Father’s Furniture


From Threepenny Review:

It was because my father’s health had deteriorated to the point that he could no longer live alone that I came to possess his copy of Chinese Household Furniture, the Dover paperback edition with the pale yellow cover. It remains the only affordable, mass-produced study on the subject. First published in 1948, Chinese Household Furniture catalogs over a hundred individual pieces of furniture including tables, chairs, desks, stools, and chests that were in people’s homes in the 1930s. There are black-and-white photographs of each item and short accompanying text providing some historical background, descriptions of the design principles at work and the materials used. I was thrilled to find in its pages a version of the first piece of furniture my dad ever made (Plate 38), a narrow table two feet seven inches tall that stood on “horse-hoof” legs, “relieved from absolute rectangularity only by the remarkable delicacy of its proportioning,” the book’s author wrote.

My father, I should explain, is actually my stepfather, a white guy who grew up in a small town outside Birmingham, Alabama. He was still in his twenties when he fell hard for Chinese furniture. A friend who was studying Asian art history introduced him to it. They first met in Taiwan, where he was teaching English. This was after Vietnam.

My father’s love for Chinese furniture was the kind of love that convinced him that admiring its lines from afar was not enough: he wanted to master it. He taught himself to make the furniture by hand, using the type of interlocking joinery techniques and waisted corner leg construction illustrative of the classic Chinese style.

“Table Talk”, Lisa Chen, Threepenny Review