Handcrafted furniture has timeless look


May 08, 1994|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Q: I'm looking for some comfortable dining-room furniture that doesn't need constant care even though it will be used by a young family. The pieces are to accompany Oriental rugs and a mixture of antique and contemporary furnishings. I also prefer that the dining room ensemble not go out of style as soon as the latest fad passes. One possibility, I'm told, is "art or architect's furniture." Where can it be seen?

A: You should start with the understanding that "art furniture" and "architect's furniture" are not synonymous. They are similar, however, in that both are highly styled and are usually intended to fit a specific space.

"Architect's furniture" is a term applied to modern classics, which, by definition, have withstood the variations of fashion. Often, pieces of this kind were designed or reinterpreted by architects for use in homes they had also designed. The simple and now-familiar lines of most of this furniture can be mixed with well-crafted work of earlier periods. Architect's furniture is also easier to find and to afford than art furniture.

Pieces in that category have a much less recognizable look. They're usually the products of visual artists who also sculpt or paint, and are often avant-garde in their styling. In fact, some art furniture is so ahead of its time that it may never go out of style -- or ever be in style. But unless such a piece is a truly extraordinary work of art, it can quickly become tiresome.

Architect's furniture can be seen in catalogs and showrooms catering to design professionals. Art furniture is included in many of the better craft fairs or at those galleries that display functional objects.

But should you choose a dining room ensemble consisting of either of these kinds of furniture? I doubt it, since your home and lifestyle seem relatively relaxed, and you do not strike me as particularly fashion-conscious. Simple, handcrafted pieces may well be the right choice in your situation.

I suggest you look at some of the Shaker-style work being turned out by American cabinet makers. I'm particularly fond of the wooden pieces crafted by Thomas Moser of Auburn, Maine. This former professor has expanded his hobby into a fair-sized business. I think his furniture is a fine example of distinctively American contemporary styling.

The photo shows how one of his dining room ensembles can grace a modern setting, especially one that includes a patterned rug. This type of furniture is obviously not meant to shock or amuse. It's also obvious that this sort of furniture will never fall victim to the whims of fashion.

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