Residential Furniture

Detailed Curves Bring the Past to Life

An 18th-century design wins in the residential furniture category.


The Design Portfolio Award winner for residential furniture represented an opportunity for Kinloch Woodworking to bring a piece of a museum home.

The Philadelphia rococo highboy is a recreation of one the client saw in an exhibit at Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, DE. Four antique highboys were on display together at the exhibit. Two of them are especially well-known, and shop foreman Kevin Arnold says that the status of an item can sway the opinion of furniture experts more than its actual quality. “The piece our customer wanted to reproduce had been overshadowed by its more famous brothers,� Arnold says. “But in her innocence, the client probably picked out the best design.�

Kinloch Woodworking replicated an 18th Century rococo highboy for a client who saw it in a museum exhibit. The lowboy is an original piece, designed in the same style for use in conjunction with the highboy.

The client’s choice was a Stevenson/Phillips design built between 1765 and 1785. Because the museum wouldn’t allow measurements of the original, drawing the plans proved to be one of the most significant challenges. The company built the piece from a series of pictures. “We had the overall height and width and scaled the other dimensions from the photographs,� Arnold explains.

Kinloch built the matching lowboy as a companion piece; it is an original design, but is intended to be historically accurate. The original no longer has a matching lowboy, but Arnold says it almost certainly did when it was built. Kinloch built the lowboy in the same style and with the same woods and techniques as the highboy.

Kinloch reproduced the pieces in North American walnut and tulip poplar. The wood choice is faithful to the original, although the first piece was unusual in that respect. “Work of that type was typically done in mahogany,� Arnold says. “It makes the original somewhat unique.�

Kinloch used mortise-and-tenon construction for the sides, back and blades on the base of the highboy and lowboy, as well as for the blades and runners on top of the highboy. The company dovetailed together the case sides, top and bottom, with through dovetails on the top and half-blind dovetails on the bottom. The joinery techniques are also historically accurate.

Equipment used in construction included a Yates 24-inch joiner, SCMI 20-inch planer, DeWalt 16-inch radial armsaw, Delta Unisaw table saw, SCMI T110 shaper and Timesavers 137HD sander.

Except for the brass work, which was handcast by the English foundry Suffolk Brass, Kinloch produced all of the ornate detail work as well. Arnold estimates that hand-carving on the piece took 300 hours, about a quarter of the total construction time.

Getting the curves right was key to the success of the piece. “In order for it to truly look like a period piece, you’ve got to understand how all the curves and lines work together,� Arnold says.

As an example, he points to the curves of the tympanum and how they support the pediment and the finials. “It’s easy to focus on one small section,� Arnold says, “which leads to having three beautifully done sections that don’t fit with each other.�

Getting it right involves “literally sitting and staring at the piece until you’ve got it etched in your mind,� he adds.

But the results are worth it. The client was overjoyed with the highboy and lowboy and put them in her bedroom. “It’s a piece she always wanted,� Arnold says, “and we were able to make her dream come true.�

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