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With respect to nature.

"But I couldn't live in Yosemite, unless I became a forest ranger," he said, "so I did the next best thing." Eighteen years ago, he planted numerous trees on the land where he built his design studio. Today, he looks out upon a forest of oak, fruit trees and mature Monterey pines.

Gibilterra has tried to apply that appreciation for nature to his furniture by emphasizing rugged natural materials -- solid and sturdy red oak and multi-colored stone. To manufacture the product, he contacted Wambold Furniture, a company committed to healthy working conditions for its employees and a pollution-free environment.

Linked to the past

Gibilterra's new Prairie House Collection of casual oak furniture was well received at the International Home Furnishings Market in High Point in October. The 33-piece collection also will be on display Jan. 18-22 at the San Francisco Winter Furniture Market.

Gibilterra said the group is rotted in the Prairie School of Frank Lloyd Wright design. It also has origins in the sturdy rectilinear designs of Mission oak furniture, with the addition of spotted cowhide seats and bright red tubular armrests, antiqued copper hardware and square stone inserts on table and bureau tops. Construction follows the tenets of the Arts & Crafts Movement, i.e., mortise and tenon joinery, tongue and groove and chamfered edges, Gibilterra said. Oak drawer glides are dipped in wax. The furniture should withstand the test of time, he added.

The Prairie House Collection

Included in this collection are rectangular and round dining tables; chairs; buffet and china; sofa; loveseat; cocktail, end and sofa tables; credenza; wall units; head and footboards; nightstands; dressers; armoire and valet chests. The Accents Collection includes a bar and stools, rocker, pedestal and writing table.

"Each piece stands on its own, whether it was designed for the bedroom, dining room or living room, or as an occasional piece. Each article is designed to be something of a collector's piece," the designer said, "and can filt comfortably with other items in the consumer's home. Prairie House lends itself to a broader lifestyle than just a 'lodge' look," he added.

Historical references

"I approached the design by trying to create a product with character, symbolism and rootedness," Gibilterra said. "The spirit of the Prairie House Collection captures the optimism and renewal of the Great American West," he said. "It has an Early California look -- but remains original. In a sense, you might say I was operating in a time warp, somewhere in the late 1800s or early 1900s.

"This collection has historical and natural references. Consumers may not have the art history background to understand where the design comes from, but they intuitively recognize that it is not a space-age design. I wanted to convey the idea of the swing from a high-tech world to the appreciation for nature in simpler times." He said he believes people have a strong need to surround themselves with the character and integrity of nature.

The environmental challenge

Gibilterra added that the words "character" and "integrity" also apply to Greg Wambold, president of the 17-year-old Simi Valley, Calif., company that manufactures the Prairie House Collection furniture. "Not many furniture manufacturers are left on the West Coast," Gibilterra said. "If they are not out of business, they have gone to Mexico to escape the requirements of state and federal air quality laws. But air pollution still blows back. We're all in the same fish bowl."

Instead of moving his operation to Mexico, Wambold took a different approach. He recognized what was happening and addressed the problem head-on. "I also like to breathe clean air," he said, "and to feel like I'm doing my part." Together, the designer and manufacturer have shifted the focus of the furniture from purely design to environmental consequence.

In 1988, Wambold committed $500,000 for air quality engineering studies "to develop a system that would work for me." A year later, Wambold signed a purchase order for $2.8 million for installation and implementation of state-of-the-art finishing technology which came on line early in November. Developed by Terr-Aqua Enviro Systems Inc., the carbon absorption system is designed to meet and exceed state and federal air quality requirements.

Any kind of finishing material may be used, because the system destroys all reactive materials, Wambold said. As a best available control technology (BACT) system, it eliminates all harmful volatile compounds from spray booth emissions and from cleaning wipe-down rags, leaving only carbon dioxide and water as by-products, according to Wambold. Wambold is the first company licensed to operate the system, he added.

Manufacturing partners

Gibilterra's last residential grouping was the popular Ponderosa Pine, made by Brown Saltman Co. and a best seller for the May Co. for several years. For the past 15 years, he has been involved in corporate, industrial and contract design. His clients include Vecta (now part of Steelcase Design Partnership), Metropolitan Furniture (Steelcase) and Pacific Condi (American Seating Co.).

With his comeback into residential design, Gibilterra said he probably is more involved in manfuacturing than most designers. Since his Grandada Hills studio is only 20 minutes from the Wambold plant, "I spend hours in the plant, going over production capabilities. I work with the engineering people to develop a product that will flow through the system easily, rather than being labor intensive.

"They helped my understanding of how things are processed and how everyone functions in the process. That goes a long way in putting things together." (The manufacturing process at Wambold includes two Shoda CNC routers, Torwegge tenoners, Wadkin moulders, Nottmeyer and Weeke boring machines, Koch dowel drivers and Homag edgebanders.)

"Mental hands-on'

The designer said he takes a "mental hands-on" approach toward the shop equipment. "I have to have a willingness to assess, then push machine capabilities -- to push the limits on what will comfortably flow through.

"I think this is what (William) Morris was after in England -- taking advantage of machine operations to make a better part, instead of just making it fast; to have parts that are truly crafted rather than produced mindlessly," he said. It was the writings of William Morris, an artist and reformer, which laid the groundwork for the Arts & Crafts Movement, a philosophy that stretched from England to North America and was seen as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution. In the United States, the simple, naturalistic forms of the Arts & Crafts Movement became the most sought-after fashions of the early 1900s and are among the most prized antiques today, continuing to inspire contemporary furniture designers like Gibilterra.
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Title Annotation:furniture designer Charles Gibilterra's Prairie House Collection
Author:Garet, Barbara
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Jan 1, 1992
Previous Article:Laser technology at Michigan State.
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