Canadian Woodworking

The ugliest piece of furniture I ever made

Author: Rob Brown
A Chest Only an Owner Could Like

I really hope my clients don’t see this. Honestly, I’ve never showed these photos to anyone because I was never happy with how the piece turned out.

Maybe this is me growing up. Maturing. Admitting my mistakes and moving past them. Then again, maybe this is the new me getting angry at the old me and getting revenge with that young fool by sharing these photos with whomever wants to see them.

I couldn’t be too picky.

When I started making custom furniture for clients, I couldn’t be overly picky. A paying customer was a godsend and I couldn’t afford to turn away any of them. After being in business for a year or two I had built a few pieces of speculative furniture that I showed at some art shows and community events. I thought they were attractive pieces then and I still think so today.

One of the first pieces I made was called “Pussy Willow Chest.” It featured five shallow drawers supported by four legs. It had an Asian influence with the flared legs. Inlay covered the drawer fronts and sides. I got a lot of compliments about this piece and it eventually sold to a Toronto-based entrepreneur.

I made another chest of similar design and called it “Chest II.” This piece had only three drawers and was a bit shorter. Its maple legs extended past the top, curved outwards, and then ended with an angled top. I used a contrasting exotic wood called chakte kok for the three drawer fronts to give the piece a bit of a focal point. It was another piece that garnered a lot of attention from viewers.

A Chest Only an Owner Could Like
My least favourite (and easily the ugliest) piece I’ve ever made. There, I said it.

A Chest Only an Owner Could Like

Pussy Willow Chest
I made this chest, complete with pussy willow inlay, as one of my first speculative pieces. This piece formed the basis for the piece I made for my clients.



Show time

While at an art show one summer weekend I was approached by a couple who needed a piece for a specific spot in their home. They liked my “Chest II,” which was on display for them to see. And they really loved my “Pussy Willow Chest” in my portfolio and agreed that something similar to it would work perfectly in their home. We did some back-and-forth regarding wood species and design. Once it came to the specifics, things took a bit of a turn.

They wanted to adjust the width to fill the space they had. Since they had an extra 5″ or so they wanted the chest to be wider. This doesn’t sound like much, but it really affected the proportions. And they wanted to have four drawers, instead of five. I like odd numbers for a more organic look. Four drawers were too structured for my liking, but they didn’t care.

They also wanted a bit more “something.” I played around with changing the legs, but they wanted to have some exotic wood elements on the side and top to match the zebrawood drawer fronts. Although I thought this was overkill, I was also familiar with the phrase “the customer is always right.” Well, that’s a load of bologna, and this piece is proof of that. The final addition was some inlay in the top.

I worked through a few more drawings and they gave me some more ideas. They liked their ideas more than mine and that’s the direction we went. We eventually included all of the ideas, rather than settle on the best idea. I knew it was going to be an uglier piece than I would have liked, but at least I’d be keeping the customers happy.

Admit it, Rob

While building the piece I didn’t admit to myself that it wasn’t going to look right, but deep within I knew the truth. The promise of a paycheque meant a lot to me at that point in my career. The clients were pleased with the piece when I delivered it to them. It was built with time-tested joinery and should last a very long time. I don’t think I’m bragging when I say that; it’s more than I’m conceding this fact.

I wish I could confidently say I’ll never make another piece of furniture as ugly as this, but we won’t know if that will be the case or not for (hopefully) a long time. Now, do me a favour and don’t show this four-drawer chest to anyone. Or at the very least, if you do show it to someone please don’t tell them I made it.

Chest II
Curved legs and bold wood selection give this chest a unique look. My clients liked the maple in this chest, as well as the drawer pulls, so I included those details in the piece I made for them.

Chest II

Zebrawood Applications
Because the clients wanted a more “something” I added these zebrawood triangles to either side of their chest. That was a mistake.

Zebrawood Applications

The Obligatory Dovetails
At least the dovetailed drawer fronts contrast nicely with the maple drawer sides.

The Obligatory Dovetails

Drawer Pulls
These drawer pulls have a recess in their underside, allowing the user to grasp them and open the drawer. They’re made of spalted maple.

Drawer Pulls

Exotic Inlay
Zebrawood inlay surrounding the panelled top. Not the most egregious mistake I made on this chest.

Exotic Inlay
Published:
Last modified: September 22, 2022

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.

12 Comments

  1. Hmmm…as I look through drawings and photos of antique Stickley pieces, I see a few that are ugly. And used-furniture vendors have quite a few that are far uglier. Don’t demean yourself so…

  2. We’ve all been there at least once. Remember “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”; you delivered for your happy client and that’s just fine.

  3. Hi Rob, while the colour combo of the first chest are not the best, I really thought it look a great piece of workmanship. I would be very happy with it if I created it.

    Dan Hergott

  4. Ugly? Maybe. From what I can see, though, the construction and technique are downright solid. That is more important. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So, what you think as ugly, someone else will believe it to be the most beautiful piece on the planet. Quality trumps beauty – always.

  5. I think it looks great. The colour contrast is terrific. The arched supports that let you see through the piece is attractive and lightens the design. The 3 pieces of zebra wood don’t work as well but overall an A plus. A fun article. I think we all second guess our projects when finished.

  6. I agree with you that to give clients their creation is not helping them neither you. You are the designer and you teach people how to appreciate your creations. In that first client order the error was “too many cooks spoils the sauce”. Now at 73 I cannot build anymore but still can design and I beleive in simplicity and harmony like using the golden mean to decide on the proportions and having a gestalt approach in choosing the wood type.

  7. I know this will be considered sacrilege but this reminds me of some revered Krenov pieces. I have never been in awe of his work and all the excitement on learning of his background leaves me unmoved.. Just never caught the bug. I would call these works “Chunky Krenov”

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