I started by building the platform upon which everything else would rest. I chose the height of the deck based on leaving enough room for the pegs and the lines to be seen clearly. I didn’t want to crowd anything. In classical architecture there is what is known as ‘orders’. Many books and theories have been written regarding these, and the structures of these orders can be seen in period furniture as well. Greene & Greene furniture is no different. Basically, pieces are designed and constructed such that it conveys a sense of foundation, structure, proportion, etc. that makes visual sense to the observer. That’s a major oversimplification but it is essentially correct. So in the case of choosing the sizes of the beams, members, etc., I chose them based on what makes visual sense as well as sense in terms of woodworking joinery. Hopefully the end result is a visual sense of balance.
I finger-jointed the corners of the base, and pegged the joints through the fingers with dowels. The base surface on top of the deck is 1x cherry stock. I rounded the longer runs with my router and ¼” round-over bit, and used it as well on the ends but ended up using a Surform and files to get the final shape I wanted. Robert Lang pointed out in one of his books that using a router tends to make the roundovers a little lifeless as they are too uniform. The Halls brothers, who did most of the more famous work of the Greenes, didn’t have routers like we have today at their disposal. I have the utmost respect for those woodworkers back then. They did have machines, but a lot of this type of work was done by hand using tools such as a spokeshave. I did use one on some of the long runs and it worked well. I try to use hand tool methods as much as possible.
I began the next phase by building the two sides of the fireplace itself, and framing them together to make the ‘superstructure’ if you will. Each side is a ½” oak plywood panel framed with 1-1/4” cherry stock rounded over. One interesting detail about G&G is that rarely will you find adjoining members meeting in the same plane. For example, you might see two members meeting at say 90 degrees, but their sides probably won’t be flush. There is usually some amount of overlap, i.e., one surface proud of the other. In this piece, the inside of each framed section is doweled into the deck surface below. I framed each side together across the expanse of the fireplace at the top using mortises into two 2x cherry stock members that are dowelled into each side top plate. Across the top of the fireplace opening, I mortised a crosspiece member into the back inside of each side section front plate. Above and in the back of the fireplace insert I added a second cross member.
On each side piece surrounding the fireplace opening, I doweled two posts into the deck surface and tied the upper ends into the crosspiece in the back with dowels. These two side posts help frame the bottom two oak ply surfaces on the left and right. The ply sits on the post sides in dadoes and in a rabbet in the backs of the side section front plates. The crosspiece in the front lips over the top edge of the ply. At the bottom, I doweled a bottom frame member with a dado to receive the bottom of the oak ply.
Since I had a little more than a foot of surface space above the fireplace opening, I used oak ply again as a base for whatever I would decide to incorporate into the design. This meant that I needed to remove the upper crosspiece, dado it to receive the top of the oak ply, and then reinstall. I added another crosspiece in the back identical to the front crosspiece.
Now I had a second deck upon which to build the next section. I wanted the reminder of the fireplace to reach the window level into the kitchen. The first section at this level consists of another rectangular frame, this time perpendicular to the surface just below it. Instead of two side major members with the expanse connected by two long members, the major members this time are running length-wise, with the interconnecting members now at the sides. This level is doweled into the level below it. Upon this latest level, I created an assembly of 4 beams that are mortised and tenoned into each other, front and back, to provide a new level. Again, this level is doweled into the one below it. I created one more layer before I applied the top by using 2x cherry stock again, this time adding the front contours to begin to differentiate it from the layers below. Almost as if each layer is growing or changing as you go up. The final top is another growth of the last layer, with the addition of breadboard ends. The piece I used for the top was a 13” wide piece of ¾” cherry. It didn’t extend all the way to the back as you can see in the photo so I added some contrasting maple with additional pieces of cherry.
I added the sunburst almost as an afterthought. I had some oak ply left over, and had some white hickory (almost like holly, but a little more yellow). I thought about this for a while and drew up several designs before deciding on what I would do. Somehow I wanted to convey a certain feel, not just Greene & Greene. If you have ever seen photos of King Tut’s tomb, and the wonderful works of art found there, you will see many examples of woodworking art that are breath-taking. In the quiet solitude of his tomb for more than 3 thousand years these treasures rested waiting for the world to see. When they were found in the 20’s, it spawned new stylings and creations of art that exemplified the Egyptian designs. I wanted the sunburst to convey that sense I felt the first time I saw those Egyptian designs. It may not convey that to the observer but hopefully it does convey something that is eye-catching.
As a finishing touch, I added dark green marble tiles to the fireplace at the top, on the front, and inside of the fireplace opening. The fireplace is actually in two removable sections, the ‘superstructure’ up to and including the first level of 2x stock beams (just above the sunburst), and everything above it. Each of the two sections are doweled as indicated above, but no glue is used. That allows the fireplace to be disassembled and moved if necessary, or to allow the fireplace insert to be removed or replaced. It is free standing with the exception of being pinned into the stone block wall at the rear of the top-most section. That is accessed by removing the last couple of boards in the top layer section. They are tongue & grooved into each other but are glued down with a minimal amount of glue at each end, so it won’t be a major problem to remove them if I ever need to.
One thing I learned in this project is patience. There are so many edges to round over, and it really surprised me as compared to constructing a piece of period furniture. I didn’t necessarily think it would be simple, but the work essentially revealed to me that each piece, each member, is created and finished such that it could stand on its own. For example, compare a straight-edged board with say with dovetails at each end that you might find in a period piece. Now compare that to a similar member in a G&G piece. Just the rounding alone makes the piece feel alive… Both take similar efforts to get there, but the Greene & Greene piece makes you want to touch it…
Thanks for reading… TTYL