David Haig's lockdown cabinets

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Words: David Haig
Photos: David Allen

I started this pair of bedside cabinets two years ago, late March 2020, during New Zealand’s first covid lockdown. The brief was very open...bedside cabinets to include a drawer, and a couple of shelves, with an agreed height and footprint. The customer had had a good sized wild English cherry felled on his property in Christchurch 18 months earlier, and following my advice, had had it accurately milled, stacked and filleted. He asked if I could build it using this timber, and as I’d liked what I’d seen of it, I agreed.


So six months earlier, I had taken the stack apart and brought the best cherry planks especially the quarter-sawn ones into my drying room next to my workshop here in Cable Bay for thorough final seasoning. They were around 14% when they arrived and I brought them down to 9% moisture content using a de-humidifier set to 50% relative humidity.

It’s always hard to explain where a design comes from, but to be challenging and truly dynamic it usually requires a certain leap of faith, in the sense that you haven’t really a clue how you’ll actually pull it off. In this case, I kept coming back to an arrangement juxtaposing nice organic tapering curves with a grid-like rectilinear structure and somehow marrying the two. Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s style of Art Nouveau was certainly an influence.


Locating a drawer between the upper curved panels of the structure, with an edge angle at around 45%, right at the natural juncture of the side and top panels, was the ‘leap of faith’ in this design; it certainly added many extra layers of challenge.

I basically used and adapted a technique I’ve developed over twenty years for building the curved and tapered panels...though in this case the side panels were not kerfed but built up from sections of copy-routed MDF, carefully indexed and joined up as wide panels. Then the quarter-sawn facings at about 2mm thickness were applied. I steam-bent the cherry edging quarter round sections, orienting the grain so as to match the flat sawn edges of the quarter-sawn face-panels. The results were pleasingly seamless, and the edge treatment added a kind of sumptuousness to the whole piece.


I spent the better part of two months building these cabinets...not that I was working very long hours. Arriving at retirement age starts to put life into a wider perspective, and in that beautiful late summer, spending time outdoors was hard to resist.

Two years on, I have just about completed another pair of side tables, using the same basic outline as on these bedside cabinets, but without the drawers and use of contrasting fiddle-back timber. They are lighter and finer, all in quarter-sawn unsteamed Pennsylvania black walnut. I think I like them as much as the first cabinets…but I need time to consider them…nothing like a photographic session after a week or two to see your work with fresh eyes!

David Haig is an award-winning furniture designer maker who lives and works in Cable Bay, New Zealand. He has taught extensively in New Zealand and the USA. David has written for and been profiled in Australian Wood Review, and last year was a judge for AWR's Maker of the Year awards. Learn more at davidhaig.co.nz

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