By David Brussat
Saturday, October 23, 2010
The chapter and its guests gathered on Thursday evening, Oct. 21, at the College Club to hear master furniture maker Philip Lowe, whose shop at 116 Water St., in downtown Beverly, Mass., makes and restores fine furniture. He also heads the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts, which educates students in furniture making and repair. (You can visit the web site of the Institute here.) Though not quite as sunk in barbarism as architecture, the allied art of furniture making has been lifting itself up, back into the future, so to speak, through the work of Mr. Lowe and other fine furniture makers and restorers.
After seeing about 180 images of furniture in various stages of undress, we all had a better idea of the complexities of this fine art. Mr. Lowe kindly took questions afterward, assuring listeners, for example, that he had never been asked to design one of those marvelous attacks on the comfort of the human frame known as modernist furniture.
Furniture has excellent nomenclature, such as the word splat, which denotes the elegant woodworking within the space framed by the back of a chair. “The more ornamental a work of furniture,” says Mr. Lowe, “the more I like it.” He is blessed with clients blessed with considerable good and expensive taste, and he cited again and again an unnamed lady in New York City whose need for his services kept his family in food for many years.
Mr. Lowe is also a consultant for the Peabody Museum, which has an extensive furniture collection. Its exhibits and their refurbishment occasionally bring him work, and through the museum staff and its friends, he gets other commissions.
Here are a few images from his talk:
The chair below is an example of work done for the excellent dowager in New York, who told Mr. Lowe that she needed a chair onto which she could throw a coat – and which had to align itself with her curved foyer.
Fine carving is, of course, part and parcel of furniture making, as the last two images suggest. Mr. Lowe is often called upon to design the ornamental flourishes of the rooms that will be graced by his furniture, and vice versa.