Canadian Woodworking

Design review – telephone table

Author: Clive Smith
Published: December January 2006
Telephone Table
Telephone Table

Sometimes when you are leafing through a magazine such as this one, a picture of a piece of furniture catches your attention. You realize that it is attractive but may not take the time to understand what caught your eye. A design review analyzes the piece to reveal the devices that make it attractive.


Often, a designer/maker has arrived at a design and executional style because of education, experience and cultural background. Features that are admired by the designer may have a lasting impression, which show up in a later work. The design review may re-awaken old influences or point out different ones. In this way, a design review also provides feedback to the designer/maker.


In this article I will conduct a design review of H.C. Sakman’s “Telephone Table”, featured in this issue. While there are no design limitations, there are some simple, practical requirements. The telephone table should provide sufficient space on the top to accommodate the telephone, an open telephone book, a lamp and a note pad. There should be enough closed storage space to house a number of telephone books, some note pads and writing instruments. We can see from the pictures that the telephone table provides the functional requirements and is most probably intended to be used in the sitting position.


Since there are no design requirements, we will now look at the designer’s visual choices. He has decided to design a table with a stocky or weighty appearance but at the same time, has used a number of devices to give a delicate feeling to the piece.

Background Colour

He chose a light coloured wood (quilted maple) and applied a natural finish to highlight the off-white colour. You can probably imagine how staining this cabinet dark would have affected the bulk of the appearance. By using a light colour, shadows from relief will animate this piece.


The designer was not content with simple shadow. He has chosen to draw our attention to various aspects of the work by using a high level of contrast. Off-white to black is a very powerful contrast, but if overused, could have spoiled the piece. Our designer has very carefully used contrast to characterize this piece. You will notice that the slender size 1/16” ebony inlay around the top, the cock bead around the edge of the doors and drawers, the feet, the diamonds on the side panels, the diamonds on the side brackets and the knobs are restrained, in relationship to the area where they are located and to the amount of off-white maple background. The contrasting elements are not so overpowering that they challenge the fact that this is a maple cabinet. The contrasting elements are therefore a highly successful decorative effect. But where did the idea for the diamonds come from? Probably the designer was influenced by the Arts & Crafts/Mission period in general. The diamonds could also be an interpretation of the famous graphic language that we associate with C.R. Mackintosh. His customary grouping of small, square solids will always be associated with his name.


Not satisfied with the success of the contrasting decoration alone, the designer has added other language, or character element. The top has a beautiful crotch figure that draws our attention, regardless of the light source or direction. The maple edging around the top contains the silk shimmer, characteristic of tiger or fiddleback maple. But did you notice the top overhangs both sides, more than the back and front? This immediately brings in the language of a table, instead of a cabinet.

What an incredibly clever addition, given that the piece is actually a telephone table/cabinet! Beyond the literalness of the table overhang, the designer has added four, slender, concave brackets sometimes referred to as corbels. The brackets might put us in mind of Georgian bracketed tables or of the movable bracket supports for drop leaf tables. These brackets also provide another function. They modify the front silhouette of the piece. Along with the arched bottom rail, they introduce shape into an otherwise rectangular piece. These elements are also highly successful in their subtle influence on this piece of furniture.

Period Reference

The designer chose to create a table with a traditional appearance, in that the side panels are recessed and the projecting front leg elements effectively change a potentially boxy piece into an elegant and interesting, traditional piece of furniture. I am sure you will marvel at the extent the designer went to make his own hinges and to cut both of the drawer fronts from the same piece of wood, so that the figure could continue from one drawer to the next.


I hope that I have been able to draw your attention to the details of this piece of furniture. You can see for yourself that the meticulous design and execution of details is what makes this an attractive piece of furniture. Congratulations Mr. Sakman, you have designed and built a beautiful piece of furniture.

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