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The Tale of the Tray

April 16, 2009

Niermann Week’s most popular designs often start with a historical object and then twist it around to make a 21st century object. A case in point is our Chinese Fret Coffee Table, whose starting point is a 19th century Japanese tray. For Christmas Joe gave me this beautiful but fragile wooden tray.


I loved the patina and the graphics so much that I asked him to make me a table base to properly display my tray. After several months, I got my wish and the table’s been in our living room ever since. These photos actually show it on our brick terrace, where the light was better than in the house.


After lots of visitors commented on my table, Joe decided to make a version for general residential and commercial use. He retained the overall dimensions, but decided that the finish had to be much simpler. Whereas I found intriguing the Japanese clan symbols on the tray, Joe thought they’d bee too fussy for other people. He decided to metamorphosize my Japanese beauty into a side table in the Chinese Chippendale style.

First, the table and tray had to be made sturdier, which meant construction in metal, not wood. It also meant that the table could not detach from the base. For the finish he replaced my weather-beaten browns and reds with a silverleaf finish in a blackened glaze. (If you’ve ever seen metal leaf before it’s glazed, you’d realize why it needs a glaze. It looks just like the shiny side of tinfoil.) And with great pride, we introduced our newest table, but people HATED the blackening on the silver leaf. So much for a new approach to silver.


Anyway John Saladino saved the day by suggesting the mecca finish, in which silver is glazed with warm tones to make it resemble gold. This technique dates from the 17th century. Since silver was and is less expensive than gold, the finish gives one an expensive-looking product at a reduced price. I also think gold often looks too bright, but mecca presents a more burnished look.

Joe ignored his advice for this table whose finish he changed to a shiny black with linear detailing in gold. He also changed the function of the table from an occasional table into a coffee table. From my tray, he kept the outer border of a running Chinese key pattern and repeated it on the tray top itself.


For our artists it is difficult to keep a straight line extending along the surface, so David is using guide tapes to help steady his hand.


The finished product looks so:


Here David is painting a custom Chinese red finish.


Another client who had seen my original table requested the Japanese clan motifs on their custom version. I loved this one.


Joe did remember John’s suggestion about the mecca silverleaf finish, which has gone onto many other products and become a major finish in our repertoire. The Folio Ceiling Fixture shows its warm patina really well.


Copyright 2009 Niermann Weeks Company. All rights reserved.

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