Chasing the Byrdcliffe Iris Desk


It started innocently enough. A couple of readers on my blog suggested that I teach a class on building the Byrdcliffe linen press, a project I built for the cover of another magazine in 2006. That large cabinet, with carved and colored sassafras leaves on the doors and green-stained quartersawn white oak was one of my all time favorite furniture reproduction projects. But I recognized that it would be too much to tackle in a week-long class.

Almost immediately I thought of the Iris desk, another Byrdcliffe piece that is similar in many ways to the linen press, but considerably smaller and with simpler carving. Like the linen press, the desk is stained green and the carved panels are colored. Unlike the larger piece, the desk is made of cherry. I went on line and to research the desk, and made the discovery that the Winterthur Museum has many original drawings from the Byrdcliffe colony.

In the world of American Arts & Crafts furniture, the output of the Byrdcliffe colony was but a spark. The cabinetmaking shop was in operation for less than two years and only produced about 50 pieces of furniture. What sets these pieces apart is that they were a collaborative effort of the artists in residence at the colony and the craftsmen in the cabinet shop. Adding artistic decoration to furniture is difficult to do well, but the Byrdcliffe designs do it in grand style, a wonderful blend of good proportions and subdued decoration. This small group contains some of the most interesting and captivating designs of the period.

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10 thoughts on “Chasing the Byrdcliffe Iris Desk

  1. Great article. I love the linen press you built, and have wanted to build it myself. This desk will go on the list too. I like the green color, but over cherry? Wow.

  2. Very nice! I enjoy reading this, but as a hobbyist, I’ll just sit back and admire !

  3. Not really on topic but, this is the first time I’ve seen a photo of you not from the front. Great head of hair you’ve got. What a fun & interesting opportunity you had there!

  4. A few months back I bought your book, “Classic Arts and Crafts Furniture.” The illustration of the Byrdcliffe Linen Press blew my socks off. I am not sure if it was the overall design (doors and drawers), the green color, or the sassafras panels. But I just found it very beautiful. As a test of my taste, I put a paperclip on each of the full page pictures of the 14 different designs in the book; then I handed the book to various friends and relatives and asked them to look at all the designs and pick their favorite. Not a single one picked the linen press. What a bunch of philistines! Anyhow, that press is on my to-do list about one year down the road.

    One nit to pick: the link to the PDF of the sassafras panels in the book actually takes you to the line drawing of the iris in the desk. Maybe you could give us the correct link, please.

    Thanks, Good Luck on the new venture.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. As far as the link goes, I have no idea how or why it changed (it was correct a year and a half ago when the book was published), and because I’m “no longer with the company”, I can’t get it fixed. I believe I have the PDFs of the panels, and if I do I’ll post them here.

      Bob Lang

      1. Hi Bob,

        I just happen to have the CAD files and PDFs of the panels. If you’d like to have them, they’re all yours.

        Best of luck with your new venture!

        -John Hutchinson

  5. Bob,Looking forward to your build,carving and finishing of this piece.What a great selection for this new publication.With your abilities as a presenter, how can this publication do anything but soar to great heights!

  6. Wow, what a cool opportunity to get so close to that desk. I’ve always loved the Byrdcliffe designs, your linen press was awesome, and I really look forward to seeing this project. I even made a couple of those iris panels several years ago when I was learning to carve, thinking I’d some day do it for real for a buffet or cabinet for our dining room.

  7. I’ve read this article over and over. I’ve printed the pictures as well. I don’t know what the attraction is, but I REALLY like this piece. When I read “Next up is an article about using SketchUp to create a working set of plans. I’ll be importing original drawings and photos and comparing those to my notes and measurements taken from the original desk.” – does that mean you’ll be sharing those plans or at least the measurements?

  8. Eventually we will be publishing a full set of plans along with an article where I build a reproduction of the desk. That will happen over the next couple of issues of 360 WoodWorking. If you’re a subscriber there will be a lot of information.

    I will also be teaching a class on carving and coloring the panels next August at Marc Adams School of Woodworking in Indiana.

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