Willow Furniture Making by Stickley

Willow Furniture Making by Stickley

Here Stickely gives ideas and instructions on making willow tree and branch furniture.

Page Title: ¶ Willow chairs and settles which harmonize with the more severe and massive furniture made of oak.

The Place of Willow

¶ The opinion is frequently expressed with regard to Craftsman furniture that it is all very well for the library, den or dining room, but that an entire house furnished with it would be apt to appear too severe and monotonous in its general effect. While naturally we feel that Craftsman furniture is equally suitable for every room in the house, we are aware that there is precisely the same element of truth in this criticism that it holds when applied to any kind of furniture. The point is that too much of any one thing is apt to be monotonous, and the way we avoid that fault in a Craftsman house is to make the furniture entirely a secondary thing and keep it as little obtrusive as possible, so that each piece sinks into its place in the picture and becomes merely a part of the general impression, instead of standing out as a separate article.

Willow Armchair
Willow Armchair
An armchair of woven willow.

Built In Furniture vs. Portable Furniture

¶ In the Craftsman houses we do away with a great deal of the movable furniture by the use in its place of built-in fittings, which are made a part of the structure of the house. As these include window seats, fireside seats, settles, bookcases, desks, sideboards, china cupboards and many other things, it will easily be seen that their presence not only adds to the structural interest and beauty of the room itself, but makes it possible to dispense with much of the furniture which would otherwise be needed. For the rest, we use Craftsman furniture where it is necessary to have pieces of wood construction, but we relieve any possible severity of effect by a liberal use of willow settles and chairs which afford the best possible foil to the austere lines, massive forms, and sober coloring of the oak. We select willow for this use rather than rattan, because, while all such furniture is necessarily handmade, the rattan pieces are usually patterned after the elahorate effects that we have learned to associate with machine made goods, and so have none of the natural interest that is a part of something which grows under the hand and is shaped as simply as possible to meet the purpose for which it is intended.

Willow Settle
Willow Settle
A high back settle of willow that harmonizes admirably with the general character of craftsman furniture.

The Charm of Willow

¶ The charm of willow is that it is purely a handicraft, and obviously so. A rattan chair or settle may be twisted into any fantastic form, but willow furniture is essentially of basket construction. Our idea in making the kind of willow furniture in the pictures here was to gain something based upon the same principles of construction that characterize our oak furniture; that is, to secure a form that should suggest the simplest basket work and the flexibility of lithe willow branches and yet be as durable as any of the heavy oak furniture which is emphatically of wood construction.

Willow Chair
Willow Chair
Willow chair made on a lower and broader model.

Advice on Making Willow Furniture

¶ Consequently these pieces are basketry pure and simple and have an elastic spring under the pressure of the body that suggests the flexibility of baskets such as are woven by the fireside or on the back porch at the edge of the garden. The making of willow furniture as a handicraft is rather a hobby with us, for willow is a material beloved of the craftsman and the work is very interesting and comparatively easy to do. The trouble is that so many people are inclined to overdo it and to make out of woven willow the kind of furniture that demands wood construction. Seat furniture alone is permissible in willow and yet we frequently see tables, racks and stands of various kinds, and even the front of a bureau or a dresser, made of this material. Such misuse is a pity, the more that it tends to create a prejudice again against willow furniture as a whole.

Willow Sofa
Willow Sofa
Very large willow settle sofa made after a design that we have found most satisfactory in relation to the regular craftsman furniture of oak.

Plain & Simple

¶ The examples shown here hold in their beauty of form and color evidences of the personal interest of the worker. The willow has been so finished that the surface has the sparkle seen in the thin branches of the growing tree as it becomes lustrous with the first stirring of the sap. This natural sparkle on the surface of willow has all the intangible silvery shimmer of water in moonlight. This is lost absolutely when the furniture made of it is covered with the usual opaque enamel, which not only hides the luster of the surface but gives the effect of a stiff uncompromising construction in which the pliableness of the basket weave is entirely obliterated and all the possible interesting variations of tone are lost under the smooth surface.

Finishing Willow Furniture

¶ We finish our willow furniture in two colors; one gives the general impression of green, but it is really a variation of soft wood tones, brown and green light and dark, as the texture of the withes has been smooth or rough. In this way the silvery luster of the willow is left undisturbed and the color beneath is like that of fresh young bark. The other color is golden brown in which there is also a suggestion of spring like gray and green.



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