Pearwood and Steel Create a 'Vanity Fair'

A lady's dressing table proved "the fairest of them all" in the 1998 Design Portfolio Awards Competition, Specialty Products category. The vanity was fabricated by J.F.V. Designs Inc. in Orlando, FL.

By Beverly Dunne

What started as a sketch on a paper napkin earned top honors in the Specialty Products category of the 1998 Design Portfolio Awards. The piece, a lady's dressing table, was created by J.F.V. Designs of Orlando, FL. As a company that specializes in the fabrication of custom furniture pieces working with architects and designers, the shop is used to receiving "napkin drawings" to work from said owner Jeffrey F. Vaida. From these rough sketches J.F.V. manufactures prototypes and other "one ofs" for its customers.

Based on the preliminary drawings of architect Albert Ho, the shop spent three months developing the award-winning vanity. Much of that time was spent configuring the curved panels on the piece. For the base of the vanity top and the curved side panel, the shop laid up multiple plies of bending plywood. For the lid, however, a tighter radius was required. After several attempts using Kerfcore, the specified radius was achieved, Vaida said.

After the curved pieces were laid up with pearwood veneer, they were formed in a vacuum press against particleboard molds to ensure their shape. Vaida added that he used Titebond II adhesive for the vacuum forming because it poses no problems with bleed-through and is forgiving.

Pearwood was selected because its "pinky-peachy" color matched the architect's specifications, Vaida said. J.F.V. strives to match a desired color using the natural state of veneer rather than a stain. "Stain hides the character of wood. Instead of using maple stained to look like cherry, use cherry," Vaida added. The veneer on the project, supplied by Certainly Wood, is flat cut, center book-matched and balanced. It was finished with a catalyzed lacquer to enhance natural orange hues of the wood.

The warm wood contrasts nicely with the cold steel frame, also fabricated by J.F.V. Designs. The frame was welded from 3/4-inch solid square steel bars. "As a custom furniture shop we specialize in metal and plastic as well as woodworking," Vaida added. He credits this versatility to his background as manufacturing engineer at Inner Metro Industries (manufacturer of Metro Shelving, the "industry standard for wire shelving") and as prototype/design assistant at Knoll.

The shop also developed the unique cabinetry on the piece. Concealed inside the curved side panel are four drawers that pivot out -- no small design feat, Vaida added. There is also a compartment hidden in the back for jewelry. Overall there are 11 "cubbyholes" in the piece, Vaida said. "Even in the photographs, you can't see half of its special features." Drawers are made of Baltic birch and feature Accuride drawer slides and Hafele pulls. The flap stay for the lid is from Sugatsune.

Vaida founded J.F.V. five years ago when he noticed a need for high-end custom work in the Orlando, FL, area. He initially focused on veneer vacuum pressing. Offering this specialty brought the shop custom furniture work from architects and designers, he said. Today, 90 percent of the company's business is contract furniture.

Annual sales for the company are estimated at $300,000 and are expected to reach $375,000 next year. "We're experiencing a big growth spurt, but can only expand so much as we are limited by space," he said. Adding on to its 1,800-square-foot shop would be difficult as commercial real estate is hard to come by in the area. To accommodate the increased workload Vaida has hired an assistant to handle the office work and another employee to help in the shop.

Its veneering capability has also awarded the shop high-profile residential projects such as the Chapman Root II House in Ormand Beach, FL. (For additional information on the Root House, turn to page 48 of the Honorable Mention listings.) Having collaborated with Ho on the Root House, J.F.V. was aware of how much work would be involved in the fabrication of the vanity.

"While the lady's dressing table was a small piece, its tolerances and specifications were as demanding as any architectural project designed by Ho," Vaida said.

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