Variations on a Theme

Article - September 10, 2008

When I built my end table, I took a lot of inspiration from a picture I saw in Fine Woodworking’s Design Book II. Just a single black and white photo was all it took get my synapses firing! And if you remember, the responses to those episodes were incredible. Everyone seemed to have their own ideas for the shape and orientation of the legs as well as the shape and attachment method of the top. I struggled with these decisions and made what I felt were the best decisions at the time.
Recently, a couple of folks decided to take that same seed of inspiration, and let it blossom into their own beautiful creations. I thought it might be interesting and fun to examine how from one perspective, these five designs are very similar. But upon closer inspection, you can see that they are quite different (especially from the point of view of their makers).
heinrichThis table was the original inspiration for my design. It was created by John T. Heinrich and the photo is directly from Taunton’s Design Book Two. I was really taken by the spider-like legs and the potential for some fun joinery. I also loved the concept of blending the vertical and horizontal components so that they look like they were carved from a single piece of wood. Think Maloof Rocker. The table it topped off with an interesting piece of glass. All in all, this table is an amazing piece of craftsmanship.

mytable1This is my table. As you can see, it was heavily influenced by Heinrich’s design above, but clearly takes it in a different direction. The table is smaller with a tighter stance. And the top is obviously figured maple, instead of glass. And rather than resting on top of the legs, the top floats between them via steel dowels.

spikesofrankoNow this is a table submitted by Spike Sofranko. You can see Spike made some significant changes. His features a thick bowtie/dog bone-shaped top with multiple woods laminated together. The legs are a little more squared off at the edges and the top is secured with two dowels in the skinny ends of the top (not visible in this pic. What I find to be the most compelling part of Spike’s design is the fact that he flipped the leg assembly upside down. This was by far the most popular feedback I received from viewers. MANY folks felt the table looked better upside down. So finally, we have a real world example of what the table would look like in that orientation. Thanks Spike!

johnbrattonThis next table was designed by John Bratton. The most notable change here is the top. Its a perfect circle and rests on top of the legs. John secured the top with screws in elongated holes to allow for movement, and capped the screws off with an accent wood. The legs are similar to Spike’s in that they are a little more squared off than the other designs. I also had numerous suggestions to put a round top on the piece, and thanks to John, we can now see how that looks.

no-nameAnd finally, we have this table from Todd Ouwehand. This table has all the delicate grace of Heinrich’s piece, but actually takes it a step further by keeping the stretchers thin as well. This design really has fun with varying thicknesses and the builder did a tremendous job of blending the joints so they simply appear as a single piece of wood. Also notice the wooden top, which happens to be attached in a similar manner as the Heinrich piece.

Now I am not looking for anyone to pick favorites here. My goal is to simply show you how the same starting concept can result in numerous end products, simply by altering the most important and influential variable: the craftsman.