Category Archives: materials

Shagreen TV cabinet

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.

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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.


photo 5In 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.



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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.



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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.

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Unusual Materials


The workshop is often asked by a well-known New York City designer to make pieces using unusual materials. The cabinet below is made of walnut with shagreen panels. Shagreen, derived from the French chagrin, is made from the skins of sharks and stingrays, caught in warm waters in parts of Asia. Originally made from the skin of a horse’s back, shagreen has a rough, granular surface. Japanese swordsmiths covered their hilts with rawhide shagreen for a good grip. In the 17th and 18th centuries the leather made from sharkskin or ray fish began to be used. This leather is extremely durable. It is covered with closely set scales, which are ground down to create an interesting pebble pattern.


Pebbled texture of a stingray skin


Side panels showing stingray skins


Walnut television cabinet with remote lift and shagreen panels


Parchment, a thin material in use since ancient times, is typically made from the skin of a calf, goat or sheep. The parchment on this bedside table is from a sheep. Unlike hides which are tanned, parchment is limed, scraped, stretched and dried at room temperature.


Bedside table covered in parchment


The technique of wood marquetry developed in Flemish centers of luxury cabinet-making during the early 16th century. It was imported into France in the reign of Louis XIV to decorate Versailles and other royal residences. It arrived in Britain in 1660 and furniture makers such as Thomas Chippendale were using the technique in the late 1760s. A variety of materials were used but examples of straw marquetry were found in England in the 17th century, the most famous of which were made by prisoners from the Napoleonic wars.

It is a time-consuming process. The straw pieces are soaked, cut, ironed, trimmed in width, then glued onto a substrate, an example is the chevron pattern on the cabinet below, before being sealed and lacquered. This cabinet has a bronze framework.


Splicing and glueing straw 


Cabinet with straw marquetry in a chevron pattern, in a bronze framework