A commission by a New York City design firm for a large television cabinet covered in shagreen provided many challenges along the way to creating a one-of-a kind piece.
Shagreen is a leathery stingray skin popularized in 18th century Europe. The scaly surface of the skins are ground down to a smooth surface with rounded protrusions. A hump from the back of the stingray appears prominently on each piece. The skins are then dyed green from the back with the color showing through the front surface. The large size of the cabinet required 178 skins to cover. These were imported from a stringray farm in Thailand. Clearing the importation of animal skins trough US customs provided some additional difficulties not usually encountered in the woodshop. The whole process of material selection to arrival in the shop took several months.
In order to keep the project moving in a timely manner, the remaining portions of the cabinet were fabricated while we awaited the arrival of the shagreen. Indiviual cabinet boxes were crafted for each opening. Curved forms were required for the corner units. The small boxes were assembled into large units that could be transported to the site for final assembly. Logistics continued to play in as all pieces needed to be able to fit in an elevator to reach the final location in a Manhattan skyscraper.
All the boxes were fitted together with hidden fasteners and finished panels attached to all outside surfaces. The design called for the entire front surface of the cabinet to be covered in bronze and flush with the cabinet boxes on all aspects. This required some very precise construction and fastening of the boxes. An MDF template was then made on our CNC router of the entire front surface to ensure that everything lined up perfectly.
An electronic copy of this pattern was sent out to a metal machine shop for cutting the bronze out of 1/8 inch solid sheets. The bronze was then thoroughly sanded and polished before having a patina applied. The doors on the lower portion of the cabinet have square ventilation cutouts for cooling of the A/V equipment. Each cutout has an individually milled bronze insert for a total of 243 inserts.
The main part of the cabinet was completed while still awaiting the arrival of the shagreen. To facilitate A/V wiring of the unit, immediate installation of the cabinet was required. Accomodations were made for the shagreen to be applied onsite and progress continued. Upon receipt of the shagreen, it was cut and applied to panels that could then be affixed to the main body of the cabinet.
Once completed the unit looks stunning in its location overlooking Central Park.
For a renovation project at American Flatbread in Middlebury, we used 3Form panels with LED lights on the soffit over the bar, the lights suspended over the bar area and the host station.
3Form manufactures translucent resin panels for constructing walls, dividers, sliding doors, and other architectural features. Their product contains 40% recycled materials and can be highly customized to encapsulate color, organic materials, sheer textiles and embossed textures.
In the factory, located in Salt Lake City, UT, the manufacturer sandwiches layers of materials to achieve the desired colors and luminosity. When delivered, 3Form panels are rigid like Plexiglas and can be dimensioned with a table saw or CNC machine.
3Form offers a number of different types of light diffusion panels that can be incorporated in the layering of color, texture, graphics or pretty much whatever you can imagine.
A recent project for American Flatbread in Middlebury, Vt., gave us the opportunity to use Valchromat in some new and interesting ways. This composite wood product from Portugal is made from FSC-certified wood waste, blended with specially formulated resins and organic dyes.
Valchromat has some appealing advantages over similar products. It is moisture and UV resistant, non-toxic and 30% stronger than standard MDF. Vachromat is available in 10 standard colors and all can take a variety of finishes, including oil, wax, lacquers, varnish and paint.
At American Flatbread, we used Valchromat for the framework of a number of custom light fixtures as well as barn sash, host station, service area cabinets, back bar cabinets and bar face. Most of the wood surfaces in the dining room and bar area are either recycled barn board or locally sourced hardwood. The Valchromat introduced a splash of color that’s playful and contemporary.
We have also used Valchromat for kitchen cabinetry, vanities and custom furniture. When used on its own, the finished products have clean lines and a contemporary look. Valchromat is also very attractive when combined with the color and grain patterns of natural wood.
American Flatbread opened its Middlebury bakery and restaurant in the Marble Works District, in 2002. This spring, Stark Mountain helped the owners undertake a significant renovation to reconfigure the entrance area and expand the bar.
The new U-shaped bar seats 18. It has a 2¼” solid wood top made from locally sourced woods including cherry, beech, hickory, white oak, quilted maple and some very old Vermont walnut. On the face of the bar we used Valchromat to make the frames that surround panels of smooth-sanded, reclaimed barn board. LED down lighting illuminates the panels and gives the bar a welcoming glow.
Above the bar is a lighted soffit, designed to help define the area and provide more intimate lighting. The soffit was built to mimic the steel framework found throughout the space. It is illuminated by backlit 3Form panels. We also designed 11 pendant lights that are suspended from the soffit. They were made with Valchromat and light diffusing panels from 3Form. The new host station also has a back-lit panel from 3Form.
By expanding the bar area, American Flatbread has been able to double their offering of local beers and will soon be offering a full range of local spirits. A popular local restaurant reimagined.
A recent 1,900 square feet addition to the workshop enabled the assembly of a very large maple ceiling roundel for a new fireplace alcove at the University of Vermont. The roundel is above a fireplace, and the chimney goes up through the middle. What started out as an interesting drawing:
Became a large framework.
The framework was stained black and then maple panels, finished with a clear lacquer finish, were inserted, with spacers between.
The recent extensive renovation of this downtown Middlebury restaurant, now named The Lobby and owned by chef/owner Michel Mahr, was accomplished by working with designer Rebecca Duffy. The unusual building is located on the banks of Otter Creek, just upstream from the falls. It was originally designed by architect John Anderson to resemble a cruise ship on the river.
The primary wood used for the cabinetry was white oak, stained dark. One of the most dramatic features of the renovation is the new front and back bar. The front bar is twenty-five feet long overall, built completely of white oak, with a two-foot wide top surface covered in zinc. The back bar consists of built-in open shelves for displaying liquor bottles and glasses.
The Lobby’s front and back bar.
Bottles in the half mirrored doors on the tall upper shelves are lit by LED lights and are reached by a purpose-built library ladder on a curved track (top photo, far right side).
White oak bench and table tops.
White oak booths and table tops.
A cozy nook.
An antique wash stand retrofitted into a server station with zinc counter and faucet.
Stark Mountain Woodworking is committed to sustainability. In support of this ideal, Skimmer and his wife Jill have installed a 54KW solar array on their organic vegetable farm, located nine miles from the workshop. The six solar panels are mounted on trackers that automatically follow the sun to maximize solar gain.
A third of the total cost of the installation was subsidized by Federal and State grants. The electricity generated is sold to Green Mountain Power, a local utility. On an annual basis, these solar panels pay for 85% of the electricity used at the workshop. This is a savings of approximately $1000 each month. The installation will have paid for itself in six to seven years and the panels are expected to last for twenty-five years.
The Solar Panels at New Leaf Organics, Bristol, VT
The Stark Mountain workshop occupies a breeze-block building 168 feet long by 36 feet wide, on the edge of the village in New Haven, Vermont. Originally, the first two floors were used to house chickens. Over the years the building was also used as a grain co-op, a machine shop, a furniture storage facility and a commercial pottery. Stark moved into the building in July 1997. At first, half of the space was shared with the pottery, but within two years Stark had taken over the entire building. A 2100 square feet addition was built in 2004 for the handling of solid woods and another 1900 square feet was added in 2013 for sheet goods.
In 2007, a garden was designed and planted to soften the long street-facing side of the building. The design included a small visitor car park with a path leading to a new front entrance. A new company sign was also installed.
Several years later, hops were planted and trained up the height of the building, with a view to Stark Mountain producing its own beer (Stark Raving IPA, Dovetail Ale, Stark Stout?). The hops have grown well, but unfortunately the variety proved to be purely ornamental and not suitable for beer brewing. The foliage does shade the west-facing windows and add to the lushness of the landscaping.
Workshop with new garden in June 2007
Front Entrance Door June 2009
Garden in June 2012, showing the hops reaching the roof
In the 18th century, Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain was a French stronghold guarding the narrow water highway connecting New France with Britain’s American colonies. At the end of the French and Indian War, the fort was in the hands of the British. On May 10, 1775, Ethan Allen, Benedict Arnold and the Green Mountain boys captured the fort from the British in an early morning raid. It was considered the first American victory of the Revolution.
Today this historic site is maintained by the Fort Ticonderoga Association, which was established in 1909 by the Pell family, who owned the property. As part of an ongoing restoration program, the Stark Mountain workshop rebuilt and replaced the round and square-topped solid white oak casement windows and heavy plank doors on the King’s Warehouse. The original building, which was used for storing gun powder, was destroyed by the French in 1759. It was reconstructed in 2008 and rededicated as the Deborah Clarke Mars Education Center. The workshop is now making replacement windows for the Soldiers’ Barracks.
The restoration of the Mars Center was based on extensive historical research by the architect, Andrew Wright of Tonetti Associates of New York, and consulting historians. The contractor was Bread Loaf Corporation, under Project Manager Paul Wyncoop. For historical accuracy, it was important to ensure the correct placement of the recreated door and window hardware. Old glass, found on the property, was incorporated whenever possible. Surfaces were painted with historically accurate colors and linseed oil-based paints from Europe.
The rough white oak destined to become the windows.
Louis Dupont (l) discusses the windows with David Rose who milled and assembled the windows and doors.
The glass for the windows is held in by the traditional method of puttying, using a special linseed oil and chalk putty from Sweden.
The hardware for the windows and doors was specially forged and had to be installed in the traditional locations on the units.
A completed window.
The main round topped door in the King’s Warehouse.
A square topped door.
Exterior (l) and interior construction of the door.
Restored King’s Warehouse, now the Mars Education Center, showing new windows and doors.
Skimmer and Louis are keen to increase well-being and reduce stress among their employees by encouraging physical activity in the clean air and beauty of Vermont. In 2006 they subsidized the purchase of a bicycle for each employee, with an additional monetary incentive of $1 a mile if a target of 700 miles per year was reached cycling to and from work. By doing so, they also reduced the company’s carbon footprint.
There are typically seven months of suitable weather conditions for cycling in Vermont. The total miles ridden by all the employees cycling to and from work since the inception of the scheme is an extraordinary 74,463 miles. Using EPA calculations, this has saved 35 tons of carbon emissions and 169 pounds of volatile organic compounds from being discharged into the atmosphere.