Utilitarian is not Brutalist

One of the things you pick up on when you do research into historical furniture is that there are a few different veins running through the body of extant pieces.  High style has always been flashy and outside the reach of all but a very few.  Then there are the provincial pieces that are a local craftsman trying to replicate a high style form.  Then you have “country” pieces that are attempts to gussy up a plain form.  And then you have crude, makeshift pieces that are just trying to make a place to sit that isn’t a stump.

Somewhere between these last two is utilitarian furniture.  It usually displays a high degree of artisanal competence, and the finish (though it may be simple) will be excellent.  It was created to fill a need, and usually exhibits a lack of overt ornamentation, though the proportions are well scaled.  The most notable examples are the pieces produced for the Shakers, with their clean and restrained lines.

But mention utilitarian furniture and people seem to picture a piece of plywood nailed on to a couple of 2×4’s.  The perception is that “utilitarian” means the furniture equivalent of Brutalist architecture.  All those giant concrete slabs of a building that hunker down and glower over the landscape?  That’s Brutalist.

Done right, however, utilitarian furniture means something different.  It simply means that ornamentation doesn’t factor into the design over utility.  This is furniture that is meant to be used, not show off wealth.  Typically, it was built to be economical.  Labelling something as “economy” usually means “slipshod” these days, but it doesn’t have to be so.  In fact, some little bits of ornament usually figure in.  A little bead around drawer edges or a bullnose moulding around a cornice would be examples.  Utilitarian does not have to mean graceless.

I bring this up because this project reminded me of it.  When all the joints were complete and put together, the base was certainly sturdy, but it seemed a little clunky to me.


So, I decided to add a little bit of a chamfer on the ends.  This will also keep the square edges from splintering.  I cut out the bulk of the angles with my Disston hybrid saw.


Then I planed everything smooth and to size.  This little bit of work only took a few minutes, and really de-clunkifies the rack.  Tomorrow we’ll finish everything up.