orders personally.

‘Til now, those orders, along with others from Canada and the southern hemisphere (I am looking at you, Megan, and you, Chris), have been shipped by yours truly via the Stanford Post Office. The Wikipedia entry for Stanford doesn’t even bother to give a population figure, though the place has had a Post Office since the 1830s, which is to say, damn near as long as Indiana has been a state. Ray, the clerk, has been very good-natured about the unbelievably time-consuming customs stuff (which makes abundantly clear to me why some other publishers choose not to deal with international orders).

Still, the first order from England came from someone with a name so impossibly British that I had to wonder whether it was made up: “St.John Starkie.”

Uh huh.

Always glad to indulge eccentricity, I sent “Mr. Starkie” (nudge nudge, wink wink) a brief note informing him that postage to the UK would require an additional payment. You have to understand that when I read “Starkie” my mind ran immediately to “starkers,” a British euphemism for “naked.” But hey, if an editor at the World Book Encyclopedia circa 1969 was willing to address me as “Norman Stanley Hippietoe,” who was I to question this book buyer’s name?

Come to find (as many folks in south-central Indiana would say) that St.John Starkie (pronounced “sinjin,” not “Saint John”) is this man’s real name. And he is quite a character. Today I got one of the most delightful missives I have ever received from a reader. You can read it below. (Don’t worry; I got express permission to share it.)

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All of which is to say that if you thought my accounts of the English cold were exaggerated…well, NOT. As I replied to St.John at lunchtime today, I omitted my take on that unique Fenland weather phenom that is the headwind. Regardless of which direction you’re pedaling on your bicycle, it will bedevil you. (I imagined that most American readers would think I was, to use a good British saying, “having them on,” had I included this in my account. So I’m grateful to St.John for saving this particular day.)

You can follow St.John on Instagram at the_quiet_workshop (the quiet being a stark [ouch! don’t do that!] contrast to the daily reality of my workshop) and also via his blog: https://thequietworkshop.wordpress.com/.

New distribution for Making Things Work

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I’m thrilled and honored to share the news that Making Things Work will shortly be available through the following three distributors, which are listed here in the order in which they made arrangements with me:

Shop Woodworking

Lost Art Press

Classic Hand Tools which will distribute the book in the UK and Europe.

Thanks to Megan Fitzpatrick, Chris Schwarz, John Hoffman, St.John Starkie, and the guys at Classic Hand Tools.

One of these days my desk may be clear again. (Yes, that is a wad of cat hair in the foreground.)

 

Can you say “cluster”?

Thanks primarily to Megan Fitzpatrick at Popular Woodworking Magazine and Chris Schwarz of Lost Art Press, things have been busier than usual around our place over the past few days, which is to say: I’ve spent all too much time sitting on this chair, filling out FedEx forms online, and wrapping books for shipment.

This is not helping the jobs in progress in the shop.

NOT COMPLAINING.

Au contraire. We’re still talking about the break-even point (though we are, at two weeks in, approaching that point, thanks to the two folks in the first paragraph, along with a few others [Laura Mays? Freddy Roman? St.John Starkie? Thank you.])

The point of this post is to note that, due to the unforeseen but most definitely welcome volume of orders, I realized yesterday that I had purchased too few shipping boxes. So whether you’re in Moscow, Idaho, or your surname is Moskowitz, or you live on Moscow Lane (never before did I realize that countries, surnames, cities, and streets get so jumbled in this free-for-all that is the U.S.A.), your order may be delayed by a day or so. Please know that I’m on it.