Thursday, November 1, 2012

Entryway Bench & Mirror Project (Begins)

The next project on the list is a Stickley-inspired storage bench with accompanying Stickley-inspired mirror for the entry to our home.  Currently we have a piece of junk, pre-made, dowel-assembled shelf unit painted with some sort of leather-effect spray paint my wife found and thought might be a good idea.  We hate it, but it's where the mail goes, and until we have an alternate solution in place, it will remain in place.

Gathering the Puzzle Pieces

The beginning of every project starts with identifying the problems we're trying to solve.  In this case, there are certain functions we want our entryway bench and mirror to satisfy.

  • A place to hang our car keys
  • A place for guests to sit to take off their shoes
  • A place where we can temporarily place the newly received mail
  • A place to check yourself in the mirror before going out on that hot date (riiiight)
    • The mirror should be low enough that my 5'2" wife can see herself in the mirror, but also tall enough that average height individuals can do the same without having to duck. 
  • A place for guests to hang their purses
  • A place for guests to hang their jackets for short visits
    • for longer visits we'll just hang stuff in the coat closet
  • A place to store dog leashes, collars, treats, and poop bags
  • A place to store winter hats, gloves, scarves, mittens
  • It should match the other Arts & Crafts style furniture in the room
    • We tend to prefer a little Harvey Ellis influence in our Arts & Crafts, though less pronounced on the curves.
  • Built with solid enough construction that it will last 100 years

Finding Inspiration: The Bench

The next step is where my wife and I do a few web searches and critique different styles of benches.  We even visited the Stickley showroom and saw a few in person to get a sense of scale and construction technique.  This process resulted in the following images.

(source: Stickley Mission Collection)

This first image is a Stickley Blanket Chest which is what we decided to use as our guide.  The key problems with reproducing this exact chest are that it's taller than typical bench height, deeper, and not quite as long as we would prefer for the space in which we want to place it.  Simply stretching it out isn't the perfect solution because it changes the proportions.  Also, that lid doesn't look very comfortable for sitting on.

(source: uknown)

This bench is closer to the overall length/width/height we're looking for, but we're not huge fans of the Greene & Greene (cloud lifts, ebony plugs) and Asian aesthetic (flared legs, shallow arc).

(source: Stickley 21st Century Collection)

And this bench is a little too boxy, too squatty, we don't care for the inlay, and the photo was chosen mostly for the interesting options of how to structure the interior compartment. 

Finding Inspiration: The Mirror

From a design point of view we both agreed that the width of the bench should complement the width of the mirror hanging above it.  We prefer them to be physically separate pieces, but it's important to design them together, since they're going to be contributing parts of the same solution.

This mirror is too medieval, but it has hooks.  (source: Floating Stone Woodworks)

And this mirror is juuuuust about perfect, except it doesn't have a shelf to put mail on, or hooks to hang keys from.  We'll use this mirror as our jumping off point in this design.

Build It Before You Build It

Sketchup.  Lots and lots of Sketchup.  We've been planning this project for over a year now.  The first 3D model I created for the bench mimicked the panel sides of the Stickley Blanket Chest, and my first attempt at guessing the joinery resulted in my typical over-complication.  After a visit to the showroom I came home and reworked the joinery a bit until I was satisfied.  

I then drew both the mirror and the bench to scale on pink resin paper, cut them out and taped them to the wall in the location they will eventually be placed.  This turned out to be well worth the time and effort.  We quickly realized that with the size bench we wanted, the panel sidewalls' 3/4" thick "legs" were too wimpy.  It made the whole bench look weak, cheap, and the 2" wide vertical stiles of the mirror seemed stronger by comparison.  Based on this observation we decided the bench needed solid leg construction instead of the frame and panel approach as represented by the Stickley Blanket Chest.

My first draft of the mirror was too tall.  Carolyn had the clever idea to cut the drawing in half, horizontally, so that I could slide the top half of the mirror down, thereby shrinking the height without adjusting the width, until we found the sweet spot.  A few adjustments of how high to hang it on the wall, holding a jacket up on the drawn hook to make sure there was enough elevation above the bench lid and we locked it down.

Now back to Sketchup.  Rebuild most of the bench because the proportions changed again due to the addition of 2"x2" legs, and adjust the vertical proportions of the mirror because we shortened it.

Here is the end result:

The Cut List

From this 3D model I'm able to generate a cut list of every component, organized by wood species and thickness.

A Little Warning About Cut Lists

Cut lists are helpful for calculating how much lumber you need to buy and help you organize your project (in your mind).  Whenever possible you should measure against the project itself for the simple reason that you may have slipped up at some point on one of your cuts, and a fraction of an inch can compound itself across an entire project.  If you cut all of your parts according to the dimensions on the cut list and never double-check your work against your actual results, you'll end up with parts that don't fit correctly come assembly time.  Here's a more wordy and/or better explanation by someone else.

Next post: The Search for A Better Lumber Mill

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