Using inlay and marquetry

Inlay and marquetry can be an extremely effective method of drawing attention and creating focus, and most importantly for me as designer, a visual reference or context in which to design the piece. It seems like a traditional use of inlays in furniture was simply to make a piece less plain, such as adding a border of Acanthus leaves might do. I haven’t used inlay in this way for a couple of reasons. First, something like the Acanthus leaves would have no particular meaning to me, and second, I don’t think this kind of symmetric use is particularly effective in creating a focus. Another traditional kind of piece uses marquetry to create a picture, sometimes so extensive as to obscure the wood completely. That is something I’m not interested in doing.

What I’ve tried to do is use marquetry or inlay to create a theme for the piece, focus the eye, and draw the viewer into looking at the whole design, including the woods. My marquetry and inlay has generally been asymmetric, high contrast, and organic themed.   

A visual reference that has motivated many of my pieces is the Chinese garden. Sitting in a garden kiosk, you see a plum tree beginning to bloom or just some leaves framed by a lattice work. The plantings are well distributed, allowing your eye to focus on just an element of the garden, framed by the lattice.  This was the original reference that motivated my plum blossom pieces, as in the following Seattle style table. 

I like to find ways to connect the visual reference for the marquetry with the structure of the piece. For example, in the Plum Blossom cabinets, I am able to carry through the visual reference to lattice work in the marquetry to an actual lattice work in the apron of the base.

In the Ginkgo console table, my visual reference was the yellow, windblown leaves of the Ginkgo in Fall. I have two Ginkgo trees, and in November we have lots of wind, so it wasn’t hard to come up with this idea. I make the Ginkgo leaves to look like they’re flying in the wind, but they still have that unique fan shape of the Ginkgo.

But even though these were my immediate references in designing the marquetry, I love being able to incorporate symbolism into my pieces. The dogwood and plum blossoms are a couple of my Spring favorites, signaling the end of winter and beginning of a new cycle of life. Other than incorporating a “broken ice” fretwork, I’m not sure how else you would capture these feelings in furniture. Ginkgo’s are symbols of health, life and endurance, so I like to have Ginkgos around just for good luck. I make the Ginkgo leaves out of Cascara wood as well, and Cascara bark produces a health product, so there is another level of symbolism there.


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Previously published:

Fine furniture, Camano Island, marquetry