His ornate woodworking was also a part of the Arts and Crafts style
Charles Rohlfs is not a household name or one that immediately comes to mind, like Charles and Henry Greene, when speaking about the Arts and Crafts style. However, Rohlfs was a gifted and eclectic designer and woodworker who began his career as a stove designer. As early as 1888, he began designing and building furniture for his family.
He was a multi-faceted fellow (who was also an actor and patternmaker) whose work influenced the Greene brothers and Gustav Stickley. Although he tried his hand at many a craft, he’s best known for his furniture making. His work was individual, eccentric and extremely labor intensive, even more so than the Greenes’ work.
The eclectic marks Rohlfs’ work
Charles Rohlfs had a very embellished, decorative style (again, not what you think of first when it comes to Arts and Crafts) with details he picked up from his days as a stove designer.
His signature mark included detailing the inside faces of chair legs or the back panels of cabinets. These surfaces would not ordinarily be seen in everyday furniture, but would mark a well-designed and -finished stove.
Other telltale signs of his work that show up in almost all of his pieces:
- Decorative cutouts or fretwork
- Furniture pegs with faceted ends (which was uncommon at the time)
- Quarter-sawn white oak
Rohlfs’ highly handmade work is considered Arts and Crafts and influenced Gustav Stickley who simplified the designs making them suitable for mass production. The Greenes
were also influenced by Rohlfs in their early work, such as the Robinson House. This is the project where the brothers picked bits and pieces with a design that was at the extreme end of the Rohlfs’ style, but after consulting with the clients, we decided on a design that looked simple but still incorporated key elements of Rohlfs’ design:
- Decorative fretwork and cutouts
- Keyed through-tenons
- Faceted pegs
- A finish reproduced from an original Charles Rohlfs piece in the owners’ collection
This was a wonderfully challenging project, and it was quite enjoyable working with clients who sought a completely one-of-a-kind piece, influenced by a highly regarded, yet not-so-common craftsman.
The piece was featured in Style 1900, Fall 2012 edition; Lindeman House, Los Angeles, California.
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