One of the most glorious paeans to wood that absolutely ever was is the Gamble House in Pasadena designed by architects Greene & Greene around the turn of the Twentieth Century. I’ve toured it twice and would gladly go again. It’s the kind of venue that makes a body just melt with envy, but especially, I think, if one is a woodworker. I remember talking to one of my woodworking instructors at Palomar College and saying that it would have been an absolute trip to have worked on that house. No one really remembers the names of the many craftsmen who realized that remarkable vision, but the people who actually had the privilege of working on it would know it as their work.
The other people I envy, since I’ve decided to get into that sort of thing today, is the people at the University of Southern California School of Architecture who have worked so hard to preserve the building itself and make it available for tours by the general public. I don’t know if they still do it, but from time to time they actually allowed selected class members to spend a week in that house. I don’t know if they actually cooked there, although I can say absolutely that if I were one of those groups I would have done so even if it meant I would be summarily ejected the following morning. That house is a museum now with all the rules about “don’t touch,” but jeez Louise, people should be cooking in that kitchen!
Well, OK, I can’t work in that kitchen, and I can’t live in that house. But all of us have the capability of either making or commissioning such things for ourselves. The particular woodworking done in the Gamble House is a rather mannered look that may not appeal to everyone, but I don’t think there’s anyone who sees all that glorious wood whose heart doesn’t beat a bit faster. Flash forward to your own kitchen plans. You will surely install new wood cabinetry, and there will be a glorious countertop made of what, exactly? Why not wood? And that brings us, at some length, to the subject of today’s blog.
Earlier this year I made my third trip to the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS). As always they had any number of displays for kitchen cabinets, along with many other products for one’s home. As I’ve said before, I am very much a purist when it comes to looking at woodworking offered for sale. Too much of it is made in factories run by bean counters, which is to say it only looks good. If it’s cabinetry they often use Melamine rather than plywood, and the drawers are schlock masquerading as quality. With my skills, I can smell that sort of thing a mile away, so I tend to pop in and out of those displays in a hurry. But from time to time I do come across a booth occupied by a company that is doing things the right way, which in many regards, is the old way. Such companies are hard to find these days, but there are still a few who work with the same kind of integrity and craftsmanship that makes the Gamble House such a delight well over a century after it was built.
EnGRAIN Wood Countertops bills themselves as a company that cares, and having spent a little time on their website and also with their video, it is apparent to me that they do. Of course, I also have the advantage of having inspected a little bit of their wares at KBIS. Trust me on this, the difference between the well-made and the cheaply made is immediately apparent when it comes to something like countertops. On their website they say that it’s because all of their tops are custom made to order, using only high-quality, full-length staves, but really, there’s more to it than that. Show me a woodworking company that puts all its emphasis on quality and then hires a workforce that shares that vision, and I’ll show you a superior product. No one who loves working with wood can resist such a boon.
I’m tempted to go off into a long rhapsody about the quality of the work these people are doing, but really, the pictures speak for them so much better than I ever could. Wooden countertops are an option that appeals to me at so many different levels, but mostly I suppose, it’s the wow factor. You don’t expect to see something like this in a person’s home for lots and lots of reasons, I suppose. In part it’s because of a misunderstanding about the properties of wood itself, revolving for the most part around the durability of it.
It’s no secret that water is very damaging to wood. What is a secret, it seems, is the many methods modern woodworkers have at their disposal for defending against this damage. Really, most of the problems occur around the sink cabinet, but there are any number of products that will protect wood quite well against water damage. I am not privy to the methods used by EnGRAIN, but in my seven years of blogging I have come across several manufacturers who actually make spas from wood. Spas! I have also read of a wood finish so efficient that one guy tested it by applying it to a piece of wood and then running it through several cycles of a dishwasher. Worked like a champ!
Of course the other course of action is to simply use something else for the countertop that surrounds one’s sink. Some people have achieved stunning effects by using wood countertops on their kitchen islands only. Others have used it for home offices (I couldn’t resist this picture); although, I still firmly believe these countertops reach their highest and best use in kitchens.
But to bring this back to things like the integrity of the finish applied to the wood and the quality of the finished product, and how well it was designed and milled and glued up and shipped to its location and all those other intangibles that make pretty much any purchase these days a gamble, I guess you really have to look for someone who works with the same integrity as those who built the Gamble House. And maybe we’ve found them.
Share This is the third of three reports I will be posting on the KBIS trip. “Timely” I first attended KBIS in 2011, and at that time one of the booths that most intrigued me was Lenova’s. I was very taken with their bamboo sink, but also with the wide range of […]Read More...
Share This is the second of three reports I will be posting on the KBIS trip. “A Different Kind of Design” In the past I’ve written about the whole flow of products and innovations I encountered at the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS,) but I thought I might do something different […]Read More...
Share This is the first of three reports I will be posting on the KBIS trip. “Forever Springtime” I have just returned from a three day-journey into all that is new and exciting and innovative, namely the Kitchen & Bath Industry Show (KBIS). One of the questions I most frequently hear is […]Read More...
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