The Live Oak Tree Revisited

I wrote about this live oak tree in 2014.  I found out from a local engineer working on a project near Napa that this very striking tree was coming out to make way for a new vineyard, and he thought I might be able to use the wood.  The base of the tree seemed like one great mass of oak burls to him.  He thought it just looked interesting.

At the time, I was just getting interested in making furniture out of locally salvaged wood like this, not only to reduce my impact on the physical environment but also because of what such unique material offers.  I keep finding that an arresting tree or board tells me what I should make out of it.  So I went and looked at the tree with him.  Here’s a picture.

The tree lived up to its billing, and I fell for it.  we got the tree contractor to bring us the burly base in chunks, milled it into slabs, and air-dried it for four years.  Now it’s ready to turn into furniture, and I’ve flattened and finished a sample slab.  It is on display this weekend at our workshop/studio, as we participate once again in Open Studios Napa Valley.   This snapshot gives some idea of the dramatic figure hidden in this old tree.  If you’re local, stop by 340 Foothill in Napa, either Saturday or Sunday, between 10 and 5.  You can get the full Open Studios catalog at the link below.


Good Karma Cabinet

Telling the story of the Good Karma Cabinet, which sold earlier this year:

This mahogany cabinet combines antique curved glass with a thoroughly contemporary design:  all four sides of the cabinet have an irregular natural edge, with the frames for the curved glass nestled within this enclosure.  The geometric regularity of the front elements is fitted to the natural edges in much the same way that a house is fitted to the shape of the landscape.

The curved glass was salvaged from a display cabinet that had been abandoned outdoors.  The second photo shows the remains of the original cabinet, with its symmetrical placement of the two curved windows.  This is a familiar design popular about a hundred years ago, at the height of the Arts & Crafts movement.  The old cabinet had a glass door panel and a back mirror, as well, both of which found their way into the new piece.


The new piece aims for a lighter and dynamic touch, combining a bold modern line with the natural edges, while the wavy imperfections of the old glass provide a series of gentle surprises.

Several design constraints arose from the basic concept of accommodating the old glass pieces in this particular cabinet, and the resulting solutions add a measure of charm to the piece.  For example, finding a way to support the right-front shelf corner led to an interesting threaded-rod solution, just visible in the picture.

So the old glass was reborn in our new cabinet, perhaps by virtue of good karma accrued during its long previous life.

River Art Design

Here is a draft design for a piece of riverside art, to be placed on public land near the Napa River in the City of Napa.  The project is financially supported by a grant from Arts Council Napa Valley, with additional labor donated by the artist and by Friends of the Napa River.

The design is illustrated by a wooden model shown in the first photo.  The basic idea is first to flatten a log on two opposing faces, making a kind of bench;  and then to cut the whole into angled segments and reassemble them into what you might call a segmented serpentine bench.  The bench is designed to mimic gently the shape of the land surface where it is placed;  the heights of individual segments vary, as do the angles between the segments in plan view.

There will be willows or other native plants at various locations on the uphill side and the ends, incorporating the installation into the natural scene.

The piece is conceived as a conscious response to the complex river environment, of which the log is a kind of emblem.  The log should look like something that belongs there.  At the same time, however, the artist’s interventions are unmistakable – the flat surfaces of varying height, and the angled joints between segments.  These elements remind us that humans are active in the watershed, for good or ill.

This bench should be made out of a single log.  The second photo shows a locally salvaged redwood log – it’s the one marked with blue paint – that is about 30 inches in diameter and 16 feet long.  The log is available for the project thanks to the good offices of the Napa County Flood District, and to the generosity of Pacific Tree Care in Calistoga for donating the log.

The artist’s intention is to construct the piece in such manner that natural processes of decay are minimized.  The candidate log is redwood, which has very decay resistant heartwood, and the finished piece will be all heartwood except for a bit on the rounded sides.  In addition, it will be important to install the piece in a manner that discourages water from puddling on or around it, while securely pinning the segments together.  To discourage the log segments from splitting open on the top or sides, each segment will have a relief cut on the bottom face running with the grain.