Sacked by the "downturn", an unemployed architect touring the country in a bus...

I used to live in New York City. I designed homes for the tycoons of Wall Street; Park Avenue, Scarsdale, Greenwich. It was great fun. And, after years of saving up for a down payment, I was just about to buy my own little place in Fleetwood, half an hour north of the city, when the economy fell apart. Architects are like canaries in a coal mine when the economy slows, and true to form, there were massive layoffs in firms all over the country. Devastation of the profession. So, I decided to try to find something else to do for a while. I bought a 23' school bus and I'm on the road to see if I can figure out what that might be.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Off to Burning Man...

so I'll have no cell or internet 'till the 7th!

Cheers :-)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

And more...

I finished rough shaping of the parts and then drilled some square holes (mortises:-)  To handle my pieces, I disassembled the machine and reassembled it with the head hanging over the edge of the work bench.  Then I bolted it in place and built jigs on the side of the work bench to hold my parts rigidly, in precise positions.

Click here for a Flickr slide show.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Moving along,..... slowly but steadily.  One brainstorm today was to attach a 1" washer to hold the circle accurately when I worked the wood around it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Curving the inside surfaces of the legs...

I drew circles and parabolas on the ends and then drew tangent diagonals at the corners.  Then I extended these as longitudinal guidelines for the initial chamfers, or bevels.
Tomorrow, I'll take the corners off the bevels, or bevel the bevels, so to speak.  Then a final sanding will be enough to create a nice curve around the backs of the legs.

Some oil applied to a rejected test part to see the default finish color.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tapering the pieces...

A few shots from today.  First, one leg in the tapering jig I built.  This holds the piece at a very precise incline as it runs through the thickness planer, which results in a piece that has more wood removed on one end.  Flip it over, adjust the incline (double the angle), run through the planer again, and voila, a tapered piece!  (Working out the fine points took some time, like getting the angles just right for the different lengths, adding the sacrificial blocks at the ends so that the machine's start and stop dips did not ruin the piece, and so forth.)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Cutting piecese and shaping the outside surfaces..

Click here for a Flickr slide show of some more progress.  the frame pieces are cut and machine shaping has begun.  They are still full thickness and appear quite heavy.  Tomorrow I will thin them down and taper them.  Exciting!

Friday, August 13, 2010

I bought wood

I bought wood for legs and a beautiful veneer for the seat, arm rests, and back, as well as wood for patterns and jigs.  Ordered a router bit for shaping the fronts of the legs, laid out the shapes on the wood, and then picked up my truck from a brake repair place.  I'm looking into going to Burning Man August 30 to Sept 6, so that's a good deadline for the finished prototype.  I'm trying to locate a shop in Fort Bragg/Mendocino for September.  I have a few leads from my visit to the College of the Redwoods in Fort Bragg.  I've got to move the prototype forward a bit, first...

fUn! :-)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

New Patterns...

I made paper patterns for the revised chair today.

details to follow..

Monday, August 9, 2010

I have an idea...

I made a sketch accentuating the anthropomorphic forms, and have a great marketing tag in a high end niche.  It has great commercial potential.  I have been advised to remove it from the blog site, so....


details to follow :-)

Chair Refinements..

I added a back rest and arm rests.  I trimmed back the corners of the seat, and lightened the upper members, so I'm feeling a lot better about the lines, though I'm I still not satisfied with the arm supports.  I have an idea for an ogee shape for them that might be better.  Also, I still have arch the bottoms of the seat stringers.


Meanwhile,  a fellow named Paco is helping me add some plies to the leaf springs on my truck, to firm up the suspension, and to cure the lean to the right by adding an extra ply on that side.  We went to a junk yard today and bough a suitable leaf spring to cannibalize.  The junk yard folks were true-to-form crude people, but very helpful none the less.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Design is an evolutionary process

I love pencil and paper; it's interactive.  I put down a sketch, and immediately see alternatives or the next step.  Tracing paper goes over and a new sketch goes over the first, and so forth.  If a sketch is good to suggest the next idea, then a 3-D mock up is fantastic.  Maybe this will be a series of evolutionary models.  I installed arms and the back bone today, but I'm not happy with the marriage between the top half of the chair and the bottom half.  Now, the arm rest supports are not yet trimmed at their tops, I left extra wood to be able to tweak the arm rest positions, so what's there now looks a bit heavier than it will when the tops are trimmed.  But, I am also thinking that maybe the arms and side legs should be all one continuous shaped piece, and the front and back legs as well as the back rest support could also be all one piece.  I have to try some things.  I am certain the corners of the seat should be less aggressive.  I like the forward motion implied by the angles of the legs and will try to emphasize that.  The back is leaning to far back....

I did sit on this for a few seconds, even though there is no glue in the joints and there are no ties across the bottom.  It felt pretty good... :-)

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Chair Progress 2

Click here for a Flickr slide show of the work in the new shop here in Oakland.  I made a lot of progress on the chair mock up this week.  I rebuilt the seat armature twice more since the first try from Jerome, each time getting the angles more accurate.   The joints are looking pretty tight, now, and the only way I knew to achieve that was by honing in on successive tries. 

Where I can, I am taking some liberties with the mock up for expedience, for example the finished chair will not have the screws used in the mock up.  Also, the stringers under the seat will have arched bottoms, the seat itself will have rounded edges, and so forth. 

I tried sculpting one sample leg.  I'm undecided how much contouring I will finally do; I may just shape the backs of the legs and keep the surfaces facing outwards crisp. 

I'd hoped to finish this this week, but it will go into the middle of the coming week.  I still have time to select materials before I start the real piece.  For the structure, I'd thought a light hard wood, like ash or hickory, and for the seat, back, and arms, a darker, precious species.  On the other hand, after another fellow in the shop made something nice out of plywood, letting the edges show, I thought sculpted plywood legs would be amazing as the layers would show off the contouring.  We'll see, there is still time.

I am having the most fun I've had in years, absolutely loving this.  I wrote to an unemployed friend today, "I felt like I'd hit rock bottom, like I'd lost everything, and I had no desire to get back in the design business, to again beg people to 'pick me.'  But now, I've embraced my situation and I'm going all in, betting on myself and only doing what I want.  If someone likes it, fine, if not, they can find the door.  We'll see if it works."  Another friend said "So, you are a teenager."  So be it, I'm alive!  At the end of the day today I found myself looking at the chair and thinking, "I'm glad this exists, I'm glad I did this."

Something is coming...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hopland, Ukiah, Willits, Fort Bragg, Mendacino...

Here is a quick update of my touring in this area.  I spent a day in Hopland, which is approximately a dozen stores along route 101, plus some surrounding residential areas.  I met Parti, who runs a little antique and crafts store.  She showed me a small house she's renovating and asked me for a price to prepare some filing drawings.  My bid was triple what she thought a local service would charge.  I looked at a sample of their work, which she had from a previous project, and I told her they already had most of the boiler plate stuff in the computer for local code requirements and that I couldn't be competitive.  I said I'd meet her half way on the price, but of course that didn't do it.  There were no hard feelings.  She told me about more local towns and what rentals might be available.

I moved on to Ukiah and then spent the night in Willlits.  Two depressed and not so picturesque towns.  I don't remember talking with anyone.

I spent three or so days in Fort Bragg, a town built around a now closed huge logging mill.  I befriended Dan Hemann, proprietor of the Green Door Gallery, and an amazing sculptor.  I played vibes for the Farmer's Market one day and met all sorts of folks, including Tasha, a former cellist and now student of woodwork.  The next day, I went to visit the world famous College of the Redwoods School of Woodwork, a wonderful community of amazing craftsmen, and I saw Tasha again.  I also met much of the faculty and some other students, including another architect pursuing alternative careers.  Tasha directed me to Mahout, a collaborative of three alumni woodworkers who might take another into their shop.  I met with Isaac and later Andrew, and I may get an opportunity to join them in September.  Georgia Pacific owns the closed mill.  I met with the fellow directing the field efforts to clean up toxic waste from the old plant area, mostly spilled oil and wood preservative, some buried batteries, careless remains from an era when nobody thought of such things.  The mill site occupies several hundred acres along the ocean front, blocking the town's access to the spectacular Northern California sea shore.  When this land is restored, the town could boom.  I looked at the redevelopment master plans which include a lovely central park and water's edge nature trail, as well as commercial and residential areas.  It looks like there will be work here for architects in 5 or 10 years.  The necessary cleanup first, however, will be of unknown duration and litigious complexity.

Now I'm in Mendecino, the quintessential postcard modest coastal town.  So much so that it was chosen as the location to shoot "The Summer of '42".  The lush theme for that movie keeps running through my head, and I vaguely hope to bump into Jennifer O'Neil somewhere... oh yeah, it was a movie 40 years ago.  I'd love to live here.

I visited the Highlight Gallery which features high end woodwork.  Spectacularly well crafted pieces, and very high prices; now we're talking!  Owing to the presence of the College of the Redwoods, and the natural resources here, this is the woodworking craftsmen capital of the world.  I spoke to Owen Edwards, a stellar artisan who's number I got from Dan Hemann.  Owen spent half an hour on the phone with me and was very helpful, with suggestions of where to look to live, and names of other folks, other schools, etc.  I also got the clear impression that he was really struggling.  Gulp.  He's an established superstar and his business has really dropped off.  He offered to build my chair on commission.

I'm heading back to Oakland later, will stay at John and MK's and try working in Joshua's shop down there for August.  Then, I may head back east.