Interpreting Design #1: Jewelry Box

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Blog entry by DocT posted 04-30-2009 05:42 PM 9394 reads 4 times favorited 8 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Interpreting Design series Part 2: Jewelry Box- Rustic »

I rarely build from plans. Never have. I’m not really sure why. Maybe it’s a commentary on my inherent need to be right. I am, however, not immune to inspiration! My favorite part of LJs is seeing all of your projects. I have been exposed to some truly amazing pieces. My favorites are the truly original designs.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about design. What makes a design original, unique, or inspiring? There are any number of “formulas” for good design. I ascribe to a few, but they certainly don’t guarantee unique results. No, what I’m pondering is what some might call a design asthetic or a design narrative. How is it that we can immediately identify a “Maloof” rocker. He wasn’t the first person to design a chair or even the first to use the California roundover, but his work definitely exudes his personal narrative. No doubt you could identify a Maloof piece from a mile away. You could probably even differentiate a Maloof original from even the most faithful reproduction. Even outside of the realm of chairs, Mr. Maloof’s tables and case pieces quietly say “Sam designed and built me”! That’s a design narrative.

I believe that all great design starts with interpretation. If we faithfully reproduce Morris chairs or Maloof rockers are we anything more than wood machinists? Sure we can learn a lot. We now understand how to form the bow arm for the Morris chair or the “dado-rabbet” leg joint for the Maloof, but it begs the follow-up question: “What do we do with this new understanding?” For most of us the answer is – build more Morris chairs or Maloof rockers.

There has to be something more. We each have a design narrative hidden deep inside. We are each inexplicably drawn to a certain aesthetic. That’s a good place to start. It may be Federal, Queen Anne, Craftsman or Contemporary. (Mine is often either Arts & Crafts or Rustic). If we challenge ourselves to look at pleasing forms and envision them through our personal aesthetic, then maybe, just maybe, we can ascend to heights unknown!

That may be a bit lofty. But here it is: THE CHALLENGE. I want to begin a dialogue. I hope to complete a series of projects and discover a bit about my own design narrative. I sure hope that some of you will follow along, join in and post your results!

For the first project, I chose a fairly simple jewelry box. This is not an original design. It was in either Wood or American Woodworker magazine several years ago. I liked it so much that I made five (with varied wood species) as gifts. The Art Deco style is pleasing, but for our purposes, I think the proportions are the important thing. It has a lightness that is pleasing and a simple elegance that I believe is universally appealing.

Jewelry Box


The challenge is to incorporate your personal design aesthetic. Re-envision this jewelry box. Make it you own but keep the proportions fairly true to the original. Design a cousin not a sibling. More pics are available here.

The original stands 5” with the lid and handle, 3 1/4” without. The box proper is 8” x 5” x 2 1/2”. The legs raise the bottom of the box 3/4” from the table.

I’m gonna start mine right now! I hope you do too! Good luck, and I’m excited to see what some of you come up with.


8 comments so far

View Kindlingmaker's profile


2656 posts in 3521 days

#1 posted 04-30-2009 07:51 PM

Your philosiphy of design is excellant! ...and so is your art of craftsmanship.

-- Never board, always knotty, lots of growth rings

View interpim's profile


1170 posts in 3453 days

#2 posted 04-30-2009 09:44 PM

If I can find time enough I think I would like to participate in this.

-- San Diego, CA

View whitedog's profile


652 posts in 3452 days

#3 posted 04-30-2009 11:03 PM

i also have something rolling around in my head ,hope to get the time . it sounds fun.

-- Paul , Calfornia

View douginaz's profile


220 posts in 3997 days

#4 posted 05-01-2009 01:52 AM

Great idea and nice box – I haven’t tried mixing the wood for accents but I will sure give it shot. Turning included?
Doug in AZ

-- If you need craft books - please visit our small business at

View bowyer's profile


340 posts in 3391 days

#5 posted 05-01-2009 03:11 AM

Mmmm I think I like this challenge. I have a recurve bow to make first but the youngest Daughter has a request for a jewlery box for her B-day in June.

-- If at first you don't succeed...Don't try skydiving

View eddy's profile


939 posts in 3360 days

#6 posted 05-01-2009 03:24 AM

i got a head start. not much of a change other than making some of the lines sharp and crisp
made them about a month and 1/2 ago lots of different woods

-- self proclaimed copycat

View Dap's profile


4 posts in 3382 days

#7 posted 05-08-2009 06:24 AM

Been doing this for 20 years. But I always use a drawing – of my own design. I find it is faster to workout the design issues on paper before committing to wood. I have done a chair in the Maloof style, yet unlike any he ever made. I have dabbled in many design styles, finding each new style an enjoyable challenge. I’m not sure I buy into your term “design narative”. To me, that would apply to a progression of various designs in the same style. If we are to sharpen our woodworking skills, we should be venturing into new design styles.

View DocT's profile


109 posts in 3433 days

#8 posted 05-08-2009 06:55 AM

Dap- Thanks for weighing in. I absolutely agree that we should be venturing into new design styles! That’s kind of my point. Once we “master” the basic techniques of woodworking, shouldn’t we begin to feel comfortable designing an original work from scratch?! Why should we be slave to someone else’s designs? There are elements inherent to any design style. If we can identify and choose from those elements, we then can execute our own version of that style.

As for “design narrative”, I mean it in terms of finding your own unique voice. I doubt your version of a craftsman table would mirror mine. The elements of craftsman style that appeal to me, may not appeal to you. That’s the great part! They are both representative of a design aesthetic, but are clearly by two different makers with unique viewpoints. The narrative part comes from looking as your “body of work” as a whole. There is more than likely evidence of a progression in, not only, skill but style!


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