Finding Inspiration in Masterpieces — Musée Nissim de Camondo

Hap­py New Year from Heller and Heller Fur­ni­ture!

This is Part 1 of a 4 part series high­light­ing Dave’s recent study of some incred­i­ble works. Dave and Eliz­a­beth trav­eled to Nor­mandy in April, and while they were there Dave vis­it­ed 3 muse­ums in Paris look­ing for inspi­ra­tion from mas­ter­works. He was not dis­ap­point­ed! This series will detail Dave’s vis­its to the Musée Nis­sim de Camon­do, the Musée du Lou­vre, and the Musée des Arts Dec­o­rat­ifs, and what he intends to do with his new­found inspi­ra­tion.

Want to see more posts from Dave in real time?  Don’t for­get you can fol­low him on Insta­gram for some great behind-the-scenes looks!


I’ve been in busi­ness 6 years now, and am get­ting the hang of it. My inter­ests in more dec­o­ra­tive items seem to be sell­ing rea­son­ably well. The least unprof­itable items to make though are quick – the more hours in a piece, the low­er the hourly rate. That may be true, but to push my crafts­man­ship fur­ther up the curve I need a real­ly chal­leng­ing piece. I had seen a Ruhlmann piece in Rich­mond at the Vir­ginia Muse­um of Fine Arts that might qual­i­fy, but not well enough to get me excit­ed (it’s far from the view­ers and not well lit).

My love­ly bride was asked to go back to Nor­mandy for work in April, and I was able to tag along.  While there I spent three days in Paris for a fur­ni­ture study vis­it. I hoped to see some items in Paris that would inspire and inform my work. There is a lot of real­ly fine fur­ni­ture in Paris, and I only had three days includ­ing trav­el time. So, the Lou­vre, the Muse­um of Dec­o­ra­tive Arts, and the Musée Nis­sim de Camon­do were “all” I could fit in. As it turns out, any of these would be worth the trip. With all three, it was over­load, but in a good way.

First up: Musée Nissim de Camondo.


The Musée was named after the son of a 19th cen­tu­ry banker (Comte Moïse de Camon­do) who col­lect­ed house­hold effects from the roy­al courts in the 1750 to 1790 peri­od. He built a house appro­pri­ate for these items on Parc Mon­ceau in the 8ieme Arrondis­e­ment, and raised his fam­i­ly in that extra­or­di­nary space. His son Nis­sim was a French pilot in WWI, and was killed in action. The house was donat­ed to The Musée des Arts Dec­o­ratif upon the father’s death in hon­or of his son, and has been open to the pub­lic since 1935.


The fur­ni­ture at Musée N. de Camon­do was extra­or­di­nary.  The oth­er items — chi­na, sil­ver­ware, paint­ings — were prob­a­bly very nice also, but I was focused.  This amaz­ing fur­ni­ture was all in excel­lent con­di­tion.  Most of the pieces were Louis XVI, so very boxy with ornate geo­met­ric veneer pat­terns and lots of brass ormolu.


Since I real­ly like geo­met­ric pat­terns, I had expect­ed these would have been my favorites. How­ev­er, I was par­tic­u­lar­ly drawn to a Louis XV desk. It was made by Jean-Fran­cois Oeben, cab­i­net­mak­er to the King, in 1760.


This piece is very ornate, but stun­ning. The bal­ance of the piece is remark­able. Every edge is curved and faceted, then veneered. It is com­plete­ly over the top, as one would expect for French roy­al­ty.


As I looked at it, I decid­ed that I would make it. This will be a long-term project, since there are sev­er­al tech­niques that I will need to learn. The mar­quetry is com­plex but man­age­able.  How­ev­er, apply­ing this to a sur­face curv­ing in both dimen­sions is a new thing, espe­cial­ly if I use thick veneer, which is what the orig­i­nal has. The only flat sur­faces on the desk are the writ­ing sur­face and the top. The legs, front, sides and back are all curved. There are also facets on all of the sides of the frame, which is veneered in Tulip wood.  There are dyed burls and (Eng­lish) sycamore to source or make as well. So far the com­plex but rig­or­ous shape of the frame and the dou­ble-curved veneer are the main details that I need to resolve.


I had expect­ed that work­ing out the veneer pat­terns on all of the sur­faces would be very time con­sum­ing. I took many pho­tographs, but it was going to be dif­fi­cult.

In my library I have a three vol­ume set on Mar­quetry by Phillipe Ramond, for­mer head instruc­tor at the Ecole Boulle. The third book of the set has detailed draw­ings of a small set of élite pieces made in the 18th cen­tu­ry.  I looked, and there is my desk, on pages 36 to 41. Inter­est­ing­ly, the desk is also fea­tured in the oth­er French wood­work­ing text­book that I own, the “Traite d’Ebenisterie”, (Text­book on Fine Fur­ni­ture Mak­ing). I’m hop­ing that the leg pro­files at least are drawn. Since the text is tech­ni­cal French, I’m not sure. The draw­ings may be for a sim­i­lar but sim­pler table. I will make one and see.

This piece is so chal­leng­ing that it imme­di­ate­ly seemed wor­thy of being a long term goal.  I can make almost any fur­ni­ture, but this will real­ly be a test.  Since I like to make things that I can’t, it’s a good fit.
This blog will be a record of my strug­gles with this piece, both tech­ni­cal­ly and oth­er­wise.


Finding Inspiration in Masterpieces: Part II, the Louvre | Heller and Heller Custom Furniture - […] may won­der why we took a blog­ging hia­tus when I promised you a 4 part series, and the hon­est answer is that my son, prize grand­child Owen, learned to crawl. Now I have to […]

Finding Inspiration In Masterworks: Part IV, The Ruhlmann Cabinet D’Etat | Heller And Heller Custom Furniture - […] you missed any of the pre­vi­ous posts, you can catch them here: Part I, Part II, Part III. – […]

Project Update: Oeben Desk | Heller and Heller Custom Furniture - […] the Musee Nis­sim de Camon­do, which cel­e­brates fur­ni­ture of French roy­al­ty from 1740 – 1790, there is a desk by Jean-Fran­cios […]

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Wood Grain Direction | the Custom Furniture Design Process

Hel­lo fur­ni­ture fans, Jenn here! Dave is work­ing on a piece for a client right now and want­ed to share a lit­tle bit about the depth of the cus­tom design process.  Most of us under­stand that cus­tom fur­ni­ture will involve the client being able to choose the wood type, the fin­ish type, and the shape and func­tion of a cus­tom piece.  But it doesn’t stop there — some­thing as sim­ple as the grain direc­tion for a fea­ture pan­el can change the look and feel of a piece.  Take it away Dave!


These are the panels before finish is applied.

I am mak­ing a sim­ple frame and pan­el door set­up for a jew­el­ry cab­i­net. The style is Shak­er or maybe min­i­mal­ist Arts and Crafts. The design is very clean, and the star of the show is the wood for the pan­el doors. I had a real­ly sweet piece of curly cher­ry, so book­match­ing the pan­el seemed a sim­ple but attrac­tive design.

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book­match­ing: when pan­els are ori­ent­ed with the grain as a mir­ror image of each oth­er.  Imag­ine the open­ing and clos­ing of a book — when the pan­els are one board they face each oth­er, and when they are split into two up to the grain is mir­rored around the “spine”**

— —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  —  — —

The wood has been resawn and planed to thick­ness, then left to mel­low. Since the door frames are very thin, the pan­els need to want to be flat. If they curl the doors will twist. The pan­els behaved them­selves, so today they went into the cher­ry frames. Pic­ture one shows them in their frames, book­matched, before the appli­ca­tion of any fin­ish. Pret­ty nice.

When pos­si­ble, it’s good to fin­ish pan­els before putting them in their frames – that way if (or when) they shrink, the new­ly exposed wood is sure to be fin­ished. The fin­ish for this cab­i­net is poly­mer­ized tung oil which real­ly brings out the depth in cher­ry.

The book­matched pan­els with one coat of seal­er are shown in pic­ture two. Sor­ry for the glare. Looks great, yes?

cabinet door panels-3

Ah, but we have options. The down­side of book­match­ing is that the reflectance of the wood on the two pan­els is reversed, so the col­or of the two rarely looks the same. The Japan­ese solve this by slip-match­ing rather than book-match­ing. The two sequen­tial pieces have pret­ty much the same pat­tern, and have the same reflectance. That is pic­ture 3, and is gen­er­al­ly not my favorite. It looks bet­ter here than most times.

cabinet door panels-4

The last alter­na­tive is to slip-match but then rotate one pan­el 180 deg, which results in a pin­wheel approach. I real­ly like that here, but it cre­ates a move­ment to the piece that may not be to everyone’s indi­vid­ual taste.

cabinet door panels-5

This looks to me like a cus­tomer deci­sion point — part of the fun of order­ing cus­tom fur­ni­ture.

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Marquetry Demonstration this weekend — Artisans Studio Tour

lily of the valley cabinet diagonal view showing joinery

Have you ever won­dered how Dave makes all the veneered designs in his shop? Mar­quetry is a tra­di­tion­al tech­nique dat­ing back to the ear­ly 16th cen­tu­ry of using cut wood veneer to cre­ate a design, and it can be as sim­ple as a book­matched burl veneer applied to a pan­el, or as com­plex as thou­sands of indi­vid­u­al­ly sand-shad­ed pieces care­ful­ly assem­bled to form a work of art.

organizing then sand shading a marquetry picture-1

Dave will be giv­ing a demon­stra­tion of how he would assem­ble a flo­ral mar­quetry design as part of the Artisan’s Stu­dio Tour — plan to stop by around 10:30am or 4:pm on either day if you’re inter­est­ed in watch­ing!

organizing then sand shading a marquetry picture-7


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Artisans Studio Tour — November 7 and 8



Hel­lo! Jenn here, with a quick update to let you know that we are excit­ed to par­tic­i­pate an event this week­end — the Arti­sans Stu­dio Tour! This is our sec­ond year being a part of the tour, and we’re real­ly look­ing for­ward to show­ing you around the shop. Thanks in large part to your feed­back at the show last year, Dave has been hard at work prepar­ing some beau­ti­ful mar­quetry pieces for sale in addi­tion to his end-grain cut­ting boards, and as a bonus he’ll even be demon­strat­ing assem­bling a mar­quetry design.

heller and heller custom furniture shop

Meet the Makers

The stu­dio tour is a won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty to learn more about local crafts­peo­ple, and to get a real look into their stu­dio spaces!  Don’t wor­ry though, we did clean up a bit. If you’re inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about cus­tom fur­ni­ture or how Dave can cre­ate exact­ly the piece you’ve been think­ing about then he’d be more than hap­py to talk your ear off. At 10:30 and 4:00, unless the stu­dio is absolute­ly packed, he’ll also be doing a demon­stra­tion of how he cre­ates his mar­quetry pieces.

Join­ing us in the stu­dio this year is quilt artist Jane Hicks — you can read more about her free-flow­ing batik designs on the tour web­page, or vis­it her site for more infor­ma­tion.

carved raised trivets
end grain cutting boards

Shop the Studio

The shop is FULL of fin­ished chop­ping boards, serv­ing trays, mar­quetry pan­els and box­es, and tra­di­tion­al shak­er box­es!  There are plen­ty of new designs and sizes this year as well as old favorites, and we think there’s a lit­tle some­thing for every­one.

The stu­dio is open for the tour on both Sat­ur­day and Sun­day, Novem­ber 7th and 8th, from 10 to 5. You can catch Dave over on Insta­gram with sneak peeks of every­thing he’s been work­ing on, and get­ting ready for the show.

arts and crafts marquetry
marquetry morning glory boxes
nouveau iris marquetry

We hope to see you there!

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Almost ready to show it off

shop reflected in buffed out cabinet top
cabinet top

This cab­i­net is almost ready for show time! It has just been buffed out, and is look­ing pret­ty fine. Tomor­row the oth­er parts will get the same treat­ment. The draw­er fronts can then be attached to the draw­ers, then the draw­er inte­ri­ors get fit­ted out. Then it’s ready for a real pho­to shoot. This one is going to be a real look­er.

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