CWB May 2000

 

Classic Wood Furniture Mixes Well with a Little Heavy Metal

A combination of copper-based finishes and exotic wood veneers gives Scott Grove's art furniture a unique look.

By Sam Gazdziak

 

In describing Scott Grove's work, a logical starting point is the finish. The Rochester, NY, artist/designer's pieces are eye-catching, almost metallic-looking multi-hued furniture. Some have flashes of purple, yellow, orange and more, while others are a darker brown that resembles aged bronze or even leather.

As Grove himself says, his finishes tend to draw people in when they see his work. "I want my finishes to be tactile," he says. "There is a sense of curiosity, where it draws you in and you have to touch it. When I do shows, and this may be a bold statement, but I would say that my pieces are touched more than anything else."

Grove's line of art furniture, called Contemporary Classics, includes tables, dressers, cabinets and other casework. One of the characteristics that makes his work stand out is a polychrome finish, which makes some people think that the furniture is made of metal and not wood. They are partly correct; the furniture is wood, but the finish includes a base coat of copper.

 

Customers can choose from any pieces on Grove's catalog (in this case, a Donna storage cabinet). From there, they can customize it by choosing the number of doors and drawers, the texture/finish and the veneer to be used.

The furniture is about much more than an interesting finish, however. The surface is often gouged, carved and figured. And the texture and finish is then complemented with exotic veneers.

Polychrome finishes came about as a result of evolution, Grove says. He and the four full-time employees at his company, Concept Grove Inc., are constantly experimenting with new colors, pigments and chemicals.

The basecoat of his polychrome finish has powdered copper mixed with the lacquer or conversion varnish. When color is applied, it is layered and lapped over. Grove says that when teaching his process to workers, "First I say GÇÿgo random,' and then they start making the random too consistent. So it's got to be inconsistent randomness." Colors are applied with the most technical of applicators: a paper towel, wrinkled just right.

Solvents are used to blend the layers, and a conversion varnish seals the piece. The end result is a finish that is not only striking, but is also resistant to water, alcohol and household detergents.

The unique look and maintainability of Grove's finishes has enabled him to do commercial projects, like reception desks and residential cabinetry. One of his latest projects was a 60-foot wall sculpture combining the Rochester skyline with a baseball theme for Frontier Field, the stadium for the minor-league Redwings.

The polychrome finish offers a great deal of depth, which appeals to Grove. As an artist, Grove says he likes artwork that has multiple levels at multiple viewing distances.

"At a distance the overall form is pleasing," he says of his work. "Then you start seeing the texture/finish, and it draws you in. Once you get closer, you see another layer or level of the piece that you can't see from afar. If you just took a section of the finish itself, it becomes more and more fascinating, because there's depth to it." He adds that he has experimented with synthetic pigments, but copper is the only one that gives the furniture the richness and natural glow he wants.

The highly figured wood also plays a role in the depth of a finished piece. Most of the casework is constructed from 1-inch-thick MDF board. When the case has been put together, the craftsmen carve into the surface, depending on the texture that will be used. Routers, grinding spurs, chisels and more are used to achieve the desired texture, whether it be scratches, horizontal and/or vertical notches or fish-scale-type grooves.

Each texture has a certain finish assigned to it, although the finishes may be tweaked to meet a client's liking. On one kitchen that Concept Grove recently worked on, the finish was made to harmonize with the granite counter.

 

Grove's Amazon texture/finish is one of the most popular of his polychrome finishes. In this case, it has been used on a "Jane" buffet table with a lacewood veneer.

Grove has about a dozen standard polychrome finishes/textures. The "rub" finish is monochromatic and has no carving, while the "Amazon," the most popular, has about seven colors and moderate carving. The "VanGogh" finish is the most ornate, with undulating swirls and a purple shade.

Grove says he gets many of his ideas from nature, something that is exhibited by his "ingot" texture/finish. The surface is gouged and scratched. "I wanted to go with a theme, like you found this relic in your backyard, and you dug it up, sliced it in half and polished it, sort of like a geode," he says.

Grove's appreciation of nature continues with the veneers he uses in his pieces. The doors of his casework come in practically every veneer imaginable, from bird's-eye maple, lacewood and satinwood to redwood burl, bubinga and pommele sapele. Grove also includes the sapwood as a design element in some pieces. He gets most of his veneers from Certainly Wood which, like Concept Grove, is located in western New York.

In spite of several different finishes and a wide variety of veneers from which to choose, customers can specify their custom furniture with relative ease. When Grove meets with a client, he shows them a copy of his catalog and a box of veneer samples. All his finish/texture styles are in the catalog, so the client simply has to pick a design, texture/finish, and a veneer that best complements it.

The furniture is easily customizable to the clients' tastes. Grove's furniture is based on the 32mm system, so pieces are quickly produced and then made unique by the carving and the finishing. "I like to have the flexibility for the client," he says. "It's the best of both worlds, where you have the production of a 32mm system, but every piece is one-of-a-kind." Customers can also choose any combination of doors and drawers on their cabinets and dressers. Using the 32mm system, Grove says he can make and install a door or a drawer in a matter of minutes. He uses Blum undermount slides with the drawers.

Furniture parts are cut on an SCMI Hydro 10-foot sliding panel saw that is equipped with a Proscale digital readout for increased accuracy. A Ritter R46 double-row system drill does all the 32mm drilling. and a Grass Ecopress machine is used for hinge boring. Veneers are pressed in a Vacu-Systems bag.

Grove prices his pieces using a multi-step computer program that he developed in Quickbooks Pro. For example, if a client wants a "Donna" storage cabinet (Grove names many of his pieces after friends, clients or employees), he enters in the square footage of Donna. He then adds in a price for each door or drawer the customer wants as well as a square-foot multiplier for the texture, finish and veneer being used. At the end of the calculation, he is left with a very accurate estimate for the custom pieces.

Because Grove has been able to combine production methods with his art furniture, prices for his pieces are affordable to more people. While most pieces range from $1,000 to $3,000, an end table costs only $125 (although the texture/finish and veneer choices can increase the price). Grove came up with the end tables for people who want his work but can not afford or do not have a place for the larger pieces.

Last year, Concept Grove had about $500,000 in sales. With increased visibility, that figure should rise in the future. Some of his pieces are displayed at galleries in Philadelphia, PA, and Chicago, and he is looking to get his work exhibited elsewhere.

 

Grove, shown here with a "Jed" storage cabinet, says he likes including the sapwood of a veneer as a design element. The veneer for this piece is a redwood burl with an "Amazon" texture/finish.

Grove also appeared last October on the Home & Garden channel's (HGTV) "The Furniture Show," along with other furniture designers. The show's producer told him to expect anywhere from 500 to 3,000 phone calls when reruns of the show start airing.

In anticipation of that, Grove put out a catalog that displays his finishes as well as his finished products. He also uses his Web site, www.scottgrove.com, as a marketing tool, as potential clients are able to see his portfolio online. Grove's pieces have generated inquiries from as far as England and Turkey.

The artistic nature of his work has not kept him from making sure the pieces are, above all, practical furniture. He considers the UPS girth standard when designing small and mid-size pieces, and all textured tops are sanded to make sure a glass won't tip over if placed on them.

"The reason I went into art furniture is because most people have room on their walls for art, but they are not going to buy a sculpture and put it in the center of their living room," he says. "By going with art furniture, they have something that looks good and also is functional."

 

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