Beauty in Simplicity

Ken Kirkpatrick

Creating beautiful, functional spaces is something that we pride ourselves on. And sometimes, it goes beyond a building. I was tasked with designing and producing a functional bench for our Omaha studio that reflected the creative culture of the office. Anyone can order furniture out of a catalog, or place a wood slab on a steel frame, but it doesn’t speak to who we are. The concept was a freeform slab, folded into an almost origami shape, created out of solid wood that lets the natural beauty of the wood to speak for itself.  

A concept model was first fashioned out of cardboard, then a 1-1/2” scale model out of wood. I didn’t use any computer design or fabrication; just craftsmanship and letting the slab of wood tell me the final dimensions and proportions.

However, just because the design is simple doesn’t mean you can get sloppy with the details. In a minimal design, the final object will highlight any and all flaws. It creates a final piece where there are very few places to “hide” bad composition, misalignment, joinery gaps, or material defects. It’s more like an optical illusion: the final product might look clean and simple, but that’s the point. The whole intent is to trick the viewer into thinking they’re seeing something effortless even when the actual process is loud, heavy, dirty, and raw.  

The slab I used was personally selected from American Arborist Wood Products, who reclaim and salvage hardwoods from urban forestry projects in the Omaha metro area. They take desirable logs, slab them on their mill, and let them dry. The ash slab chosen was approximately 2-1/4″ thick, 24″ wide, and 11-1/2 feet long. Since the slab was cupped and a bit of twist, I rough cross-cut into manageable lengths on the final angles. Then, I set up a router sled, which is two level rails, then a sliding sled that my router can travel side to side. The router sled process gave me flat, consistent thick pieces, and removed the sawmill-rough surface. Then it was a matter of sanding down with finer grits with a belt sander and orbital sander. The miter angles were cut, fine-tuned, and a hidden spline was routed in. The invisible spline is what gives the joinery its strength without having face fasteners with plugs or filler. The face edges of the slabs were hand planed so the compound angles would align at the mating miters. Then, finally, assembly: gluing and clamping the joints, final sanding, and four coats of water-based, matte-finish acrylic polyurethane. The base is an MDF box painted flat black and adjustable floor levelers installed.