Maple Music Cabinet

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Maple Music Cabinet:
Carolin Reichert describes the creative use of Valchromat in her bespoke music cabinet.

Carolin Reichert describes the creative use of Valchromat in her bespoke music cabinet

I entered the competition for the Richard Seager Annual Award just before my graduation from the Building Crafts College. In doing so I wanted to challenge myself to design and build a piece to a real brief and
to get the experience of working on my first commission outside the college environment. My design was selected and I was able to realise my idea for the Richard Seager music cabinet in the months to come. I was able to explore new techniques and processes and greatly benefitted from gaining extra experience so early in my designing and making career.
The brief was to design a music cabinet that could house a vast collection of rare music scores. Learning about the award and the future owner of the cabinet, I set out to design a personal piece that would provide safe storage while embodying history in its own right. The main feature of the cabinet would be the exterior, showcasing and celebrating Richard Seager’s love for music as a collector, performer and composer. The cabinet, in its shape akin to a credenza, has been constructed from a range of materials: solid American maple (Acer macrophyllum), maple veneer, plywood and red Valchromat. It houses a vertical storage system on its left half. On the right-hand side there is another small section of the same vertical system with five drawers. The choice of maple was very much in line with the idea of creating a meaningful and personal piece, as the future owner is a passionate cellist and maple is the material used to make these instruments. The carcass is made from solid American maple, the shelves and load-bearing partitions are maple-lipped plywood, the drawers again from maple with plywood bottoms and the vertical storage system was created from red Valchromat. The Valchromat became a prominent material to realise the exterior pattern and literal red thread throughout the cabinet design.

Maple-veneered Valchromat as a design tool
I set out to design a very personal piece as I felt it suited the award and commission. The starting point for the design of the cabinet was a music piece that Richard Seager composed for his wife. Both being passionate musicians, I wanted to find a way to incorporate his piece in the design and in that way celebrate their life together. The exterior pattern that runs over the full front of the cabinet is inspired by the work of the English composer, Cornelius Cardew. In the 1960s Cardew created music scores very different to conventional music notations using lines, symbols and various geometric or abstract shapes and it was down to the musician to interpret the piece when playing it. Through the Cornelius Cardew Trust I was able to work with composer and artist, Talia Morey, who translated Mr Seager’s piece into a beautiful graphical score.
I considered different options for using this drawing on the piece, in the end I decided to use Valchromat as the material to work with. Valchromat, an engineered wood fibre board, offers a range of advantages to regular MDF. It has greater internal cohesion and mechanical strength, greater resistance to bending, allows a very good sanding finish and takes beautifully to regularly available oil finishes such as Osmo. Apart from its workability and machining qualities, the available range of colours was a great option for me to introduce an extra vivid colour in my design without having to use more time-consuming and expensive alternatives.
I cut the door Valchromat panels to size and biscuit jointed a solid maple lipping onto all four edges of each panel. I then used 0.7mm pre-cut straight grain maple veneer to cover the red panels including the lipping on both faces of the boards. Once successfully veneered, the panels were further machined on a CNC, making use of a CAD drawing of Talia Morey’s original hand drawing. With the CNC machining the main concern was the break-out. The CNC workshop advised me to use a V-cutter in order to minimise break-out and test cuts were run where all of the surface was covered with low-tack masking tape, which the cutter would cut through. In the end covering the panels with tape wasn’t necessary because the cutter is new. Furthermore, the maple seems to lend itself much better for this process in comparison to oak veneer. Using the veneered surface with a contrasting material and colour underneath added an additional element to the design, the tactility and depth works well when exploring the piece.

Musical score by Cornelius Cardew

Detail of the musical score pattern on the cabinet

CNC machining

Creating a flexible storage system
As in every piece of furniture, form and function need to come together and the key part of the brief was the aspect of storage for a vast collection of music scores, some of them rather valuable. The piece needed to be able to house nearly 2.5m linear metres, with the option for the collection to grow. I designed a vertical slotting system that would give a maximum storage option and, equally important, the complete flexibility to change the width of the compartments in time, as the collection is likely to expand and different musical genres would have to be kept separate.
Using Valchromat for the detailed highlights on the outside, I wanted to continue the red thread inside the cabinet within my design. I decided to create the slotting boxes from the same material. Getting the grooves to perfectly line up when assembled was the main challenge. I decided to rout them as pairs to ensure perfect alignment, using a jig that had a fixed fence to run the handheld router along and stops either end to lock the panels in place and replaced the need for clamping it to the bench. The distance between each groove was the same, which simplified the process of setting up.
I chose 12mm ply sections for the actual partitions. These would not be load bearing, but do need to be stable in terms of wood movement to ensure one can take them out easily. A circular finger pull towards
the front edge with rounded edges accommodates the comfortable removal and placement of each partition.

Routing the grooves

The red Valchromat continues on the inside

The vertical slotting system allows the storage to be flexible

Fixing problems
Deciding on the right fixings for the cabinet was a real challenge. Following the nature of the design, I initially intended to use knife hinges and wooden runners, to ensure they would have the least visual impact possible. However, due to the weight of the doors and the amount of weight the drawers would have to carry, I had to revise this plan and look into fixings that usually would be used for less bespoke furniture pieces. In the end I chose hinges generally used for fitted wardrobes and kitchens by the brand Grass (Tiomos 95 degree full overlay) and concealed drawer runners by Blum. Introducing these different hinges meant I had to redesign most of the interior structure. Still new to all these aspects of making, it was a good experience for me – I know now that one has to consider the fixings much earlier in the design stage.
Using the Grass hinges came with two main issues. On the centre section where two doors would have their pivot point, I had to have two partitions to allow one door on either side to be attached to, which in the end could be used for added strength to the carcass and as support for the load to be carried. The implications for the runners on the right side of the cabinet meant that I had to double up the side panels in order for the hinges not to get in the way and allow the drawers to open.
Looking beyond the rather industrial look of the hinges and runners, which are an unlikely choice for a bespoke piece of furniture, they come at the same time with advantages that were very helpful for this design. Both hinges and runners have a lot of options for adjustment. Especially in the case of the hinges the possibility to do fine height adjustments allowed me to succeed with the main objective for the door pattern, which was being able to achieve a seamless image running over the full front of the cabinet.

The choice of hinges meant a redesign

The hinges and runners have an industrial look but have advantages too

Continuing a visual language throughout the piece
Designing such a personal and bespoke piece was very rewarding and it gave me a lot of freedom to incorporate details that make the piece even more interesting and add a playfulness to it. I decided to continue the theme of abstract geometric shapes that are the main feature on the front of the cabinet in other aspects of the piece. In the end I chose to repeat the circle shape within different aspects of the cabinet. I designed cylindrical door handles, made from solid maple that faded into the general exterior and wouldn’t disturb the overall design and at the same time add to the theme of music and music notations.
For the finger pulls of the ply partitions I used 22mm diameter circular cutouts with rounded over edges. The drawers are rather wide at 670mm, which enabled me to create compartments to maximise the storage space.
As partition, I included two-part separation that would make it much easier to pick music scores out of the drawer. The drawer handles are half circles, adding up to a full circle with the drawer neighbouring. Such details not only complete a piece and show that the maker has given it a lot of thought and care, but also bring the different components together as a harmonious unit.

The circular patterns are repeated throughout the cabinet

A half-circle shaped drawer handle

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