Decoratives – Boutonniere (2013)


As members of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, we were fortunate to be invited to a gala reception last November at the restaurant “Daniel” in New York City for the museum’s extremely popular “Design By Hand” public lecture series. The theme for the event was “Design Yourself.” I decided I had to create something that would promote our Dockwood Furniture concept of re-purposing “decayed” natural elements. The idea occurred to me of a boutonniere made from one of the Hearts-of-Whelk we’d been collecting from our beach, which, to me, look uncannily like half-opened calla lily blossoms. The shells of dead whelks are so fragile that their outer parts are broken away as they’re washed back and forth on the rocky shore, leaving the curving spirals of their inner parts, variously tinted in pale coral or purple hues. I took one of these, strung some colored glass beads from Sharynne’s bead collection on thin fuchsia-colored yarn, which I wrapped around the shell. Tying a button behind it made for a distinctive boutonniere for my navy double-breasted suit jacket. Most of the guests at the event sported custom-designed bits of jewelry or hats – “eye-candy” of the very best sort – but was mine the most original and distinctive? I think so.

– Dave Wilder


We depend upon nature to provide us with flotsam for the materials from which we craft our furniture. That boat docks and piers decay and suffer the ravages of weather is a given. What’s also inevitable with the sea and those who ply it is tragedy.

When the British artist James Clarke Hook painted “Catching a Mermaid” in 1883, who knows what thoughts he imagined in the minds of the siblings he shows trying to salvage the figurehead of a wrecked or sunken ship . . . flotsam! It’s clear that the older boy is determined to bring their “mermaid” ashore, and that his sister is holding back the youngest boy. But have they any sense of the horror signified by the figurehead’s presence on that rocky shore, looking so like a drowned woman? The innocence of youth may protect them, but for viewers of the painting the implication had to be clear: shipwrecks and resulting loss of life were all too common in those days. The painting’s title is all too ironic.


“Catching a Mermaid,” 1883, James Clarke Hook, RA (1819-1907), The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, UK

[Please click on the image to enlarge it.]

Note: For the definition of “flotsam,” please see our post of November 16, 2013.

“Mae West” Side Table (2001)


When we found an eight-foot-long solid mahogany companionway ladder washed up on our beach, we knew immediately it had come from the sadly sunken motor yacht we’d christened “The Mae West” after her owner, the great Hollywood star from the 1920s and 30s. We washed it with fresh water, and as it dried out we put some serious thought into how we could continue its use in the form of furniture. We can’t recall now which idea came first, but one fairly obvious one was to create a bookshelf, with the ladder’s steps as shelves. We saw that the top three steps, if supported by some pieces of teak paneling we’d already rescued from the vessel, would make a perfect fit for our collection of Patrick O’Brian books and ephemera.

But what could the remaining section do for us? Eventually it dawned on us that if we cut it in half, and put the two pieces on their sides, back-to-back, we’d have a small table, with an interestingly sectioned lower shelf. Meanwhile (this entire creative process developed over many months), a four-foot piece of gently curved solid teak deck railing which had broken free from the yacht during a storm washed up. We saw we could cut two pieces to create ends for the tabletop that would cover the sawn edges. What remained was a piece about eight inches long. In one of many serendipitous moments in our furniture-design process, we realized we could cut it into four two-inch blocks that made perfect feet for our table and gave a visual balance to the design.

“The Mae West” is gone forever, but her story lives on in these two pieces, and a few others we’ll be featuring in future posts.