Author: Erica Breen

Homesteading in July

Sometimes, homesteading takes over and the shop sits quiet for a month or so.  We’ve been mowing, raking and hauling hay, timbering and sheathing an addition on the house, and haunting the local swimming holes, lakes and ponds.  The garden is a part of most days, either as a chore or a reward, often both.

My Waterfall Mirror, pictured below, will appear in a show in the Card Room at the Vermont State House from August 15 through October 26.  Stop by The People’s House and see a collection of finely crafted pieces from members of the Guild of Vermont Furnituremakers.

From the deck of our addition, we look out on our kingdom and feel that we’ve been set down purposefully in this time and place.  The work is ceaseless, the rewards boundless.  The cool shop awaits.


Table Height Poll

Table Height Poll

The results are in! We took a very unscientific poll at last month’s Open Studio Tour. With three tables each at a different height, I asked visitors to sit at each one and choose which table felt most comfortable for dining. Twenty-eight people participated out of the forty or so who came to the studio over the weekend. Here are the results:

Table Height Votes:

28 ¼” …….12 votes
28 ¾” …….. 5 votes
29 ¾” …….11 votes

So the lowest table wins by a single vote! But with the disparity between the lowest and the next highest only ½”, the middle height got less than half the votes. The highest table was essentially tied with the lowest throughout the weekend.

In general, we are comfortable with what we are used to.  Several people commented that a certain table felt “like the one at home.”  Some visitors found that the lower tables were better for breakfast, while the taller was appropriate for dinner. One interesting hypothesis buster is that tall or short, the height of the person did not seem to correlate with table preference.  (Read our family’s recent, dramatic experience with different table heights here).

In general the lower the table, the less formal its feeling.  And generally in our culture, breakfast is less formal than dinner. Furniture standards imply this, with standard heights for dining tables between 28 and 30 inches. Desks and committee/board tables (bored tables?) are recommended to be 30” high.

How can we use this in thinking about our furnishings?  I usually design a piece for a specific purpose, with a patron who has a preference for a certain style, feeling, or degree of formality. As the poem above implies, tables are central to our lives and serve a host of different purposes, depending on their setting and the culture of the home in which they reside. Although I have used a standard 30” for my table heights for years, I will now consider where in the range a table should fall, based on the family it will reside with. Breakfast nook? Formal sit down meals? Young children’s snacks and art projects?  Power dinners with Wall Street executives or UN Representatives? Pot luck suppers with the neighbors?

What do you look for at your table?  Do you build community, lego creations, business deals, poems, connection with your family?  How does your table serve as the center of your life? Leave a comment on the blog and keep the conversation going.tea table 2, small

Kitchen Table Evolution

Our kitchen table has been around for about twenty years.  Jason built it in college, as a worktable to use to finish his “senior plan” (like a thesis).  After college, moving into a cabin only about twice the size of the table, he lent it to some friends who were getting married, and had more space in their lodgings.

When we moved into our house ten years ago, we finally had the space for a large kitchen table, so we borrowed it back and began to use it as a worktable.  Within a few years it became our eating table as well, once there were four of us sitting at meals.  (Jason rounded the corners after one particularly painful head-bump on the corner by one of the children).  And when the children began to have schoolwork, the table was the central workspace for that too.  Gradually, the finish has begun to wear off, a couple of scars have appeared, and it has literally taken its place at the center of our household.

table at the center, small

Recently, after one of those discussions about table manners that other parents might remember, we decided to try something radical.  Jason fetched a saw from the shop, flipped the table on its side and cut 2″ off each leg.  The results were transformative, informative, and dramatically altered the way all of us feel when sitting at our table.  The children are infinitely more comfortable.  They can use their silverware more easily and gracefully.  The can hold their sandwiches over their plates without tipping the plate toward them.  They are less wiggly, and less likely (I didn’t say unlikely) to tip their chairs.

The adults, however, are more likely to slouch, and while our elbows aren’t on the table as much, it is more work to sit up and a noticeably longer distance from plate to mouth.  I’d say that this has made a critical difference in our family life in terms of easing the table-manners struggle right now, but this table is destined to become our project table and not our dining table sometime in the next few years, when our house grows to permit us to have more than one table, and when the heights of half of our family gain a few inches.

All of this drama has gotten us excited to see what you think, feel, and prefer regarding table height.  Come to Open Studio Tour this weekend to try out tables of three different heights, discuss the differences, and vote for your favorite.  If you can’t make it to OST (or even if you can), measure the height of your kitchen or dining room or work table and send us an email to let us know how tall it is, how comfortable to use, and how you like it.

New Custom Furniture Website

We’ve been working to utilize some new, stunning photographs taken last fall of Jason’s Breakfast Table and Chairs, and of his Liturgical Pieces that reside in the Saint Mary Magdalene Chapel at Saint Michael’s Episcopal Church.


To that end, we’ve built a new website, and are working to learn the necessary technological feats to keep the site a little more current to reflect our projects and happenings.  Erica will be working regularly on this aspect of the business.

If you’d like to be kept abreast of our Open Studio Tour schedule, alerted to gallery openings and shows, and receive tidbits about studio furniture, sign up here for our new bi-monthly email newsletter, Shavelings.

Enjoy the website, and be in touch.


Breakfast table detail, small

Tapping In

maple woods, small

For the past two weeks, we’ve been spending long days in the woods, working with living trees.  Each winter’s end we do this, venturing out on snowshoes to visit each maple tree.  As we distribute sap buckets, we pause to put our arms around some of the trees, measuring their girth to determine whether they will get one tap or two.  Then, a few hours later, we return with a drill and once again find ourselves looking up, appreciating the height and grace of each tree, checking the health of the overhead branches, looking closely at the bark to find the evidence of previous years’ taps, and judging the tree’s health and the best spot to make this year’s holes.

Our work with wood throughout the year springs renewed from this time of connection with the living forest, with the trees in their home on our hillside, amongst the moss and stones, woodpeckers and spiders, snow fleas and breezes.  Sugaring weather involves everything from balmy blue skies to a roaring gale complete with sleet and snow, everything from melting snow to the delicate sharp crystals of ice forming at the rim of the bucket as the temperature plummets at sundown.  The trees, older than us, wiser than us, firmly rooted in the rocky hillside yet swaying as they stretch toward heaven– the trees are the medium of our livelihood.  What we build grew, first, before it knew saw or plane or chisel or tung oil.  The wood remembers, and brings some of that forest-wisdom forward into the new forms, into our homes and lives.

spalted drawers, small