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 Originally made from the skin of a horse’s back, shagreen has a rough, granular surface.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