I have to admit, I have a lot of fortune in my life. In the spring of 2016, I was asked by a designer to create a Macassar ebony dining table for her Park Avenue client in New York City. In reality, it was really two tables that could be joined by adding two center leaves making one large table for family and friends.
For the first few months, the designer and I worked to create a plan that would “bring her vision to life:” Two square tables sitting on pedestal bases.
At the beginning, the client requested a starburst veneer pattern for the tops, but after presenting several options, I encouraged her to go with a more traditional “frame within a frame” pattern using Macassar ebony. I thought it would be the best solution and wouldn’t fall out of favor in the years to come.
Building the Bases
The bases were challenging to design, because so many possibilities existed. Eventually we all agreed that a four legged option sitting on a criss-cross base would offer the most flexibility. Work began during the summer when I asked my veneer supplier in Queens to produce the tops and extra table leaves. When October arrived, I the tackled the most challenging aspect of the project by cutting out the curved legs; Each consisting of multiple layers of solid maple needing to be trimmed, tapered and sanded to create their final shapes.
After all eight were completed, they were veneered with black walnut and then a top layer of ebony. It was slow going because all of the work was done by hand. Each leg was then permanently mounted to the criss cross base. And then the bases themselves were veneered, in the same fashion. A very laborious process.
Accommodating the Table Leaves
The real fun began when I had to entertain the two extra table leaves. Each table was to sit directly under its own chandelier on a custom made rug in the client’s home, leaving 54 inches of space between them. When the table leaves were put together, they too, were 54 inches. “How could I install them if I couldn’t create a little extra space between the two tables?” So I figured out a simple scheme which allowed the tops to slide back and forth while the bases remained stationary. They were pulled apart to “open” the space and then “pushed together” to tighten up the gaps. The solution worked beautifully!
The only additional elements which needed to be considered were some pull-out supports for the extra table leaves and an extra set of temporary legs.
Finishing the Tables
When the designer and I began this project, we quickly noticed that the client had a dislike for veneers that were “too” red. This posed a bit of a problem because Macassar ebony is traditionally know for its rusty red and dark brown character. So when it came time to finish the tables, I decided to “tone down” the red by applying a thin layer of black stain. It also reduced the contrast and “quieted” the overall pattern. The last thing we needed was a contrasty table that screamed, “Look at me!”
In the coming days, the tables and their components were sprayed with two barrier coats and multiple layers of polyester resin. I sanded relentlessly between each coat so as to level the finish. After seven coats of resin, I felt I had enough material on the tops and began to buff them out as if they were sports cars in need of a high gloss finish! As you can see, the results were impressive.
Photographing the Piece
The last chapter of this story involved photographing the tables. I didn’t have enough space in my shop, let alone a suitable background. But being that I live in Beacon, NY and have so many cool shops in town, I thought about a gallery I had been in several months earlier. The artist, Jeffery Terrison, shows his textural paintings which are pretty cool (http://bedfordfinearts.com). So I asked him if I could photograph my tables in his space surrounded by art, and without hesitation, he said “Sure.”
His capable gallery manager, Julia, and I set a date in February, but as the day approached we noticed a strong snowstorm coming up the coast, so I postponed a day. I’m glad I did, because we received 10 inches of snow.
As I walked home that night in the white stuff, I wondered how was I going to get a rental truck into my snow covered parking lot? As fortune would have it, I saw a neighbor, who often had his bosses’ pick-up truck on snowy nights. I asked him if he could do me a solid favor and plow out my parking lot and clear the sidewalk. He too, responded without hesitation and 15 minutes later, the task was done. I thought, “Man I have a lot of fortune!” I’m sooo appreciative to all those who contributed in various ways to this creative project.
The next week, my trusty assistant and I, delivered the tables to the city and set them up. As we unwrapped, I could hear “little whispers” coming from the the client and designer. It was kinda funny, but also a bit nerve wracking because I couldn’t hear what they were saying and didn’t know how my piece was being received. That said, once the tables were assembled and the extra leaves set in place, the two said the results were gorgeous and were very thankful for my efforts.