Saturday, October 2, 2010

Well this is what the decorated sukkah looked like after a week of using it, rain and weather, etc. We enjoyed some warm nights, the beginning of fall weather, guests from Israel and Alliance, Ohio among others. I can't imagine why more Jews don't erect one and soak in what is to me the most enjoyable of all holidays. A chance to sit outside and enjoy nature, to consider our humble state as temporary residents of the planet and consider what we can do to become better people. All while drinking wine and eating with friends au plein air!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

OK - so here is how ours starts each year. I have built this one out of ceder and coated it in an exterior wood stain. There are no metal fasteners, just through tenons and doweled wedges. I will show you a detail shot tomorrow.

Each piece can be disassembled and all are labeled. The rest of the year it gets stored in the garage.

What is to be read in the sukkah? One time honored choice is "Ecclesiastes" or in the Hebrew "Ḳohelet" - The origin of the expression, "to everything there is a season" is from that book, thought to have been written by Solomon.

Monday, September 20, 2010


I know its been a busy summer and I am preparing for High Point and also for a new Home store called "Elemental Arts" that I am opening in downtown Canton, but I did just notice that it has been some time since my last post!

The Jewish New Year and holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are behind me so it is a good time to begin anew. And what would a Jewish Carpenter be thinking about right now? The holiday of sukkot which starts in a few days with the full moon and is one of the more colorful and purely fun of all the holidays. AND because it takes place outside in a "booth" or hut (meaning of sukkah) and because a sukkah is made of wood, I have some ideas to share about its construction. In the next few days I will post pictures of the sukkah I built several years ago and which is made to be portable and reusable. It is also friendly to the spirit of the holiday as it has no metal fasteners. (potential instruments of war after being melted down)

One of the key aspects of the holiday are guests. It is commanded to entertain guests, to share a meal or something to drink in the sukkah and to dwell (sleeping bags are needed at night here in NE Ohio) in it. Some come on over for a glass of wine or beer... Decoration is done with natural and specified materials such as willow branches (which we have) and palm fronds (which we don't) so we will use grasses, corn stalks. tree branches and other materials for this temporary - emphasis on temporary building. It is not supposed to be built "too well".

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


If you haven't seen this creature yet or met him in person, he has weaseled his way into being the mascot for our new line of furniture. But all kidding aside, he knew exactly what to do in front of the camera and held his pose like a pro until I told him to relax. Watch out William Wegman.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What I learned by showing my work in an "Art Show"

(above image by Katie Balas)

I have done a number of trade shows in the furniture industry, and even the Architectural Digest Home Show in New York City, where the public was invited in for three days, but I just completed my first all to the public "Art Show" in my home town of Canton, Ohio. The Canton National Art Show was just completed.

So what did I learn from two and a half days of direct to the public interaction? First of all that you never can tell who is going to show up in your booth. Secondly, that you should never overestimate the educational level of the visitors but that doesn't mean that they don't have something valuable to say and learn. Lastly, that being in front of a public which expects in general to be buying "a little something" at least is a great market test experience.

1) At the end of the first full day, a young woman came into the booth and was looking quietly at my items and asked if she could take several cards for her husband who is an architect. In my little city of Canton, one doesn't have high expectations for visitors, but there are pleasant surprises. I once had a conversation in the airport here with Macy Gray's mother who was picking up her children. Ms. Gray is from this town originally. Well, the visitor I encountered, told me after chatting for a little while that she is from New York City and is a classical singer. I looked her up on Google later and learned that she seems to be quite well established with several recordings and her architect husband is successful enough to be recognized by Forbes for his business on several continents. She was visiting family here apparently.

2) At the other end of the experience spectrum I talked with a young couple who were admiring one of my nightstands and asked if I could open the drawers for them to see the inside. They were so impressed with the quality of the work. The male partner blurted out to his companion's embarrassment that he now understood the difference in quality between well made domestic things and what you get from Value City Furniture. But I was not offended and I did not want her to be embarrassed, because that is an important lesson, and how else can you appreciate the distinction without seeing the two versions with your own eyes. I think they both learned that there is a range of quality and craftsmanship and that there aren't just subtle variations in that spectrum.

3) I needed to bring some additional items to the Museum in order to "beef up" my display and to have some options in price for people who were browsing. One piece that I was reluctant to bring because I was not sure about its design success and color was my "Quarter Round" table. . It is also called the Circular Modular Coffee Table on my website. I sold the piece during the show to a visiting couple and had another customer who wanted to have me put it on hold. It looked much better in the Museum than it did in my shop and people responded to its playfulness and its versatility. I have a new found respect for learning from the public.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Design Trade Contest

Design Trade Magazine is having a contest on Facebook and we are entered. So this is a shameless plug - if you have a Facebook account, to go to Design Trade's page!/designtrade and first "like" them by clicking the button there. Then go to the photos of the contest "Great Finds"and click "like" under my table design.!/photo.php?pid=3772408&id=67732274336 You can see me on the second page about the middle. The work with the most "like" votes gets published in the DT magazine... and if you do so - Thanks!

The work is of a fossil table previously blogged about in conjunction with Green River Stone Company. The fossils can be seen there or on my Facebook page. They are 50 million year old fish.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Developing a Wide Crack

Finish with crackle and glaze (oil) after rubbing:

In spraying a crackle finish, one of the effects I have achieved is to create a very wide "crack" which is a unique effect, and looks nothing like a faux-antique. But the finish must go on fairly heavily and there is a risk of sagging or dripping on a vertical surface. Here is my solution to that problem, so that all four sides of a cube are sprayed horizontally and each given a few moments to set up before rotating to the next side.

This is a close up of the piece. The height is about 24" and the width is 30" on each side. The item is a cube table that will have a base and a stone top. I will try to publish the final picture when it is installed.

Here is the rig I came up with. The "axle" is a 3/4" pipe ordinarily used for pipe clamps. This is the final crackle before sealing and also a glaze coat.
This is the "box" with the coat that goes under the crackle finish.
I have marked the orientation of each side so I can keep track where I am as it gets "spun" to the next position.
This is what the primer coat looks like. One trick for a medium crackle colored crackle is to tint the white primer with a little black because when the "cracking" occurs, it can pull all the paint aside right down to the primer coat. If you use straight white it shows through and makes the under color of the two step crackle look lighter than it is.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

On Speaking at the #140 Conference part 2

Maybe a more philosophical blog than the usual, but I welcome your feedback and comments on this very first draft of some thoughts that have been brewing before and after the conference:

Thinking about Twitter and what it has done from news reporting of accidents to live accounting of the Iranian resistance movement’s protests, to the bringing together of many folks whom would otherwise not have met, got me thinking about German Philosophy.

In 1962, a philosopher from the Frankfurt School, Jurgen Habermas, wrote a paper called, “The Transformation of the Public Sphere”. In it, Habermas argues that the pressures of modernity and the encroachment of Capitalism into every day life meant that spaces where the public could meet freely to debate and discuss politics, culture and society were inevitably getting eroded, weakened and disappearing. Perhaps one of the most obvious forms that I witnessed growing up was the displacement of downtown vibrant businesses and meeting places by the Mall. Malls could regulate their space as it was private property in a manner that a town could not. Capitalism, Habermas argued also infiltrated every aspect of our lives with a form of propaganda in the form of advertising that shaped our mental spaces from public to private, from the good of the greater group to the celebration of the individual.

Habermas articulates the notion of the public as something constructed, even though today we take it for granted. Before Capitalism, the King occupied the space of the "Public" and all the rest were spectators. During the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, the rest of the population had access to that "public sphere" for the first time since the Greek Democracy.

"Habermas sees the public sphere as developing out of the private institution of the family, and from what he calls the "literary public sphere", where discussion of art and literature became possible for the first time. The public sphere was by definition inclusive, but entry depended on one's education and qualification as a property owner. Habermas emphasizes the role of the public sphere as a way for civil society to articulate its interests." (

So the transition to a more privatized society and the corruption of "truth" or the manipulation of facts by the State is a deadly one-two punch to the older more idealized Public Sphere. However, I have been thinking about the effect of Twitter on this equation. Not only do all of us have the opportunity to post thoughts, observations, promotions and reports into this public medium without the intrusion of the State or propaganda machines, but we have recreated the space of the Public in doing so. From the private spaces of our bedrooms, to restaurants, to the workplace we can connect with others across the invisible lines that architecture and our limited time restraints place before us. Twitter, I am arguing is reconstructing a new notion of the Public Sphere from where we can discuss and critique on an International level any State that is of concern, any cultural phenomenon, and "breaking news" as well.

This is a pretty revolutionary idea if you consider that this kind of Public Sphere space was being eroded so greatly by the economic and political forces of the last fifty years. Twitter is using technology, or we are using that Twitter provided technology to redefine our relationships and spaces.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

On speaking at the #140 conference

I recently had the opportunity, at the invitation of Shira Abel (Twitter ID: @shiraabel), a high tech marketing maven with an interior design blog named "tchochkes", to speak on a panel at the #140 Conference on Twitter and Interior Design. [ The archived video is available at:]

During our whirlwind 15 minutes, which the Twitter conference had provided us with, for a moderator and three panelists (myself (@johnstrauss), Grace Bonney (@designsponge) of Design*Sponge, and Angela Gruszka (@ABC_Carpet) - Public Relations Director at ABC Carpet and Home ) we had limited opportunities to articulate our thoughts on the world of Social Media. So I thought I would follow up here with a few additional ideas.

First of all, as I said on the panel: I began as a huge skeptic. But one year later and I have over 1200 "followers" , many of whom are in the design trade as Interior Designers, Architects, affiliated manufacturers, woodworkers, furniture designers, media folk, etc. I generally don't follow back people outside this orbit so it is not the number of followers I am after (as many on Twitter are) but the quality of the ones I relate to. I think I could count on one hand the ones I knew before starting off on Twitter so that means about 1200 people in my field are to a greater or lesser degree aware of what I do that I wouldn't have been in touch with otherwise.

Of these followers, some have contacted me for quotes and one of those requests will no doubt soon become my first "Twitter job". Others may contact me in the near future. Several of the people/companies I follow have already worked with me in one capacity or another to produce work. (Examples are below) And it was a Twitter connection that led to me being invited to be on the #140 conference panel. (and many opportunities may follow from that). Through Twitter I have friends that I talk to about our chickens, a friend whom I exchange Hebrew words with to further my slow learning of the language, and new friends in Israel that I could visit when I go there next. Through Twitter I now have a community of friends who get together for "Tweetups" at the different furniture markets and who are now friends "in real life". The hugs we give each other when we meet are genuine and heartfelt.

So some examples of the networking results: @copperhandman, otherwise known as Rich Hawk and I tweeted first and then spoke by email and phone about a collaboration. I invited Rich to show some work in my High Point showroom last October and to collaborate on a three-panel screen that I designed. The result was shown in Interior Design magazine in their Market review issue that came out about a few months ago. From that picture, I have one custom job that I am currently completing for a pop-up television cabinet, with copper doors. (photo will be coming soon) Through Twitter, I met Alexandra Gibson (@gibsondm) who with Gibson Design Group helped me with a rendering of a project I designed for a new building of a local non-profit. The rendering was displayed at the building dedication so that they could identify a funder for the project. Through Twitter I have met many people involved in marketing furniture companies such as @tkpleslie, @prosperbydesign and @leslienewby who have along with many others been extremely supportive of my ventures and designs. (I have not paid them for their kind words - yet!) Through Twitter I have received coverage of my work from Home Accents Today (@WesAtHome and @tracybulla) and HER Nashville (@designvine). On Twitter I have exchanged communications with Kathy Ireland (@kathyireland) and Mariel Hemingway (@marielhemingway). I could continue in this vein, but the overarching concept is that any of this would have been unlikely without engaging on Twitter.

In the next post, some further musings on the philosophical and social underpinnings of Twitter as it relates to our understanding of the "Public Sphere". Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Here is a picture of the fossil stone top going on the dining table. It measures 88" x 44"

Monday, March 1, 2010

Working on a 50 million year old table

After our collaboration on the first two tables of Strauss wood bases and Green River Stone tops was successfully shown in High Point Market this past October, Doug Miller the co-owner of GRS approached me about designing a table base for a large stone top dining table that we could show in New York City at the Architectural Digest Show.

So I do what I always do when thinking about a new design. I try to let my mind wander and also to listen to dreams, whether they be in the daytime or night. I have been fascinated in the last year or so by the ring motif and have found a really cool source for rings in the metalworking company that hosts the blacksmith I work with. They have a lot of scrap steel tube that goes into the recycling bin and we have been salvaging pieces of it and using cut off sections to create forms.

The circle motif was probably introduced most forcibly into my head by studying the designs of Jacques Emile Ruhlmann. So much of the furniture design I have learned has been through admiring the talents and ideas of this French man of the Art Deco period. He inlaid amboyna burl with ivory as in this example pictured below. The craftmanship is outstanding, and the effect is mind-blowing. But the power is from the interlocking and random seeming arrangement, and this is the feeling I wanted to capture.

This cabinet is not my favorite Ruhlmann piece, however the inlay is a style that he used in/on several different configurations. In my mind, he is capturing some of the naturalistic flavor of the Art Nouveau and injecting it subtly into his more modern conception of furniture.

What I hoped to accomplish in bringing some of my dream to bear with the circle motif, is the idea of this very heavy stone top somehow levitating over the floor. I wanted to create some life and a sense of lightness. This design for a dining table is a first in another sense too. I am creating the base in my shop in Ohio, and Doug's Company is shipping the stone top to New York directly. I will ship the base there and the two parts will be joined for the first time at the show. There is no chance for correction at that point. We have tested the stability of our base with mocked up tops in the shop. The stone is going to weigh over 300 lbs. We had better got it right.

All of the wood structure on the top of the two pedestals is designed to interlock with the stone top and connect the two pedestals together. There are four bolts on each pedestal welded to the inside of the iron rings and protruding down through the bases to nuts and washers on the underside. The top of the ring assembly has brackets which are drilled for bolts to attach into the inside of the wood columns with t-nuts installed in hidden plywood inserts that fill the column inside. The base is 20" square and all the wood has been mitered to meet seamlessly.

A single pedestal side table with a round top is coming.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Making it into the Times Home section

We were featured in today's New York Times Home section for our collaborative work with Green River Stone to create tables with fossil stone tops. Please see the full article here.

Some background:

The Times contacted us to do the story last week. We were so pleased and realize there is some luck in getting selected. After interviewing me over the phone from my shop for quite a long time, they sent a photographer to do a "portrait". I brought my Labrador retriever Gus to the shop with me last Sunday and met the Times photograper David Maxwell. David did a nice job and took countless photographs. Most of them involved trying to get Gus to pose with me or walk alongside me as we strolled through the shop to I guess look "natural". If you have ever photographed animals or children you know how difficult it is to get cooperation when you want it! I guess the Times photo editor nixed the Gus shots because they didn't make it into the paper. But I will be in touch with Mr. Maxwell and hopefully we can post some of them here soon. In the meantime, it has been cool to get contacted by many people across the country who know me who happened to open up the paper today and see someone that they know.

Doug Miller of Green River Stone and I met at the first anniversary party of the Filsinger Chicago Showroom where we both show about a year or so ago. We immediately started to talk about the idea of collaborating on some tables that would involve my designed wood bases and his stone tops. At the High Point Market this past October, Doug joined me in my Interhall showroom. We debuted the first two side table collaborations there and some of Green River's wall panels were installed as decorative accessories. Through asking questions of Doug about the process of quarrying the stone and preparing the fossils and viewing a video that documents the work, I developed a feel for their amazing product's fabrication.

The fossils are authenticated and certified by geologists and come with a certificate. These are the fossilized remains of animals and plants that existed in or near a lake 50 million years ago. (In the Times article the author caught me by surprise by asking about human fossils! There were no humans or hominids in North America until about 20,000 years ago.) Over time the lake dried up and was covered with many layers and layers of sediment and earth and compressed by the huge weight into limestone. Green River owns about 11 acres of this prehistoric lake. They quarry the stone during the warm weather months and transport the slabs back to their workshop in Utah. There the fossils are carefully excavated using surface evidence that has "telegraphed" through to the top layer in order to know where to cut in. The fossil is actually harder than the surrounding stone. The workers clean the fossil, but leave it in its identical state and color.

The stones themselves can be honed smooth or left naturally rough. The stone can be treated like any non-sealed granite counter top.

Strauss Furniture is building a dining table base for one of the large fossil stone pieces that Green River has quarried and will show in the Architectural Digest show this March 18-21, 2010 at Pier 94 in New York City.

We can build a custom buffet or console with a fossil stone top for you and would be happy to discuss any idea that you may have to utilize this historic, natural and conversation starting product. Please contact us at: or by calling (330) 456-0300