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I learned a good deal about ornamentation during a year I spent teaching English in Saudi Arabia in 1965. That vast expanse of blowing sand and dry river beds was a universe in beige—ubiquitous beige—without end. As if in protest to this monochromatic world the Bedouins colored and decorated nearly all man-made objects. Like Persian carpets, their buses were an explosion of color and appliqué on Mercedes' frames.
Whether in the desert or on an uninteresting piece of furniture, ornament offers escape from boredom and engages the eye where form fails to satisfy. In a sense, ornament is often used to conceal mediocrity—a kind of visual sophistry that makes the commonplace appear inviting.
In designing our furniture, we strive to create forms that are pleasing in themselves, forms that achieve grace because they serve human needs, with aesthetics predicated on function. The ornamentation in our work derives from the exposed architecture of the furniture and the translucent richness of the wood itself.
The handiwork of the craftsman as revealed in a dovetail joint or the wedged tenon of a chair spindle is ornament derived from function rather than embellishment. The sharpness of a miter joint, the pinning of a tenon, even a plugged screw are decorations of sorts, but with purpose. Hidden inside a drawer or in the back of a case, a finely crafted dovetail affirms our sense that beauty need not be boldly on display to enhance our lives.
Every effort is made to release the natural warmth of the wood through polishing, oiling and waxing, rather than by painting stain or lacquer from a can. Heated linseed oil adds greater visible depth to the wood, like shining light into water. By allowing the work of nature's paintbrush to emerge in the unique grain pattern of each piece, we hope to add grace without artificial adornment.
Years ago a professor taught me that true art conceals itself in apparent simplicity. She was talking about acting, but this can be said of good design as well. Unadorned shape can speak with an authority not found in decoration. A well-designed piece of furniture should be a form to which nothing can be added and from which nothing can be taken. Good design is an exercise in restraint.
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Copyright 2014 Thos. Moser. All rights reserved.
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