Design Life column: It’s not just a table, it’s an adventure |

Design Life column: It’s not just a table, it’s an adventure

For me, designing a piece of furniture is not a task or a project. It’s a process, one that involves creative thinking plus equal parts research and inspiration. It should be a thoughtful creation that neatly fits into a larger scheme.

My assignment was a custom-made wooden dining room table that is part of a comprehensive home remodel that I have been working on for close to a year.

The home design is contemporary, with some earthy elements, so I want this new table to fit right in. It should sing with the new style, but not look like an outcrop.

The first step involves logistics. What are the seating requirements? How durable does it need to be? Even though this is a part-time residence, holidays will be spent there and the table needs to be hardy enough to withstand heavy use. So I decided to use materials and a design that are built to last.

Looking for inspiration

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Now comes the fun part, the actual design. My eyes must be wide open; I look at anything and everything for possible inspiration. I look out my window and see a crane, thinking about a scaffold design. I look around my office at pictures, vases, supplies — nothing is off limits. I look at fashion magazines and marvel how some clothing designers sculpt with form or volume.

I come across a picture of a 1930s lamp, and it’s fabulous. I will carry it around in my mind as I gather and reject ideas for several days.

Avoid choosing too soon

At this stage, the biggest pitfall would be to fall in love too soon. I can’t fall in love with an idea or a concept until I have fallen in love with hundreds of them. I try to avoid thinking in linear terms, preferring to bounce my thoughts around with no restrictions.

As my mind meanders, I remember how much I love decorative hardware. Could decorative hardware work on a table? I can’t see how.

Then again, it could work. I become fascinated with the idea of inserting glass panels into the table top. Wouldn’t it be great to see the rug below in an abstract design when sitting at the table?

The creative juices keep flowing. I want the table to have two bases. Each base will be 18 inches wide by 12 inches deep and open on two sides. When facing the head of the table, you can look into the base and see an abstract wood relief pattern. It’s kind of like viewing through a shadow box.

Creating a mock-up

The conceptual design is now complete and, using heavy duty construction paper, I mock up a section of the table. This allows me the opportunity to take a look at the design and fiddle with the proportions.

I draw a scaled sketch of the table and revise the mock-up. I decide on mahogany wood with a cerused finish.

Cerusing is a process in which a light colored pigment is rubbed into the wood to enhance the grain pattern. This adds an extra finishing touch and subtle pop that will enhance the table’s look and feel.

Bringing plans to life

Now it’s off to my furniture maker to turn this concept into reality.

As the furniture maker goes over the final details with me, we discuss the best way to engineer the piece. We don’t want the table to tip or wiggle. The next big decision is deciding if the table should be made of veneer or slabs of wood. We decide veneer is the best choice for the base because it has many curves. Veneer is a very thin, flexible layer of wood that is excellent for curved elements. Slab, however, provides durability so we’ll use it for the table top.

It’s a fun process, but also tense at times because a lot is riding on the decisions. In the end, though, I’m quite happy with the final design, and my clients will have the piece by Christmas.

I’m not sure who will be more excited, them or me.

Nancy Sanford, owner of Nancy Sanford Interior Design, is an award-winning interior designer who has been transforming residential and commercial spaces in the Vail Valley for 12 years. For more information, visit or email

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