Dark Chocolate and Sponge Cake (3)


Most Japanese houses, though the rooms generally are smaller than in most parts of the West, have really large closets in the sleeping rooms. These closets are built to accommodate futon sets which, after having been aired out, are folded up for storage, allowing the room to be used for other purposes until it is time to turn in.

Some apartments however do not have these large closets, and neither do western homes generally. So, in Japan one can obtain a storage box for futon/bedding sets. Here’s one example:

The above example is pressboard and veneer by all appearances, and interesting that it features bifold louvered doors. The sizing, for those that do not immediately apprehend metric dimensions, are about 47.25″ wide and tall, and 29.5″ deep.

When I got to thinking about a cabinet designed to hold beddings, the first thought was a blanket chest, more particularly the earliest form of Japanese tansu, which is a storage trunk, or nagamochi:

There are wheeled variants of this form, the precursor to the ornate wheeled chest known as kuruma dansu. The wheels were means to be used in cases of emergency – fire conflagrations – whereby the owner’s possessions could be wheeled out of the house and down the street. Sounds interesting, however, when these type of cabinets became commonplace they actually caused a sort of furniture traffic jam in the streets when fires happened, and were in fact later banned in Tokyo.

And wheels on a chest are fine if the piece is meant to be moved frequently about a house, but that didn’t describe the brief from the client in this case.

Thinking more about the louvered doors, and how ventilation was a key feature for a cabinet like this, reminded me of certain Chinese cabinets in which the fronts and sides are largely, or entirely, composed of latticework panels, like this example:

Another one, out of a book of mine, appears distorted when it is not in reality:

I really like the above cabinet, but it was not to the client’s taste. Although the client spends a fair amount of time in Japan annually, he did not want the piece to look too “nippon ichiban” if you catch my drift.

With that in mind, I set to work on a design. The necessary dimensions were pretty well set from the outset, as it was to hold two sets of beddings like the box seen in the first picture above. That said, the client wanted me to keep the height down as much as possible. Unlike the long struggle I had with the design for the client’s sideboard this design came fairly quickly, and has only been revised in minor ways a couple of times since. It was a real comfort to come to a place of satisfaction with the design so early on.

This, then, is what I am building:

The cabinet’s final dimensions come out at 50″ tall, about 48″ wide, and 30″ deep.

A view with the doors removed shows the interior, featuring a pair of drawers:

I thought the drawers were a useful addition, and would allow for the storage of sheets, alarm clock, etc.. I’ve drawn them with Macassar ebony fronts, however that remains provisional.

The end walls will be composed of hexagonal latticework, done with a trick joint so the kumiko appear fully woven, and an added bonus to the latticework is that, like a Town Lattice truss bridge, it provides terrific shear load resistance though the redundance of many interconnected bracing elements, which will keep the cabinet box from twisting or deforming over time:

At the moment there is a panel of Honduran Mahogany in the middle, and this is but one option. I may use another wood, and I am toying with the idea of orienting the panel’s grain, if it is a VG piece, vertically. I really like the ‘see-through’ aspect of having lattice at each end of the cabinet, and it also makes the interior bright and airy when the doors are opened.

Next, the back of the cabinet with its two-panel frame assembly with dovetailed stiffening battens, which will attach to the carcase via clips and be demountable, as is now a standard feature on my cabinets:

Detail of corner:

I’m having a little fun with the 3-way connection at the corners of the cabinet.

The doors on this cabinet will swing 270˚ open, thanks to some angled knife hinges which I will be fabricating. The door handles shown are to be replaced by pull knobs. The draw handles will likely be of similar form to those seen in his sideboard.

There we have it -how do you like it?

Got some time in at the shop today and, somewhat regrettably, the client’s last slab remnant was sliced up to yield the last of the required panels. I’m glad to have obtained the panels, most of which are 100% quartersawn, however it would have been nice if I could have had a more efficient conversion of the original slabs into panels.

I’m waiting on a delivery of some more Cuban (Floridian) Mahogany, which should be in my shop in a couple of weeks. In the meantime I’ll keep working the panels down to size and same sort of thing on the frame elements.

Thanks for visiting! Post 4 is next in this series.

8 Replies to “Dark Chocolate and Sponge Cake (3)”

  1. Chris,

    Glad to finally learn what you're making. I'm looking forward to seeing how you do the kumiko. You mentioned that you like the “see-through” aspect of the cabinet with latticework on both sides. Does the intended use of the cabinet, storing bedding, affect your design decisions for elements like that? How do you account for the way the piece will look from the outside when you might not know exactly what will be on the inside, and how that will affect it's outward appearance?

  2. Evan,

    thanks for the comment and questions.

    Yes, the intended use does affect design decisions, very much so in the choice to use latticework on the sides. One could imagine various context in which one would want to use lattice, as it conveys also the benefit of giving light to the interior of the cabinet. If the item inside the cabinet were not being accessed on a daily basis, then I would probably not have gravitated towards the lattice, as then I tend to see it as being ineffective at keeping dust out of things that were accessed infrequently. If the items to be stored inside needed to be protected from pests, then one could add, say, copper mesh behind the lattice, something common on Japanese kitchen storage cabinets, however the cabinet interior becomes rather darker as a result.

    If I did not know what would be stored on the inside of a cabinet, then I would likely be looking to make a more standard box, with panelling on all sides. But, I have not been faced with a situation where someone was asking me to make something quite so generic. The sideboard was intended as a 'catch all' so I didn't know specifics of every item, however I knew that the client wanted some specifics. So, his cabinet has a charging port/usb hub for a couple of laptops, shelf space adequate to larger trays. But otherwise, I made the cabinet to be as multi-functional as possible.

    If that cabinet had been meant as a display type of piece, a China Hutch, then the design would have been quite different. So, definitely, the end-use plays a huge role in determining the design, and at the same time I think, with the longer term in mind, having a cabinet that is useful in various ways, and not overly specialized in function, is a good thing. Utility over time keeps a piece relevant, used, and loved, rather than collecting dust in the attic, or worse.

    In this case, the use is quite specific, however I think the relatively undifferentiated interior with a generous amount of space makes for a piece that could be readily adapted to other uses later on down the road.

  3. Chris,

    Very nice. I like the lattice work. I also liked the way that you positioned the first few images to hide ready for a big reveal when you opened the door!

    How thick are the lattice pieces? I imagine that to give decent support and avoid breakage they need to be thicker than an ornamental or even regular shoji? Are they also made from the same fine mahogany?


  4. Hi Iain,

    thanks for your comment.

    The lattice are considerably thicker than what you would find on shōji, at 5/8″ thick. They are made from Honduran mahogany, while their outer frame, like the rest of the frame members in the cabinet, are made from Cuban Mahogany. The sketches show, I think, a fair representation of the tones of the two woods, though over time they will become closer in tone as they march towards the, uh, 'dark side'.

  5. Nice project!

    For what it is worth, two ideas came to mind looking at the design… One was that putting a lattice “window” in the front of the doors would allow you to remove the blemish on the front door panel and add a design element that ties the front and sides together. Similarly, you could add two strips of lattice to the top, mimicking the lattice-solid wood-lattice flow on the sides.

    As always looking forward to this build!

    -jamie s

  6. Hi Jamie,

    nice to hear from you.

    hmm, interesting ideas, but I think the blemish in the panel is not at a suitable height, being a bit low/high and not directly in front of the drawers on the interior. I tend to think it is nice to have a solid continuous top – rather than putting lattice there in any format – as a cabinet top is a place where someone might want to put other stuff. Appreciate your thoughts all the same.

  7. Looks good!

    Nice choice putting the kumiko on the side, the light and air will surely prevent any possible moisture buildup on the inside. I think you are right about using VG on the pieces between the kumiko, as the kumiko themselves will be providing the contrast from the front.

    I thought maybe with the new sanding machine you acquired you might have added a round element in this build. Not in the cards on this one?

    Don`t feel too bad about slicing up that mahogany….where else would you have acquired 20″+ quarter sawn material?

    I also really like those two Chinese cabinets. I usually find the quietness of the Japanese furniture ascetic more pleasing than the more showy Chinese pieces but I like that squared lattice work. Do you know the name of that particular pattern? I think the one from your book is a splayed cabinet rather than being distorted. They are quite difficult to build but thats what it looks like to me. What do ya reckon?

    Enjoy the build!

  8. Jacob,

    thanks for the comment.

    The sanding machine was acquired because it happened to become available for purchase and the seller worked with me, not because it was intended for a particular job. I don't generally design primarily with a view to what equipment I have – though maybe I should do more of that. It could be that I make no use of the new Zimmermann on this project.

    Yes, the cabinet is splayed – the distortion i refer to comes from taking a photo of a photo with the page being slightly curved, making the top of the cabinet look like it bows outward. The sides of the cabinet are in the cracked ice pattern, an example of where the Chinese used an asymmetrical design element. The design on the doors is an unusual angular one with scrolling leaves, the leaves providing joint reinforcement. Then entire cabinet is demountable into a package of panels. I'm mesmerized by how elegantly they tapered all the lattice elements in the front doors. A masterwork if there ever was one and a stiff challenge to replicate.


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