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I Designed My Forever Coffee Table With Two Local Makers And This Is How It Turned Out

I knew that I needed a really big coffee table and while they do exist on the market, the ones that I loved were in the thousands. Then I figured that if I were going to spend a chunk of change I’d rather work with a local maker on something unique and special. Plus I really wanted to create some joy and form relationships through the process (and learn a lot so I can share). So today I’ll walk you through the 2-month process that I enjoyed every second of. (Oh, and check out that sofa:))

Our Living Room (A Few Months Ago)

Swivel Chairs (from opening photo) | Rug | Sectional | Leather Pouf (similar) | Leather Sofa | Rattan Ottoman | Sconces | Chandelier | Black Side Table

In case you need a visual reference this is an older version of our living room, before we finalized placement and got some new pieces. But you get the idea – it’s big and it’s a pass-through space so organic shapes (or ovals) lend themselves to this much more. Now I could have gone a few different ways, but really wanted a huge dark live-edge table for the following reasons:
1. Because it would be very grounding – the centerpiece on a big dining table as it were.
2. It’s an organic shape that is neither round nor rectangular (so it’s a great contrast/addition to both of those typical furniture shapes).
3. Because it’s a literal tree root it can’t be mass manufactured the same way other materials can – this shape will never exist in another table and while I’m not obsessed with having something custom just for the sake of exclusivity, I also didn’t want to customize something that would then just get easily knocked off. Yes, live edge coffee tables have existed for decades and I’m not inventing the concept, but I like that the shape, species, and the age of the tree is really in charge of the design which inherently means that it’s non-duplicatable.
4. I’ve decided that I never get sick of high-quality wood, anything. Because of that fact, I feel ok investing further into it. Yes, there are great affordable versions of them on the market and I love those, too. But this shape just checks a ton of boxes for me.
5. It’s my woo-woo belief that everything has energy and living things specifically have a soul. It’s why I went with reclaimed wood in the mountain house, and Zena wood flooring for this house. I want to make sure (when possible) that the wood that I bring into our house had a happy life as a tree and that the people who work on it (same with tile, which is why I love Pratt + Larson and Rejuvenation lighting) have happy lives, too. This one was old (and happy?) and fell in the ’70s in southern Oregon (so I was told). I wasn’t really interested in getting one from a “dealer” although honestly most trees in Oregon are pretty darn happy and have had good lives so I wasn’t concerned about that.

So I texted Purl, a local maker/artist in town who I love, and flagged it for him. I said, if you find a huge ideally reclaimed slab of wood, let me know – I’d be interested in a coffee table. After meeting Purl at the flea market last year I just knew that I wanted to collaborate with him somehow because his energy is incredible, playful, wildly creative/artistic and he is so prolific (I think he’s going to be a real art force, y’all). I feel incredibly grateful that at this point in my career, I can hire local makers and artists to do their thing to create works of art in our home.

A Few Weeks Later He Texted Me Photos:

He said the size was 46″ x 62″, reclaimed redwood that was clearly refinished in the 70s with the finish not in the best shape. It’s huge so it was probably a really old (and happy) tree. Part of me wanted to look for bigger, but with the deadline coming up I knew that this was probably big enough. So I asked Purl if he could refinish it to be less shiny/beat up and then make the hard edge more organic. He said absolutely and a week later sent through these photos.

Stripping, Sanding, Planing, And Shaping

SO BEAUTIFUL. He sanded and planed the wood and then softened that hard edge so that the whole table had a more organic shape. Yes. Yes. Yes. I didn’t need to see it at this point because I knew I wanted dark, rich wood. I sent him some reference photos of the stain color I wanted and he went for it.

First Coat Of Stain

first layer of stain – too blotchy, not dark enough, and a little orange

The first coat brought out all the movement in the grain and we loved it, but immediately said, “Go darker”! We were hoping (and fairly confident) that a few more coats would even it out and pull down the orange.

A Visit To The Studio

almost done, I wanted it one coat darker

Purl and other artists work out of Past Lives Makerspace which was incredibly inspiring to tour. We went to see it in person and make sure that we agreed on which side was “up” and talked through base ideas. Purl suggested his friend, local Blacksmith and fellow studio mate, Billy to help us design it. At this point, I knew that I could take a simpler/less expensive route and just do a big chunky cross wooden base, but when Purl suggested doing some custom iron blacksmithing work I got really excited to learn what that meant.

I treated this like a proper commission (which I’ve never done before) where I gave my needs/wants and initial ideas, but I really wanted them to have creative freedom and not just dictate the design. So in addition to the refinishing, I hired Purl to oversee the art direction of the base and ensure that it came together on time.

These were Purl’s initial design sketches for the legs. To the right, he’s pointing to sculptor, Alberto Giacometti for inspo. On the left were different leg iterations, the first one too structured, the third too simple, so we landed somewhere closer to the middle.

Here’s an awesome early sketch by Purl that ended up looking pretty close to the final product. We knew we wanted to keep the coffee table low to emphasize that “grounding” feeling. We landed on 13” legs to go with the 2” thick slab. 15” feels like just the right height for the space. As a tip – coffee tables can be much higher of course, but when they are huge they should be low (IMO).

These were different leg samples we looked at with Billy. We considered the diameter of the legs – too thick felt weird and clunky, and too skinny didn’t feel substantial enough. We also debated whether we wanted the base of the feet more bell-shaped and whether the bell shape should be sharper or more rounded/curled up. Then we talked details, what shape we wanted the balls, more organic or more uniform, how many balls to put on each leg and the cross bars. Lots of ball talk. 

Then it was time to look at crossbars (or “stretchers,” as Purl called them). We discussed height and where the balls would land on the legs. We talked about actually crossing the bars but thought that would feel too busy and you wouldn’t see the craftmanship enough. We talked ball pattern (Do we go all the way across? Only have a few? Do the number of balls on the long crossbars match the ones on the shorter bars? Should the pattern be uniform throughout?). We also talked about how they should connect, discussed attaching with rivets but decided welding was better – it gave a more streamlined look and was less expensive/less work.

Then we came back for a third visit to approve the legs and figure out the spacing and placement of the legs/bars. The wood here represents the crossbar lengths. Nearing the final product here (and we were so excited), next up was one last stain, then sealing the wood, forging the legs and crossbars, sealing those, attaching the legs, then delivery. The timing was a little tricky because the sealant could take up to 12hrs to cure but these two worked so hard to meet our deadline.

Price/Hourly Breakdown:

So I don’t feel comfortable putting their hourly charge on the internet (that is up to them and could change at any point), but I thought it would be helpful to understand how much work goes into this kind of craftmanship (especially for a prototype, if they get hired to do more of these they said it would be faster as they’ve troubleshot a lot).

  • The slab itself was $600 (which was a very good price, FYI, so if you are working with a dealer expect higher, but if it’s more of a found/reclaimed/vintage piece like this you can get some deals like we did)
  • Billy the Blacksmith put in 20 hours of work
  • The pipe materials cost $145
  • Purl put in 15 hours in staining, sealing, and art directing
  • Extra fees totaled $200

The total I paid was $3,650. This felt slightly higher than I had in my mind at the beginning, but honestly, we as consumers just tend to think things are easier and cheaper to make than they are, so I totally respected the amount of time and materials spent and feel honestly very grateful and proud of myself that I’m at a point in my career and life to support craftsmanship like this.

Wanna See My Forever Coffee Table??

There she is!!! Is she revolutionary? No! And it’s perfect and exactly what I wanted. It’s a stunning piece that everyone comments on the second they come in. It’s the perfect height and scale for the room (we thought we could have gone bigger at first, but it’s actually ideal). The deep dark finish of the top is exactly what I pictured, and the hand-forged legs are neither too simple nor too busy.

The edges just get me. They are so beautiful, sculptural, and truly mother nature’s work.

I love how it’s not a more contemporary white oak color, and instead creates this really rich depth in the room. It also hearkens to the ’60s and ’70s more with this finish (we left the shine on the edges) which I love so very very much. It’s not your grandma’s live edge table, but also it could be – it just feels super timeless and era-less.

I love how Purl and Billy went “random” with the legs. Purl had a whole pattern planned, where he created different shapes and named them, then they repeated those shapes on all four crossbars.

This is Purl, to the left. You all should follow him. He spent 18 years on a commune where he learned and practiced every art form and medium known to man, and his knowledge of art history is so impressive. I personally would love to see him on the next season of “Making It” (that show is incredible FYI and one that our kids love just as much as us). I’m glad that I was able to hire him before he blows up as I feel confident that he will. 🙂

This is Billy who like most artists/makers isn’t terribly active on social, but he does have an account if you want to hire him. Both of them work out of Past Lives Makerspace with many other artists I’m excited to explore in the next few years.

A huge thanks to Purl (left) and Billy (right) for this piece of craftsmanship that I get to call my coffee table. We are SO HAPPY WITH IT. Consider the “Henderson family coffee table heirloom” box checked forever (well, unless our next living room is tiny 🙂 but it will stay in the family forever). It makes me extremely happy and proud that this blog (and all of you) can promote and grow someone else’s career and livelihood. While doing this is not in everyone’s budget (and I’m so glad that there are affordable versions of this one on the market), if you have the budget to support local makers/artists in your area and do something like this, I think it’s a wonderful way to use your design dough and honestly makes me feel better about my other inevitable consumption:) I personally feel that pieces that tell a story (including heirlooms, travel souvenirs, and vintage pieces) are what really create a home. xx

*Living Room Photos by Kaitlin Green

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Bec
1 year ago

She’s a beaut all right!!

LouAnn
1 year ago

My goodness that piece is STUNNING. And the green sofas (Go Green!) look perfect, they have simple lines that let the coffee table be the star of the room. (Geez, I almost sound like I know what I’m talking about. I don’t. But I do love green sofas.)

Patricia
1 year ago

I really love the coffee table and the sofa looks beautiful. But what I really need to know more about is that amazing Tostitos sweatshirt.

Heather
1 year ago
Reply to  Patricia

I came to the comments to see if anyone mentioned that sweatshirt. Ha! Emily, the coffee table is stunning, and I love the smaller space you’ve created in your living room. I cannot wait to see the full reveal! Started following Purl – what an amazing craftsmen.

Heather
1 year ago
Reply to  Heather

*craftsman

Lisa H
1 year ago
Reply to  Patricia

Yes to the Tostitos sweatshirt with striped work pants, and the red billed cap! Rock on Billy!
That table is truly a forever piece of furniture.
I also love the artistry and the workmanship in this project.
My Father in law owned a machine shop, His brother owned a welding shop. They both worked hard to make a living for their families.
They were both also lovers of form, function, and beauty. My Father in law made beautiful custom shotguns, and rifles in wooden cases. One is a part of the Smithsonian’s collection. His brother, who did a lot of work on tractors, and farm equipment, also made beautiful arches and gates for a small countryside cemetery.

Jen
1 year ago
Reply to  Patricia

With the pinstriped pants! EPIC!

Allison
1 year ago
Reply to  Patricia

I need that shirt!

Reanna
1 year ago

“we as consumers just tend to think things are easier and cheaper to make than they are”: totally agree, and I appreciate the reminder! Love that you were able to support local makers/artists. The table is beautiful.

Brenda
1 year ago

It’s gorgeous!!! Thank you for sharing the process and the piece. Love the new couch!

Gabriella Kulcsar
1 year ago

I love the table so much!! And Emily, you write so heart-warming about arts and craftmanship! Besides your amazing style, this is the reason I have been following you for years. Also, the fact, that Purl referenced Giacometti, one of my favourite sculpturers, made my heart sing!! Thank you for this post, Emily and thank you Purl and Billy for your craftmanship! Best to all of you from Hungary!

Erin Dae
1 year ago

Oh man, I cannot wait to see the full reveal of this room! Love the green sofas, and very interested to see the final layout. And hoping you found a place for that gorgeous leather sofa too…by the way, can we just talk about how awesome it is that you posted the photos full of photo-bombing dogs? They are part of your life and clearly want to be where the action is! Thank you for keeping it real and not editing them out of the shots.

🥰 Rusty
1 year ago
Reply to  Erin Dae

🐾🐾

Paula
1 year ago
Reply to  Erin Dae

Yes! I mentioned this, too. We used to say the dachshund we had when were kids in the 50s (Carla) was the OG photobomber. My mom or dad would snap a pic of us, and when she got the film developed (remember this was the 50s/60s), there was Carla in the corner of the pic. Sometimes, it was just her eyes glowing green in the bottom corner. And you never noticed her sneaking into a shot.

Paula Carla and Kathy big.jpeg
Karyn Meadows
1 year ago
Reply to  Paula

We had Inga and Fritz! Those dachshunds were so great!

Paula
1 year ago
Reply to  Karyn Meadows

They’re the best! We’ve had several since Carla, and they’ve all been wonderful…even when they’re being such obstinate little beasts. 🐶

Shannon
1 year ago

Love love love love love. Enough said.

Katie
1 year ago

The table is gorgeous! I love that you kept a nod to the 70’s as the style is so tied to that era, but also, yes, new. And the legs are so cool! However, my favorite part of this post is the picture with the of you three sitting by the table, so proud of your partnership, with, like, a full on muppet just hanging out next to you. I know it’s been mentioned that the dogs can’t stay out of a picture, and why would you want them to? They bring some good “texture” to the space.

Alexandre
1 year ago

I love this!

Molly
1 year ago

Wow, wow, WOW. What a gorgeous, timeless table. Everything about it is perfect and I especially love the shapes on the legs. You also have a diva on your hands – one of your sweet pups loves the camera, clearly. I love it when either of them photobombs a shoot. They add soul and character with their presence too. 🙂

1 year ago

What a beautiful, unique anchor piece. I’ll bet artisans appreciate someone who can both understand and appreciate their creative process–go, Emily!

MKK
1 year ago

Had you shown Purl the legs of the couch? The table legs mimic the couch legs.

Brianna
1 year ago

Beautiful!! I love this table so much! The iron almost looks like wood.

ellen
1 year ago

What a beautiful table!! Gorgeous. And two identical sofa’s facing each other around a fireplace is my absolute favorite setup. I think it’s so perfect for this space.

Katy
1 year ago

I suspect I live not too far from you and while I don’t have quite the same budget as yours, I LOVE seeing the PDX/general NW artists, makers, and experts you choose! Part of what makes Portland such a cool city is all the passionate, creative people doing their THING, and the only way that will continue on the same scale is if others support their work. So thank you for highlighting some amazing local artisans, and what a result! I love the legs—unexpected yet still classic in a way. It was fascinating to see Purl’s inspiration and sketches. What a cool process.

Annie
1 year ago

I want to bite the screen, it’s all so delicious.

Annie
1 year ago

…should add, the humans are nice, too, but it’s the furniture I want to eat 🙂

🥰 Rusty
1 year ago

Aaaah…..luverly!💓 It’s def big enough (your old oval one always looked too small).
So great and enlightening to walk through the process.
It even ties in the light fitting better and makes it ‘fit’ more.
Um, Billy’s kinda cute.😏 LOL

CANNOT WAIT TO SEE THE LIVING ROOM REVEAL!!!
Been out in hail and rain storms today, fighting to save a tree – literally hugging it with my team, to stop the tree slayers. Adrenaline drama… and was expecting the reveal tonight Aussie time as my eyeball reward.
But this was a great entree.🤗

All you need now is a reclaimed wood mantel.👍

Karen
1 year ago

I like the legs a lot. They have a structure under the organic top. Very nice combo. Nice work

Karen
1 year ago
Reply to  Karen

^classic structure.
Man, I always need an edit button 🙂

stacy
1 year ago

Wowwww it’s perfect. So beautiful! Such craftsmanship! (The couch looks perfect with it!)

Daniella
1 year ago

Beautiful! Classic, yet unique – can’t wait to see the full reveal.

Donna
1 year ago

You’ll never regret that coffee table! I have the same layout in my living room. Two sofas flanking the fireplace with an organic table made by a local craftsman in the middle. When I have a lot of company, I’ll move two ottomans in front of the fireplace to add more seating and close the square. My fireplace has a reclaimed wood mantle and the brick is painted black. Sound like it could be ugly, but it really works, it anchors the room in a graphic way and ties in with the black in some of my lighting fixtures and graphic art.

sona
1 year ago
Reply to  Donna

sounds like a great set up!

Donna
1 year ago
Reply to  sona

Thanks!

Lisa
1 year ago

The layers of texture with the wood and the furniture and THOSE LEGS!

Tara Lynch
1 year ago
Reply to  Lisa

Agree! The legs are so beautiful and it’s evident that time and care was put into the design.

Julie S
1 year ago

That is one appealing table! I love the ironwork which is so well done and well designed.

KJ
1 year ago

Very timely. I just met with a cabinet maker (or is that a furniture maker) to commission a media console. I found several that will almost work but none that will fit all my gear. I found famous shops on the internet e.g. Vermont Woods, Room and Board who will customize their designs for me. However, there is a local gentleman who advertised in the local cupon flyer and makes beautiful pieces. I thought it was worth reaching out. I am awaiting a quote. I am inclined to support a local artist. I have locally built custom cabinets in the bathroom and kitchen. I have a custom built Amish table in the dinning room. This will complete the trend. I am expecting a piece as beautiful and unique as yours.

Dana
1 year ago

This is a design post that while unattainable for me, I absolutely love! Your coffee table is a piece of art. Thanks for using your platform to inform, inspire, and educate your readers on the sourcing original art.

nancy sherman
1 year ago

Freakin gorgeous!

Jen
1 year ago

Honestly for a customer piece, 3k feels like a real bargain. Thanks for supporting local artists!!! Love so much.

MBJ
1 year ago

Oh my WORD good job everyone!! That price doesn’t actually feel astronomical given that a huge coffee table from a large retailer could easily cost you a couple grand? Table is absolutely beautiful and that shot with a low view of the coffee table with the green sofa and blue stairs behind it? So so EHD and woodsy but classic but fresh. Lovely!

Julie
1 year ago

Love love love!

Paula
1 year ago

O.k. I just love that picture of you, Purl, and Billy, and one of dogs sitting there like he (she?) was part of the design process. Why I love dogs….

But I really love this coffee table! If I’d had to picture something, this would be close to my perfect image. So beautiful.

Susan
1 year ago

Such a beautiful table. The random placement of shapes on the stretchers is a wonderful, subtle, extra touch. Absolutely a work of art!

1 year ago

Beautiful, ALL OF IT! Story, writing, Purl, Billy, YOU in the denim… the table. Just loved all of this so much.❤️

Heather Amsden
1 year ago

Stunning and elegant. 😍

1 year ago

That coffee table is gorgeous! So jealous!

1 year ago

I’m such a sucker for a live edge!! So much that, like you, I have them scattered through our home. We are also in a PNW farmhouse of sorts and the mix of woodsy-ness/ vintage/modern is my absolute favorite and you’ve shown that there is definitely a way to do it but keep it feeling fresh while still nodding to your surroundings and the heritage of the place you’re calling home.

Looking forward to the reveal of this room! The simplification of this layout is already feeling soooo much better. And you look truly happy with how things are shaping up.

Last but definitely not least, as an artist, THANK YOU for supporting local makers. This economy has not been kind to us and we need all the love and support we can get. <3

1 year ago

Your table is gorgeous and I love the description of the process. For me, an important detail is how was the table finished? Is it possible to put a drink down without a coaster? Was an indestructible finish one of your criteria? I love the beauty of wood, but the fear factor is real- especially when living with kids and trying to make the space comfortable for them and not overly precious. Knowing your love of all things functional and practical (mostly) If you have a spec for an amazing and impervious finish, would you share what your vendor used?

IreneL
1 year ago

Yes to everything about this gorgeous cocktail table! You had the vision that Purl and Billy brought to life as only skilled artisans can. Billy’s Giacometti “leg inspiration” was awesome – the slender, but strong, iron legs balance the substantial live edge tabletop beautifully. Just wow! I would love to see both Purl and Billy as a team on Making It! BTW, the green sofas are quite wonderful too! One of my favorite posts ever!

1 year ago

Thank you for sharing! Your comment “we as consumers just tend to think things are easier and cheaper to make than they are” is 100% true. As someone who is married to a maker/woodturner making bespoke goods, it is genuinely disheartening when people make disparaging comments about prices. So thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts, and congrats on your BEAUTIFUL coffee table. It is truly stunning!

Suzanne
1 year ago

Love how this turned out! And the sneak peek of the matching sofas flanking the fireplace is so good. The green is great with your rug. And the combination and styles and classic features is perfect! I can’t wait for the full reveal!

Hannah
1 year ago

Love love love it. Money well spent if it’s in the budget.

Julie
1 year ago

This is BEAUTIFUL. I love that you are supporting local artists and now you also have such a SPECIAL truly heirloom piece. Love legs. Looking forward to the reveal!

Dottie
1 year ago

Wow, this is gorgeous! Loved reading about your work with local artisans.

Rita
1 year ago

STUNNING!! In the first photo I actually thought it was marble. So beautiful.

A.B.
1 year ago

Legs and stretchers are truly beautiful.

A
1 year ago

That table is GORGEOUS! The base is unexpected, yet I can’t imagine it any other way. It really couldn’t be more perfect. A perfect example of the magic that artists are capable of! I’m also obsessed with the vibe it lends to the entire space: very “cool-Emily-Henderson”. The three of you nailed it.

Melinda
1 year ago

Thank you for featuring the local artists who did such an amazing job creating the coffee table. It’s beautiful, perfect for your space. Thoroughly enjoyed this article.

Erica
1 year ago

Gorgeous table and seeing how much work and craftsmanship goes into something like that is important!
Side note – might I ask what flea market you enjoy in PDX? I have yet to find one that has a nice selection of furniture/homewares. Most that I’ve tried heavily carry clothes. Any insight is much appreciated!

Sonja
1 year ago

ah, this is amazing!! I love it. And excellent timing, too.

My neighbor cut down a GIANT cedar tree and it took three of us to haul one of the rounds into my garage where it has been happily drying out for the last two years. We are close to the cutting/finishing/creating stage of making it into my dream coffee table.

I’d love to have details about the stain and sealant Purl used on your beautiful version, if you are open to sharing. I don’t want to mess this up!