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CHOOSING FURNITURE

by

Jean A. Steinbrecher, A.I.A.


Furnishing a log home is different from furnishing a conventional home. (Why wouldn’t it be? Not much is conventional in a log home. That’s why you want one. . .) Therefore, getting the basics “right” is important.

Scale and Size. To begin, log homes have a different scale (relative size) than conventional homes. The large log elements demand furniture that is big enough to stand up to them visually; otherwise, they’ll seem dwarfed and insignificant.

If you’ve ever seen a stage production of Hansel and Gretel, you’ll know what I mean. Typically, the props and scenery are built larger-than-life. Therefore, adults playing children’s roles appear to be the size of children as they climb up onto chairs or stand in front of an over-scaled fireplace.

Even if you’re planning only a small cabin built from 8” diameter logs, a few large pieces of furniture will look better than many smaller ones. The room will feel full without being cluttered.

In rooms with cathedral ceilings, scale is especially important. Tall spaces need to be conceived in all three dimensions. Tall furniture elements help fill the volume, as do large pieces of wall and sculptural art. Over-scaled light fixtures brought down to a mid level put a visual “lid” on the space. The best fixtures also cast light upward, thereby illuminating those precious and beautiful log structural elements in the ceiling.

Materials, Textures and Patterns. Natural materials are a natural compliment to a log home. Leather and wood furniture, tables with stone tops, metal light fixtures and wool rugs all make a log home feel even more natural, warm and inviting.

Once again, however, scale is important. Materials with a nubby or irregular surface texture work well against a log backdrop. For example, sisal rugs with an interesting weave look great. So do throw pillows in a nubby raw silk or an antique Kilim rug fabric.

Freestanding pieces that are visually interesting on all sides work well, too. I’ve used bronze sculptures, metal mobiles and Chinese kites to flesh out a space. Things feel complete.

In log homes, pattern also requires a scale change. Avoid sweet little Laura Ashley-like prints. Look, instead, to large, strong stripes or florals, bold and interesting weaves, over-scaled checks or plaids, large natural motifs such buffaloes, trees or fish.

Many people automatically think of wood furniture in any home-and especially in a log home. But, when is there too much wood? When does the eye demand some relief so it can see the forest? Consider other materials, too.

Examples include metal tables with glass or stone tops, wrought iron lamps, leather upholstery, woven blankets and hides as wall and floor decoration. Look at the feature articles in this magazine and others. You’ll find interesting blends of materials.

If, however, you simply must have all wood furniture, choose wood in a species and finish different from your logs. For example, fir logs look great with birch, ash, beech, white oak or maple furniture. Darker woods such as fir, mahogany or walnut set themselves off well against pine. The point is to get some contrast between the color of the logs and the color of the furniture.

As a personal preference, I avoid log furniture in rooms with log walls-unless I’m really trying to create a “Lodge Look”. Again, it’s about seeing the forest for the trees. In upper story rooms, however, I sometimes use log furniture to compliment the log structural elements-especially if I’ve used sheetrock or plaster on the walls and ceilings.

Even here, though, I prefer logs mixed with other materials. For example, I’ve seem a favorite log bed that incorporates end panels with dried flower arrangements sandwiched between two layers of glass. Another special one uses curve-topped metal frames with vertical metal rods. In both these beds, the peeled poles give the feeling of log furniture without being overwhelmingly “loggy”.

Style and Line. Furniture design seems to be in a rather clean-lines and few-frills mode right now. I consider that a plus in a log home. With so much going on overhead and with so many horizontal lines (lateral joints) in the log walls, clean, crisp furniture lines are a refreshing visual counterpoint.

That doesn’t mean furniture has to be stiff and straight. Gentle, sweeping curves actually compliment the log elements. However, avoid lots of little curves or tiny motifs. Visually, it’s too weak and confusing. Look for stronger, beefier, more robust lines and elements, instead. They need to hold their own in a room.

Currently popular are Contemporary furniture and Mission Style (also known as Arts and Crafts) furniture. Look, too, at the more traditional lines such as Country, casual and cabin or “Lodge Look” furniture.

In your own home, any of these styles can be used so long as the scale, texture and pattern are large enough to stand up to the logs. Consistency of style is nice and safe, but you can also mix styles.

In my own residence, I have a dining table and chairs with simple, sensuous, curving lines, as well as a very Italian feeling leather couch and matching chair with ottoman. The wood is cherry colored, the leather burgundy. In the room, I’ve also mixed an Empire style antique mahogany side table, an 1840’s walnut and maple veneer dresser and two Arts and Crafts brown hammered metal lamps with opaque peach-colored frosted glass shades. The walls are painted a soft gray-green. The floors are fir. With area rugs in the warm reds, rusts and beiges, and with some darker blue accents, the room is an interesting collage of disparate elements that magically holds together. When my log home is finished, I expect these same pieces to fit into it nicely.

Selecting Furniture. You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it. The same is true for furniture. Beyond style and appearance, comfort is essential or the pieces are useless.

I’ve become quite bold about removing my shoes and hopping up onto the beds in any furniture showroom. I want to know what it feels like to sit against that back board and read. Do the slats fit my back correctly? Is the top trim at a height that won’t cut into my neck or head? (I don’t bother lying on a bed unless I’m purchasing the mattress, too.)

After the test drive, I carefully smooth the bedding and replace the pillows, then lift the bed skirts to check the frame construction and joinery. Furniture is an investment-one I’m unwilling to make without a thorough investigation.

I never buy a chair without sitting in it for at least five minutes-with my feet up if it’s a reading or relaxing chair. I want to know if my back feels supported, if my feet touch the floor properly, if the stuffing gets bogged down from having my weight on it. If I’m shopping for a sofa, again my shoes come off and I lie down for a while. After all, Sunday afternoon naps are important. . . If showroom employees have trouble with my actions (and most don’t), I shop elsewhere.

For your own purposes, if you live with others, take them along furniture shopping-or bring them back with you after you’ve done the recognizance work. The pieces should work for all family members, unless you’re looking for a piece that’s exclusively your own.

Benchmarks of Quality. Not all furniture is created equal-no matter how stylish and comfortable it may be. The quality of materials and craft vary widely, as reflected in the price. Buy the best furniture you possibly can. It will look better and last longer.

According to Joe Richardson, III, a sixth generation furniture manufacturer and award winning furniture designer, all-wood or solid wood furniture without veneered plywood or particle board parts is far superior. It will react better to seasonal changes and show less wear and tear at the joints and fittings.

When shopping for furniture, look for well-fitting, carefully crafted connections. (English dovetails are especially fine drawer joints.) Hardware and pulls should be of good quality and proper styling. (I’ve also been known to change out the hardware on furniture when I got it home or got tired of it.) The wood finish should be tough, long-lasting, evenly applied and highly complimentary to the wood. You’ll know it when you touch it and see it.

For my own tastes, furniture styling should be timeless-especially since I intend to keep my pieces for a long time. Besides, log homes are truly timeless, and their furnishings should celebrate reflect that.

As you can see, there’s more to selecting furniture for your new log home than meets the eye. Start looking and planning now. However, avoid the buying-too-soon pitfall unless you’re a really experienced home decorator. Otherwise you could end up with a truckload of furniture you can’t make work in your brand new log home.

Jean Steinbrecher, A.I.A., is a licensed architect in private practice with offices in Langley, Washington, on Whidbey Island. She specializes in the design of log structures.


This article is reprinted from Log Home Living Magazine, copyright Home Buyer Publications, Inc. 4200-T Lafayette Center Drive, Chantilly, VA 20151-1208

Reprinted with permission from the author.

 




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