A Play on Materials

Designers have become so tightly governed by the adage ‘Truth to Materials’ that we are surprised when a piece deliberately flouts this rule.  To illustrate the point are two tables of different styles dating from around 1920:

The first example is a typical occasional table of timber construction.  What makes the piece extraordinary are the elaborate turned leg details with four carved and applied strap features that together recall wrought ironwork.  There is no ‘logic’ as such to this feature or sense of irony about the ‘correctness’ of materials – it simply represents the whim of the cabinet maker to inject something unexpected into the design.

The second example is a far superior piece, and better documented thanks to the lot description provided in this month’s Clars auction catalog.  The table was designed by Warren McArthur (1885-1961) and made for the Arizona Biltmore, Phoenix.

At first glance this appears to have a hexagonal timber top on a thin-section, ebonized frame. However it is in fact all metal, a combination of copper sheet and wrought iron.

As a more self-consciously ‘designed’ piece this also has a clearer message: it evokes the homeliness of a family dining table (natural copper standing in for the warm patina of a hardwood top) but with a rugged metal construction suitable for heavy use in a hotel environment.

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