Thursday, February 16, 2017

Remodeling The Van: The Plan

Over the years I've built or modified a number of slide-ins, campers and/or vans. (I know, I know. What is wrong with me?!!) And in these small spaces there's not always much room to show off any styling or design elements, but in what little space there is, the cupboard doors and drawer-fronts do stand out so that's where I've tended to focus my efforts.

Maybe because I'm still trying to 'find' myself, maybe because I get bored easily, or maybe because I have the attention span of a gnat, whatever the reason, over those years I've used a whole range of styles for my doors and drawers.

I've done everything from crude plywood (Which I was too embarrassed to photograph.)

to cabin-in-the-woods with cane inserts, which I'm sure I photographed but can't seem to find any record of now.

But, even though it's going on 2 decades since then, I do still have a box of leftover cane tucked away on a high shelf because - well, you never know. . .

then there was beach-front rustic,

followed by understated refined, (With hand-made louvered vents)

and the current doors, whimsical contemporary with hand-made lattice inserts (The only way to get the proper scale, besides, in my perverse way they were fun to build, stick by sick - I mean stick. . .) painted to match the rugs.

But I've been looking at these latest doors for over 6 years now and that, in combination with the overwhelming urge to do a real shop-project this winter, (It's a sickness best not denied.) has driven me to yet another iteration of cupboard doors.

When casting around for a style for this new project it didn't take me long to zero in on the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 1800's early 1900's.  Basically Arts and Crafts came about in counterpoint to, or protest of, the industrial age and its soulless cookie-cutter mass production. The movement got it's start in architecture, most commonly of the private home, but quickly spread into furniture, built-ins and lamps as well.

On the furniture side, probably one of the more widely known variants of Arts and Crafts is Stickley. This is because, good or bad, right or wrong, Stickley was not at all adverse to taking his designs to the factory and churning them out at prodigious rates, despite the anti-industrial age leanings of the very movement which drove his design decisions. In fact Stickley furniture is still being factory built today under license.

Lesser known are the Greene brothers, or Greene and Greene style. They started as architects but soon branched into the world of furniture, built-ins and lamps as well. The reason they are not that well known today is that they insisted their pieces be hand built, most of them by the brothers Peter and John Hall. As a result, the number of authentic Greene and Greene furniture pieces number in the hundreds, not the tens of thousands-and-counting of the better known Stickley.

Just exactly what defines the Greene and Greene style is not an easy question to answer, but there are a few details that stand out and I've chosen to focus on four of them.

First, true to the Arts and Crafts movement, oak was predominant (Although here I'm actual getting a little off the Greene and Greene track since more of their work was built of mahogany or teak than oak, but hey, it's my project!) And in those days good straight-grained oak was the first choice, none of this cathedral-grained plain-sawn stuff. Figuring was also highly sought after for the more informal pieces.

Second, in 1904 Charles Greene visited an expo in St. Louis and came away with some significant Japanese influences, one being the cloud-lift, an example of which can be seen in the aprons of the table above. (Those steps or notches are cloud-lifts.)

Third is the use of ebony plugs and accents, also seen in the piece above.

And finally there's the use of decorative or accent elements. These could be organic such as in the glass panels of the lamp above, linear such as the thin lines or leads on the glass panels of the sconce to the left, or, if you want to get really fancy, a combination of the two such as in the chandelier below.

I chose to go with more linear accent elements in the hopes of retaining some sort of sanity. (At least that was the plan. . .)

If you look close at these light fixtures you see that each of them incorporates at least three of the four elements I've picked out to focus on.

Now all I had to do was retire to the drawing board and churn out my brilliant  design, or at least a design. . .

I don't claim that what I came up with is a good representation of Greene and Greene style because I'm no - well - Greene and Greene. Even if I did have the space inside The Van to play with it, understanding the brother's sensibility of proportion and weight and flow is far beyond my capabilities, but what I did come up with is definitely Greene and Greene inspired.

Now all I have to do is translate that from the drawing board to reality. . .


  1. This will be an interesting project to follow. Were the pictures of other vehicles all yours in the past?

    1. Yep, those photos at the top are all my creations, either from the ground up or at least remodeled inside. Not pictured are:

      The commercial pickup-topper with two-part, slide in playroom, including desk, chair and seatbelt for long trips with my young daughter on a 1979 Toyota PU.

      The slightly taller (So I could sit up straight on the bed/bench) home-built topper on the same Toyota with house battery, water system, bed and kitchenette.

      The refurbished Alaskan hard-sided popup on a brute of a 4WD Chevy.

      The home-built popup camper that could sleep 4 (Why I don't know since the only time I had even one additional person on board was when my sister spent a few days in Land Between The Lakes with me.) on a late 80's F150.

      The very old but lovingly rebuilt soft-sided popup/tilt out camper that first rode in the F150 then on the flat-bed deck of the Isuzu while I built The Turtle.

      Pictured are (in chronological order):

      The soft-sided hinged top camper, known as The Turtle, sitting on an Isuzu NPR that I could drive out from under like a pickup camper.

      The hard-sided popup, known as Stubby, on the same Isuzu, fixed in place this time and using the re-purposed corner-jacks from The Turtle to lift the top.

      My first Sportsmobile, known as The Ford, on an E350.

      My second, and current, Sportsmobile, known as The Van

      (I guess I just ran out of steam on creative names. . .)

  2. Following your work. Compared to you, I am a wood butcher. But, I know better than to butcher nice, and expensive material like you are using. I especially love the square pegs. What do you think of the square pulls on the cabinet viewed here -


    1. Don't let edited appearances fool you Clint, I have, and still do, butcher my share of wood, some of it more precious than gold! And that always hurts, but like I used to tell my team back when I was managing IT nerds and scientists, (OK, yes, I was one too back in the day. . .) if you're not making mistakes once in a while you're not trying hard enough.

      Those pulls are good stuff. perfect for mission style and yet still in the spirit of my project, but I went a different route on my pulls which I'll try to justify in a future post. . .