Friday, February 10, 2012

Another Benchmark

by EJF with Steve Oubre

The latest addition to the tout ensemble - the suite of furnishings that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the Darwin D. Martin House - is a custom oak piano bench to complement the Martin's oak-veneered Steinway in the living room.

Dorothy and "Aunt Polly" at the piano, 1912.
The original bench appears in only one historic photo of the Martin House interior - a photosecession-esque image of Dorothy Martin playing the family piano in 1912.  The intentionally murky photo reveals some detail of the piece - a probably Wright design - but many details and proportions were unknown.  Enter Jamie Robideau of Hamilton Houston Lownie Architects, who produced a sketch of the bench based on the photo, known details from other Wright-designed pieces in the house, and some well-educated guesses.  Armed with this drawing, John McCampbell, Martin House volunteer and design student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) took-on the challenge of fabricating the bench for the Martin House.

John utilized the facilities at RISD as well as Master Cabinetmaker Steve Oubre's shop to create the bench, under the supervision of both.  Steve explains the process thus:

John and I met to go over general construction methods and consider the nuts and bolts of it.  John then returned to RISD and, armed with HHL’s CAD file, he generated new working drawings for my review.  After a few minor revisions he was ready to start fabrication.  On a holiday break, he came to my shop where we selected the stock to be used and he collected some of the standard ogee shoe moulding to be used on the bench as well.  At RISD, he utilized shop lab time to build the inner structures of the legs and the stretcher system. On subsequent trips home John utilized my shop to fabricate the seat, legs, run the shoe moulding and ultimately assemble and sand the piece.  Finishing was performed by Hulley Woodworking, who has finished all the trim and reproduction furniture in the house.

The results of this collaboration are impressive:  the bench's construction, geometry, proportions and attention to detail complement the other Wright-designed pieces in the house beautifully.  Our thanks to John, Steve and Jamie for their talented contributions and teamwork on this project.

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