Do as I say, Not as I do!

When I was very young my father often silenced my protests with a curt, do as I say, not as I do.

The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree. Many times in the past 18 years when I have been giving slide shows and/or critiques at the University of Washington School of Architecture, I am asked to show the students some of my sketches. I have always replied honestly, that there really aren’t any. It isn’t a part of my process. I do not draw because wood is not flat and white like paper and furniture is not seen as a series of graphic outlines. Nor is it 5 or 6 tall like it might be in a drawing. Then why not draw full scale? That only solves the problem of scale, not feeling or weight. Then why not a full scale mock-up ? Because mockups are by definition quick cheap approximations and I can assure you that a piece made of cheap construction grade lumber is going to have nothing of the feel and power of a sensuous wood like East Indian Rosewood. Then why not just make the first trial piece out of the real wood? Then I smile and say, That is precisely what I do. I only do not recommend that method unless you have built many pieces and are not afraid of spoiling a very beautiful and expensive piece of wood.

It may seem a little disingenuous, but I really do just kind of hypnotize myself into a kind of dreamy, or if you prefer, distracted, state, until I see exactly what it is I need to make. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to say it necessarily works. I leave that up to the viewer, (see plenty of examples on this website). But know that pretty much every piece I have ever made came about that way.

I also wouldn’t say it is always a smooth or effortless way. One particular story makes me feel a little sheepish. I was very young, early 20′s , and just a few years into my life as a furniture maker.  By a stroke of very good fortune, a wealthy art collector from Seattle, had discovered my work. This man, Mr. John Hauberg, not only was a highly respected collector, but also had the distinction of having helped  found the very prestigious Pilchuck Glass School in the Pacific Northwest. When he called all those years ago to request a very special table to nestle in among some of his amazing art work, I recognized right away that this could be a huge moment for my very young, fledgling career as a furnituremaker/designer. And to be perfectly honest, the prospects were daunting.

Now, I am not normally a dawdler, but I launched into a case of full scale procrastination. Months passed and I had nothing. What was worse was that I couldn’t even summon much courage to work on the design. And then one afternoon I did a most inexplicable thing. I knew that by not responding to the challenge I was failing Mr. Hauberg and the trust he placed in me. Without thinking, I picked up the phone, and called him. Without wasting much time on pleasantries, he came right to the point. How is my table coming ? And then I replied, ( I am still embarrassed 30 years later), without the SLIGHTEST idea of what I was going to do, I think you’ll like it. Shall I come by your office in the morning and show you?

And then the strangest thing happened. I still remember each millisecond of what transpired next, I really do. As my right arm uncoiled and started downward to place the phone in its cradle ( I told you this was 30 years ago), the design for what came to be known as the Hauberg Wing Table flashed in its completed iteration in my mind. It would become easily the most influential piece I would ever design and build for long periods of time 80 or 90 per cent of the commissions coming in to my studio were as a direct result of my clients seeing a photograph of the Hauberg Wing Table.

If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book, Blink, you may have a very good insight into exactly what happened that afternoon on the phone. I suspect therein lies the answer. But no matter.

I cannot even be sure to this day how I feel about the seeming effortless way in which it came about.

Proud, I suppose. Certainly happy.

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