Lee Valley Coffee Tables
November 1, 2005
Entry Details

# 282
Gina Siepel
Brooklyn, NY
Dimensions (inches):  
  Width:   31
  Height:   16 3/4
  Depth:   14
Materials:   Wood: Solid Ash
Colored panes: Glass and colored theatrical lighting gel filters
Finish: Black Aniline Dye, shellac, and Waterlox

The table is intended to fit into my small Brooklyn apartment comfortably, and invite the viewer to set down their coffee cup and play. The four sliding doors can be moved into an infinite number of configurations, resulting in surprising color mixes and reflections. Also, there are two through-drawers, located below and behind the doors. The viewer must move the doors in order to use the drawers, which forces him/her to play with the color mixing possibilities.


This table is inspired by artist Josef Alber's theory of the relativity of color. Albers designed exercises for his students that involved creating the illusion of transparency by placing carefully selected swatches of color in layered arrangements. The design of this table is intended to playfully subvert this idea by making the transparency and the layering real. It is also intended to subvert our normal assumptions about color mixing. In the table, a sliding glass door with an orange filter passes in front of a door with a violet filter, and the resulting mixture is red. This is contrary to the basics of color mixing we all learn as children.


The piece is built entirely with hand cut joinery. The case is held together by a series of mortises and through tenons, and all four corners of the two drawers are hand dovetailed. The sliding doors are jointed by bridle joints. The design addresses wood movement by keeping the grain continuous throughout the entire piece. This is made feasible by the small size of the piece.
The oval grain motif on the table top was created by ripping and gluing two continuous sections of the same board, followed by hand flattenning with an ancient Stanley #6 fore plane. The tapered chamfer along both long front edges of the tabletop was made with a spokeshave, and the upward curve alond the underside of the tabletop ends was made with a round bottomed wooden plane, working across the grain, followed by hand sanding.
The finish of the table's exterior is black aniline dye, followed by Waterlox. I learned later I should have sealed it with dewaxed shellac before applying the Waterlox, because the dye didn't completely seal. The interior of the cabinet is finished with blonde shellac, to show off the grain of the wood and let the light and color bounce off all the surfaces.

I chose aniline stain over ash because I wanted it to be clear that the piece was about grain and joinery and traditional craft, as much as it was about color and light.

The glass panes sandwich theatrical lighting gels, which filter color from the available light.

Judges Comments
AR : A very lovely piece indeed. The black-grained finish is the perfect backdrop for what's really going on, which is the overall form, a distinct sense of structure, and of course, the colored panels. There is also a very tactile sense about the entire piece, and not just the sliding doors. The craftsmanship appears to be top-notch, with carefull attention to wood grain and proportioning of parts. The fun aspect gets you high originality marks in my book. What a delight! Oh... and thanks for having your "case table" so nicely photographed.
CS : A solid piece, in both construction and design and thought. Most experiments leave me cold. This one makes me want to toy with it in the flesh. Nice work all around.
GR : A beautiful and clever piece skillfully done. The details add simply and elegantly to the whole with nothing overdone. From the through joints and the grain symmetry of the top, to the curve of the bottom rails matching the curve under the top. Plus the beauty of the glass and the concept itself. You nailed it. Well done.
LG : This is very nicely done. Your lines all work well together and the open grain of ash was a great choice for texture. The divided lites add a great deal of interest and I can think of many objects that could be displayed in this piece to the advantage of both.
RJ : This is a lovely piece. The black stained open grained ash creates a perfect background for the coloured glass panels. The use of transparancy, colour, off-centre dividing elements (the mullions) and light with moving glass panels draws the eye and engages the mind. The table (a display medium in effect) that encloses the structure is neat, spare, functional and restrained allowing the glass to take centre stage but creating a whole and rounded piece. Joinery looks very well accomplished. I'm very taken by the the design and the artistic references explored.

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