Better Buildings, Better Furniture

Visiting John Hutchinson’s workshop outside Columbus, Ohio, was an unusual experience. And he wanted it that way.

To get to his shop, you left his home and set off down a path through the woods. Then you encountered a stream and had to jump over it. Eventually you arrived at a small cabin surrounded completely by woods.

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The shop was cozy, well-lit and wonderfully equipped. And whenever you looked out the windows, all you saw were trees.

Hutchinson, a prominent Ohio architect, wanted it this way. He wanted the trip to his workshop to require you to encounter and deal with nature. And as you worked, nature was everywhere you looked.

I know a lot of woodworkers who would build the same sort of shop if they could. But I thought it was odd. Sure, I love trees and nature and birds and deer scat as much as the next woodworker. But I don’t look at trees and say: “Eureka – there is an idea for my next cabinet!”

Instead, I have always been inspired by good architecture. Good buildings. Thoughtful details. Window layouts. Overall proportions. These things are an endless diet of good design.

Yes, you can visit beautiful cities to get a taste of it before returning to your rural or suburban home. But it is another thing entirely to live surrounded by buildings and have them seep into your skin. Good architecture – like good furniture design – requires you to live with it for a while to really understand the patterns behind it. And to see the details that escape your first (or 10th) viewing.

The short film above is adapted from a piece I made a couple years ago for the furniture conference at Colonial Williamsburg. It offers a short architectural tour of Covington and shows how some buildings have directly influenced my designs.

This is why I live in an old (for America) city.

I am sure that other woodworkers can take inspiration directly from nature. And I think that’s great. But I have always relied on architecture. And here’s a look at how that works.

Christopher Schwarz


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