Woodworking Inspirations of Italy #5: Custom Inlay Designs for Arts and Crafts Woodworking

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Blog entry by Bob Simmons posted 06-17-2011 08:28 PM 5814 reads 1 time favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Decorative Inlay Patterns for Custom Hardwood Inlays Part 5 of Woodworking Inspirations of Italy series Part 6: Woodworking Ideas & Patterns from Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo »

“Some old things are lovely, warm still with life … of the forgotten men who made them.”
D.H. Lawrence…(1885-1930) English novelist, poet, essayist.

Custom Inlay Designs for Arts and Crafts Woodworking

Custom Inlay Designs
Custom inlay designs are found throughout the facade of the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral (Duomo) in Florence, Italy. As a woodworker who enjoys creating various forms of wood inlay, I felt the urgency to capture the custom inlay designs that this spectacular church offers. The photograph clearly reveals a well thought out and beautifully balanced marble inlay pattern. The contrasting marble colors and varying geometric shapes invite one eye’s to pan across the design to understand the simple complexities of this elegant inlay border. As a trained woodworker, I find myself also listening to the thoughts of the skilled craftsmen who created these custom inlay designs back in the 1870’s. Perhaps these artisans were somehow inspired by other men such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo who had lived in Florence centuries ago.

Custom inlay designs such as this example reveal years of training and experience. As much as I enjoy the finished product, I would have loved to have witnessed seeing the various colors of marble as they were pulled from their quarries. Moreover, it would have been a joy to see how the apprentices worked alongside the journeyman while learning the craft. One can only imagine how the individual pieces of inlay were cut and fit. As we can see in the photo, all inlays were cut precisely for perfectly tight fitting joints.

Arts and Crafts Woodworking
Arts and crafts woodworking draws from countless ideas and influences from the past. For example, we can see how a woodworker named Gustav Stickley was influenced by the British arts and crafts movement while he visited England. It was this exposure to the English crafts movement that fired Stickley’s imagination. Obviously, we as woodworkers draw inspirations and influences from woodworking magazines, woodworking forums, and numerous books on the craft. However, if we keep our eyes and ears open as Gustav Stickley did, we can find woodworking ideas and inspirations where we least expect it.

Custom inlay designs on the facade of the Santa Maria del Fiore send a convincing message of pride in craftsmanship. Decorative inlays such as this example take plenty of time and patience. Yet it requires more than that to do a job like this well. It takes love of the craft. It is more than likely that the best marble inlay craftsmen in Florence were working on this project. Keep in mind that this is the face of the Cathedral and at eye level where every detail can be viewed and appreciated well beyond the lifetime of the craftsman.

Arts and Crafts woodworking in my shop takes on a new meaning after visiting Italy. My thoughts and ideas for wood inlay have shed their old limitations. I now look forward with enthusiasm to creating new hardwood inlays based upon the custom inlay designs from the Santa Maria del Fiore Duomo. Without a doubt, I’ll be listening for inlay advice from the men who worked the craft from years gone by.

Recommended Videos:
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-- Bob Simmons, Las Vegas, NV,

5 comments so far

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10152 posts in 4105 days

#1 posted 06-17-2011 08:39 PM

Hi Bob…

Looks like, in your picture, that it’s all made from Marble too!

Wouldn’t that be a challenge with wood… anda bigger challenge with Marble?!

Look at that top molding… putting an edge like that on Marble?!

I wonder what their tools looked like!

Thank you…

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:"

View Bob Simmons's profile

Bob Simmons

505 posts in 3067 days

#2 posted 06-17-2011 08:59 PM


You’re right. It is completely made of marble. In fact the complete facade of this cathedral is a marble veneer.

Work on the sides of the cathedral began around 1425. The front facade began in the 1870’s. There is an amazing amount of details and technical skills necessary in creating the facade. So many of these skills can be applied to woodworking. (Many of these techniques are not seen everyday.) – These guys knew what they were doing!

The marble mouldings…I asked myself the same questions. How did they create their mouldings? Their work is so precise and there are marble mouldings everywhere. Like you, I would love to know what tools they used. Also, I would love to know what type of scaffolding they employed & how they hoisted the marble to the higher reaches.

Thanks for taking a look!

-- Bob Simmons, Las Vegas, NV,

View Randy63's profile


252 posts in 2944 days

#3 posted 06-17-2011 11:47 PM

Bealutiful example of excellently crafted stonework. This example appears to be more like parquetry than inlay, very beautiful regardless and the craftsmanship remarkable. Thanks for sharing.

-- Randy, Oakdale, Ca.

View shipwright's profile


8006 posts in 2850 days

#4 posted 06-18-2011 03:31 AM

Your title, “Woodworking Inspirations of Italy” strikes close to home for me. As some of you know I’ve fallen deeply into a love affair with marquetry. Well, that started when I visited Sorrento. There are more inspirations there than I could sample in a lifetime.

Love this blog.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View Bob Simmons's profile

Bob Simmons

505 posts in 3067 days

#5 posted 06-18-2011 05:59 PM


The beauty & the craftsmanship go hand in hand. Like you say…it is remarkable.


Looking at Sorrento photos, it is understandable how you have found inspiration there. When we are exposed to great works, they seem to call on us to participate.

Thank you for your interest.

-- Bob Simmons, Las Vegas, NV,

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