Canadian Woodworking

U.K. awards and ugly furniture or me bragging?

Blog by Rob Brown
River otter table

I sometimes think if it weren’t for Mark Salusbury I’d have nothing to write about. He sent me a Daily Mail link to the Heritage Crafts and Axminster Tools’ Woodworker of the Year contest happening in the U.K. right now.

U.K. Awards

Three competitors—a carver, furniture maker and a luthier—are vying for the prestigious award. You can read the article here.

Although all the work is top notch, I think the carvings are especially incredible. The river otter table is a great example of how a carving can bring an object to life. Even the natural grain of the wood, with its lightly swirling lines, lends itself to the piece perfectly.

The winner will be selected in early November.

River Otter Table

David Robinson, from Scotland, carved a pair of playful river otters into a table top.

River otter table

Stringed Detail

A detail of a stringed instrument that Jonathan Hill, from London, England, made.

Patio Furniture

Robin Johnson, from Hastings, was commissioned to build this patio furniture.

Ugly or just me bragging?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the ugliest piece of furniture I’ve ever made. It’s been about 20 years since I made the piece and I’ve honestly disliked it ever since it went out the door. I thought it would be fun to talk about what I consider a fail in design, even if it was built with time-tested joinery and will function for many years to come.

If I had to, I think I could look back at all my work and point out flaws, though almost none of them would be enough to cause me to dislike the piece. Well, except this one. It’s mainly the proportions I dislike, but a few of the added details aren’t really to my liking, either. I don’t think it’s the ugliest piece of furniture in the world, but I don’t look at it fondly at all.

I got more comments on this column than any other column I’ve ever written, so I thought I’d reply to the comments here.

1. michael michalofsky: pls give us dimensions for that miserable piece. I love it and want to copy

Rob: Sadly, I don’t have the dimensions of this piece, but if I had to guess I would say it was about 45″ high x 20″ wide x 20″ deep. It’s actually the dimensions of the piece that I like the least. I think it’s too wide and possibly too deep. Having said that, I’m glad you like it. If you actually do want to make one, contact me and we can work out a few of the other dimensions and go over how it was built.

2. Alan Stein: 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….

Rob: There are certainly enough ugly pieces of furniture out there to shake a stick at. You mention Stickley, with lots of straight legs, vertical slats and dark brown finishes. Just like any design, some folks love it, while others hate it. I can take or leave Stickley furniture.

3. Mark Salusbury: 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.

Rob: There’s certainly a lot of truth to this, Mark. The client was happy, or at least they never voiced their displeasure to me! They got exactly what they asked for and I hope they still enjoy looking at and using the chest.

4. Rob McConnell: This column just kind of looks like bragging tarted up as self-deprecation.

Rob: I can understand how you might think that. I honestly don’t like looking at the piece and just wanted to share the other side of the “nice furniture” story for this once. If you or others like it, I’m thankful. Understandably, we like to look at nice looking things, but we also don’t all agree on what looks good and what doesn’t. I guess we’re more likely to give our own work a passing grade, but this isn’t the case with this piece. Not the end of the world, as the client was happy and everyone strikes out once in a while.

5. Dan Hergott: While the colours of the first chest are not the best, I really thought it looks like a great piece of workmanship. I would be very happy with it if I created it.

Rob: Thanks for the compliment, Dan. As I’ve mentioned above, to each their own!

6. Rick: 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.

Rob: Just like we all have different opinions on whether an object is beautiful or not, how important beauty is in a piece of furniture is also up for debate. I think beauty is one of the main considerations when judging a piece of furniture, along with function and quality of workmanship. I think without all three of these aspects the piece of furniture is leaving a lot to be desired. I do agree with you regarding beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

7. John: Rob McConnell nailed it right. My wife would just say, “Get over yourself.”
Rob: I can understand how some folks feel I’m bragging or trying to drum up compassion or pats on the back, but that’s definitely not what I was going for. In a world where we almost entirely see the successful projects (whether they’re in the woodworking world or anywhere else) I think it’s good to take a look at the flops so we can learn from them. The proportions of this piece aren’t to my liking, but as has been mentioned above, others seem to have no problem with them and even like the piece. I’m certainly not a perfectionist, but I see this piece as chunky and heavy and thought it would be fun to chat about a piece I’ve made that I don’t like. To each their own!

8. Alfromthemidwest: u got guts man
Rob: To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what you mean by this comment. I’m guessing you agree with Rob McConnell and John, above. I can understand that stance. These discussions are sometimes polarizing, but to me that’s the fun part; learning what others think about a piece I have a strong reaction to.

9. Paul: I think it looks great. The colour contrast is terrific. The arched supports that let you see through the piece are attractive and lighten the design. The three pieces of zebrawood don’t work as well but overall an A+. A fun article. I think we all second guess our projects when finished.

Rob: We certainly are our harshest critics at times. And at other times we give ourselves a pat on the back for making something that may be ugly, doesn’t function well or isn’t built with lasting construction techniques. Human nature, I guess. Obviously, we need to consider different skill levels, too. I would pat a beginner woodworker on the back for making a piece that might not last a decade, looks ugly and doesn’t function well, while someone with skill and experience shouldn’t get that same pat on the back for making the same piece. It’s all part of the learning process. I hope, if nothing else, this conversation can open some people’s eyes to the fact that adjusting a few dimensions of a piece of furniture can be the difference between a pleasing object and something unattractive.

10. Mr. Daniel R. Vallee: You are the designer and you teach people how to appreciate your creations. In that first client order the error was “too many cooks spoil the sauce.” Now at 73 I cannot build anymore but still can design and I believe in simplicity and harmony like using the Golden Mean to decide on the proportions and having a gestalt approach in choosing the wood type.

Rob: When talking with him years ago, Michael Fortune mentioned how he gives a client two drawings and they can choose one of them. He really doesn’t give them much, if any, say in the different aspects of the design. He’s the designer and has no interest in debating details. It’s like a homeowner telling an electrician or plumber they don’t need to complete a project to certain standards. Obviously, furniture isn’t going to start a house fire or flood the basement, but I’m sure you can see the comparison.

11. Jay Simmons: 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.”

Rob: I’ve also never been much of a fan of Krenov’s works, though I do like reading about his approach to design and construction. I enjoy his “why” but find his work somewhat uninspiring and boring. Again, to each their own.

12. Aime Mann: Great piece of furniture. Great shape, design and details with a remarkable finesse in the details.

Rob: I’m glad you like the piece, Aime. Maybe one day I’ll redo this piece with modified proportions and details, but until then we can just consider it a conversation starter.

Zebrawood Chest

I feel the proportions are off and some of the details are a bit gaudy. Some of you agreed, while others didn’t.

A Chest Only an Owner Could Like
Last modified: October 6, 2022

Rob Brown - [email protected]

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


  1. Vitruvius, the 1st century BC Roman architect, said that all buildings need to have purpose, be well constructed and beautiful. This sentiment is especially appropriate for furniture. And as Meatloaf, one of my favourite ‘70’s entertainers, said “Two out of 3 ain’t bad.

  2. I think you’re entirely right about your piece. The proportions are wrong. Furthermore the mix of curves and the orthogonal, which can work, don’t work. Regarding beauty being in the eye of the beholder, it’s a cliché that keeps the peace, but like most clichés, it’s composed at least equally of BS and brains.

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