Friday, May 21, 2010

2010 Chair Affair Entry

11:09 AM Comments 1

2010 Chair Affair Furniture Competition Entry

Every year the Interior Designers of Idaho put on a furniture competition called the Chair Affair.  Any type of furniture is fair game, not just chairs. So, I used this opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. My wife had been asking me to build a buffet for our living/dining room. What better time than now to build a custom piece for our home, and have the impetus of a deadline to make sure it gets done within the next year.

The design criteria was as follows:

1. The entire width of the unit could not exceed 48″.

2. The depth of the unit needed to stay fairly shallow, say 14-16″.

3. There needed to be plenty of storage.

4. It needed to look unique, not just look like a rectangular box.

5. Use this as an opportunity to experiment with mixing different materials, like stone, metal, and wood.

6. Use this as an opportunity to experiment with patinaed metal.

The Google SketchUp models above show the final carcass design with different door styles we were considering.  The cabinet is a straight-forward cabinet box with four curved legs that float the box a few inches off the ground, rail and stile doors with steel panels, and a granite top.

We began the project by building the cabinet box from African Mahogany plywood left over from a previous job. The box measures 42″ wide, 30″ tall, and 14.25″ deep.  All the joints are dadoed, glued, and clamped.

We decided to go with two sets of bi-fold doors, resulting in each door being 10″ wide.  We decided to bi-fold the doors to minimize the amount of space the doors need to open up into the room.

The doors are a standard rail and stile design, all 2.25″ wide and .75″ thick.

After researching for weeks on what type of metal to use, how to patina different metals, different patina colors, and the cost of steel and copper, we settled on using cold-rolled steel and an off-the-shelf gun metal blue patina spray.

We cut out 12 pieces of steel from a 4’x10′ sheet, using a metal cutting blade and a table saw sled.

We chose to use steel for our metal panels because it is inexpensive. It was only $42 for 40 square feet! Copper was easily four times the price!

It was now time for the patina process. We chose to use an off-the-shelf patina process from Metal Finishes Plus because it was simple and straightforward.

The process for the patina was as follows:

1. Rough up the metal. We chose to sand each metal piece using a sander and 150 grit paper, and then sand by hand, both vertically and horizontally, using 150 grit sandpaper.

2. Spray the metal clean with an air hose.

3. Spray on the Gun Metal Blue patina chemicals on both sides, soaking the entire piece of metal. Allow the chemical to work for 30 seconds to a minute.

4. Dip the metal in water.

5. Blow off the metal immediately using compressed air.

6. Spray on the Rust Arrest, stopping any further chemical reactions.

7. Dip the metal in the water bath again.

8. Blow off the metal again.

9. Spray on a clear finish, designed for metals, immediately.

10. Repeat 11 more times.

The patina process was not as constant or as simple as I thought it would be.  It seemed like the bluing chemical would have a greater reaction with the metal the closer the bottle was to the metal when it was sprayed, even if the surface of the metal was already soaked in the chemical.

Also, the washing and the spray drying stages created slight oxidizing on the surface of the metal that was not darkened by the chemical.  This was not that big of a deal, but it resulted in a yellowish-brown background, rather than the gray steel background I was expecting.

I also feel like the off the shelf chemical patina solutions will give only mediocre results. If one wants real vibrant colors and changes, copper should be used instead of steel, and actual chemicals and heat should be used, rather than simplified spray solutions.

After the clear coat on the metal panels had dried, we used silicone to attach them into the back of the lacquered door panels.  The doors were attached to the cabinet using full-overlay Euro hinges and the bi-fold cabinet doors were connected using a simple butt hinge.

The picture above also shows the unfinished legs dry fit to the cabinet, and the granite top set in place.

Once we sprayed on a couple of coats of lacquer on the legs, we glued them onto the cabinet box using a loose mortise and tenon joint.

The final piece is as seen above.  The piece did not win the furniture competition, but it looks beautiful and works like a dream in our dining room.

A few thoughts on the overall design of the piece:

The overall design is a mixture of simple contemporary lines, Asian style door panels, and a bit more traditional curved legs.  I think they all work well together because we only used one wood species throughout. If anymore wood colors were mixed into this piece, things would begin to clash, and get way to busy.

I believe the three materials used, stone, metal, and wood, came together very well.  The design of the piece was kept fairly simple, which allowed the three different materials to really take center stage.

The design of the curved legs exceeded all my expectations.  The leg design was the most difficult part for me, and I was debating on their final design up until I actually dry-fit the leg template.  I was not sure if the curved style would work well, since there were no other curves anywhere in the piece, or if they should be of a more angled or straight design.  Once again, I think the curved design worked because the rest of the cabinet design is so simple and clean, allowing the legs to be the focal point of the cabinet box.

The pulls I chose, after over an hour of deliberation, were simple with a little bit of an Asian influence.

A final close-up shot of the curved legs and the striking grain pattern of the solid African Mahogany.