Inside the Artist’s Studio with Patrick Kana: The Rumson Low Table

I have had the pleasure of exhibiting my work at Main Street Arts for almost two years now, and I jumped at the opportunity to participate in this collaborative show.  Ceramic artist Peter Pincus and I have been looking forward to an chance to collaborate for some time now and this exhibition is a great fit.

The table I designed for this show is a fusion of new energy and expertise with a product I had made three years prior: The Rumson Table.  The Rumson Table was designed as a simple and elegant occasional table, with crisp hand-shaped details.  I chose Mahogany for the stand and Zebrawood for the top to bring a warmth and color contrast not typically seen in contemporary furniture.  While I enjoy the color tones and overall form, my goal was to create a companion coffee table with a lower, more gestural stance and refined proportions.  The original Rumson Table stands 30″ tall while the new Rumson Low Table stands 15″ tall and 36″ across.

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I formally started my career as a furniture maker in 2007, training as an apprentice for master furniture maker and luthier Peter Dudley.  One apprenticeship led to another, and after receiving my degree in Architectural Studies and Studio Art from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, I continued to receive my MFA in Furniture Design from the prestigious School for American Crafts at RIT.  These experiences have cemented traditional craft execution in my practice alongside a contemporary design process.  Currently, my work is often inspired by botanical and marine biological forms, though there are times when the utility of an object takes precedence.  The Rumson Low table was a chance for me to refine the process by which I make this table.

While I often prioritize natural forms,  I am very driven by the selection of my material.  The majority of the wood I use is either milled from local logs, or sourced as reject material from lumber companies and sawyers.  In the case of the Zebrawood for the Rumson Low Table I was fortunate to obtain a sun-beaten pallet of African hardwoods that were destined for the dumpster. As I often discover, just beneath the grey weathered surface is warm color, texture, and most importantly, potential.

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I begin by selecting boards for matching grain patterns for the table top, trying to balance uniformity, contrast, energy and visual rest in the wood grain.  I step mill the planks very carefully to guarantee stability over the lifetime of the piece, and lastly, edge joint each seam with a hand plane for a flawless glue-joint.  Simultaneously, I begin making patterns and templates for the base components, to not only ensure that each component becomes an exact match, but to also build upon my inventory of “visual vocabulary” from which to pull inspiration later on.

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As you can see, I saw out the components for the base, and then cut the joinery.  Typically, joinery is cut first, then components cut out, but in my experience, I can attain more components per plank and waste very little wood in the process.  Although it’s slightly more labor intensive in the joinery-stages, it’s well worth it in my process.

At this point in the process, the components are still “blocky” to me.  I find my greatest enjoyment in the stages to come–laying out guidelines for the shaping process, and giving life to these components.  I add tapers, bevels, and progressing curves to the outer surfaces of each component, which not only adds dimension and depth, but gives them a vibrancy when light reflects off of the multiple surfaces.  My go-to tools for this process are spokeshaves, and Japanese rasps.  Some tools leave polished surfaces ready for finish, others leave behind a surface in need of careful sanding.

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I pre-sand all components prior to assembly.  This makes for easy work refining details on smaller components rather than sanding details on a completely assembled, unwieldy piece. Assembly for a base like this is not as easy as it may seem. Precise clamping pads are made for each corner to guarantee perfect pressure on each joint, and yes, it requires a lot of clamps! When it assembles smoothly and nothing shifts during the process, you know you’ve done your job well.

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Final touches are easily done at this point–cleaning up any glue, sanding any transitions, and my favorite, giving each sharp corner and edge a simple chamfer to make the piece soft to the touch.  Lastly, I finish all my work with a hand-rubbed oil varnish blend which not only allows the richness of these woods to pop, but also offers great protection for a utilitarian piece.

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The finished piece retains crisp lines and curves, while having an updated and more gestural stance.  These details, plus the bulbous square top relate nicely to Peter Pincus’ porcelain urns.  While slightly drastic, I am very happy with the color contrast between our work. I believe it brings out different qualities in the work that may not have been evident without the other.

I currently live and work in Geneva, NY  where I create work on commission and speculation for clients around the country.  I am also the Studio Technician and teach as Adjunct Faculty for Hobart and William Smith Colleges.  I welcome visitors to my 4000 square foot furniture studio, where I have available space for fellow artists and woodworkers, along with a suite of fully restored 1940′s vintage woodworking equipment.


Stop by Main Street Arts to see Patrick Kana’s furniture in our current exhibition “Setting the Table” (runs through November 25th). You can see more of Patrick’s work online at www.patrickkana.com or follow him on Instagram @pk_designermaker. You can contact Patrick with questions, comments, and orders at patrick@patrickkana.com.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by furniture maker Chara Dow.

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