Sitting Mobile sold

This piece was recently sold.

I first posted about it here. I was thrilled that it sold and was happy to ship it out, but was also quite sad to see it go. I’ve had it for some time and had gone through what is a typical cycle for me of really being passionate about it when I first made it, then slowly becoming very critical of it to the point of apathy, and finally, as it becomes almost a fixture in my studio, finding a real appreciation for it. It was sold on my Etsy site.

This cycle of like – dislike – like is something I’ve learned to watch for. I try not to make any disastrous moves that I may come to regret during the dislike phase.

What I find interesting is that the qualities of a piece that I’ve made, that I was trying for when I made it in the first place are often not the the elements that I come to value at the end of this cycle. And this cycle is not continuous, it does end. It’s important to trust myself, that my initial instincts are often valuable.

Some pieces, however, I am lucky enough to not to go through this cycle with, and I just like what I did.

Designing a Chair

I often work with interior designers. Recently one that I’ve worked with for many years asked that I think about a design for a client that had  pretty specific requirements for a chair. The client recently having moved into a new condo had a walnut desk of Mid-Century vintage in her new bedroom that needed a chair. The new chair needed to have a look that would fit the design of the desk; it also had to fit the client so that she could sit comfortably at the desk, her stature being somewhat smaller than most chairs are designed for. The chair also had to slide in under the desk when not in use.

I visited the site and took this picture of the desk.

The interior designer remembered a chair that I had done for another client of her’s some time ago and thought that something similar might work in this case although the style would have to be changed to a Mid-Century Modern look.

This chair was designed to look like a Biedermeier chair for a bedroom set I had done in that style. I took this basic chair, changed the dimensions to the ones we had worked out with the client to get the seat height just right and created this first design.

You can see how I took the design detail of the pulls from the desk and put it in the back. Here is a drawing of the dimensions that I gave to the client along with several renderings like the one above.

The client didn’t think that this was what she was looking for so it was literally back to the drawing board for me. I realized that the client had the sense that the chair wasn’t sturdy enough and didn’t offer enough support. That led me to create this next design.

And below you can see the added lumbar support this design offered.

I also created this front view of the design…

…and a line drawing with dimensions.

The client said that this was perfect.

Here is the final product.

A word about the finish I used. Typically the walnut used in Mid Century Modern furniture made before the 1980’s had a lighter color than walnut available today. This is partly due to the interest in darker woods towards the end of the 20th century. It has also become much harder to find walnut logs of the size available before the 80’s with their wide expanses of heartwood. Consequently it became standard for sawyers to treat walnut with steam in the process of drying it. This darkened both the heartwood but also the lighter colored sapwood, giving them more sale-able wood.

I selected the wood for this chair by color and grain pattern. To achieve as light a finish as possible I devised a finish that used several coats of different shellacs top-coated with a mixture of linseed oil and spar varnish. The client said she was very pleased with the chair and finish.

Even More Stools

In addition to the stool shown in my last post I’ve also recently completed another variation of the theme inspired by the work of Wharton Esherick.

This stool’s seat is a free form aerodynamic-like slice of figured maple.

The two stools, the one with the walnut seat from my last post and this one make a very nice pair.

Again, clicking on an image should send you to my Etsy store where you can find out how to purchase one or both of these pieces.

More Stools

I recently noticed that A Wharton Esherick stool is being listed for sale at $8,500. Here’s a link to Modern One’s listing. I’ve posted in the past about being inspired by Wharton Esherick’s work.  In that post I noted: “Wharton Eshericks stools command a lot of money these days. Live Auctioneers have one listed at an estimated price of $4,000 – $6,000 with the bids starting at $2,000. Architonic, Sotheby’s, and Rago list similar prices. The Museum of Arts and Design shows a very nice Esherick stool online as well.”It looks like prices for his work are going up.

Above is an image of a new stool I’ve recently completed. My hope is to work within the general theme established by Wharton Esherick while exploring some of my own ideas about shapes and forms and how they relate to each individual piece of wood being used. This stool is made from a beautiful piece of walnut from a crotch in the walnut tree as well as maple legs, turned on a lathe.

If you are interested in finding out how to purchase this stool just click one of the images and you should land on my Etsy page for this stool.

Salad Tongs (great wedding gift!)

Cherry Salad Tongs

I found the inspiration for these salad tongs while perusing old magazines. They are a perfect way to use pieces of cherry veneer that are too small for tables and cabinets. They are finished with a light coat of a food safe oil. All they need after tossing your salad is a gentle wipe with a damp cloth. Your salad oil will further enhance the finish. These are not dishwasher safe. Click on any of the images to go to my Etsy shop where it is easy to place an order.

Oh btw, a set would also make a very nice house warming gift.

Time for Art

Blue Clock #1. Available on Etsy.

Your new work is quite a departure from your furniture work. In a way it is. In another way it is kind of a bridge between furniture and art. After all clocks are functional household or office items.

Do these pieces function as clocks, do they keep time? Oh yes, absolutely. They have quartz clock movements. Here let’s post the second clock.

Green Clock #1. Available on Etsy.

In some ways these pieces could be considered sculptures couldn’t they? Yes, but I think of them as wall art.

So, to you they are primarily art despite their functional aspect? I think that the functional aspect is part of the art.

What is the message of these pieces? Is there a message? The pieces, at least these first two (I have ideas for more, but it may not be wise to discuss them until they are done), are expressing several things at once. One of things that is important to know about them is that they were inspired by a piece by Matisse. He re-worked “Bathers by a River” for seven years before he finished it. It is pretty easy to see the reference to that work in the green clock particularly.

I was struck with the way artists will work on a piece over a very long time. I myself have worked and re-worked pieces for years. So I thought, why not include the hands of a clock that actually work?

I am also thinking about art versus functionality. It seems that many people find that it is easier to trade some of their money for something that has a function that their friends and family will recognize as a “legitimate” function, in this case keeping time. Somehow people have a hard time recognizing the function of art itself. I mean, this is really a big topic and I just wanted to explore a little corner of it with this work.

Could these also be saying something about you turning back to making art? Yes, there is definitely a personal statement in them as well.

How big are these two pieces? They are each just under 12 inches wide by 11 inches tall.

You mentioned trading money for art, are these available for sale? Yes, I’ll be posting them in my etsy shop today as a matter of fact. Here’s a link: Etsy.Fillingham

Do you have any images of these clocks in a room setting? Yeah, that would be nice, unfortunately I don’t. However I did take a picture of them hanging on my studio wall. That is how I shot the above photos so this image is the setting for that shoot in case anyone is interested:

This studio view doesn’t look anything like your wood shop. This the other half of Fillingham Art Furniture Design. This is the more or less clean room where my office is and where I do most of my design work and art.

Well, thank you very much for your time. It was my pleasure, I always enjoy a nice conversation with myself.

A Deck Chair

Modern Patio Furniture

Deck Chair

Purchase on Etsy

Summer is here and I’ve been thinking about relaxing on my deck, simply watching the world go by. Why not create a really nice patio chair for doing just that? Something inspired by wooden boats,  something reminiscent of Mid Century Modern or Danish Modern design. Something that can take a little weather if it’s left out for the weekend. The more I thought about it the more I started noticing that there are an awful lot of smaller sized balconies attached to some really nice condo units that could use a couple of really nice patio chairs too. If you’ve found my other blog you may know that I’ve been watching the new condos, especially those along the rivers in Milwaukee, pretty closely. (The picture links to that blog if you’re curious.) So, I designed this chair. It’s a little smaller than a lot of outdoor chairs out there so that a couple of them will easily fit on a condo balcony, yet it is very comfortable for even big guys like Todd Fillingham I made the first two out of walnut, which turns out to be very durable wood for outdoor use (used in boat building worldwide), northern white cedar (another boat wood) and stainless steel. The back is easily removed (no tools needed) for shipping and storage . I finished the chair with my own mix of oils and spar varnish.  This is an easy chair, made for sitting back and relaxing, part of what I call my summer stress relief system.  Set it out and sit back. by Todd Fillingham

by Todd Fillingham

by Todd Fillingham Where can you get these? Two are now available on my Etsy site where it is very easy to order online.   I’ll deliver them  in the metro Milwaukee area with no shipping charge. Enjoy the summer!

By the way, I will be recommending on my Etsy site that these chairs be used in a protected outdoor setting however you can leave these chairs out in the weather all summer if you want. The finish may fade some. If it fades too much it can easily be restored, or better yet the chair can simply weather to a beautiful, stylish gray, it will still be just as comfortable. All metal parts are stainless steel so they won’t rust and the woods are highly resistant to rot.

Please feel free to leave a comment here to contact me. Or, if you would prefer you are welcome to use my alternate email address which is . I am also available on twitter as @toddfi .

buy now

Update: I’ve been asked for the dimensions of this chair. Here they are:

deck chair by Todd Fillingham all rights reserved

Color and Form: paint on furniture

Designing furniture that includes painted surfaces offers opportunities work with color, painted forms and the sculptural shapes of the piece itself. The image above is a detail from a cabinet I made that my family and I use to hang our coats on and store hats, gloves, mittens and scarves.

Saddle Stool by T. Fillingham

I designed this piece to play with the idea of functional sculpture and 2D art. I call it a saddle stool. It may be sat on like a saddle facing the front painted surface or as a more normal stool.

It was never intended to be very practical seating, more to encourage a reaction to the expression of abstracted eroticism.

I’ve used this form, the shape of the painted surface in the stool above, many times.



Oval Top Table by T. Fillingham


Oval Top Table by T. Fillinghan

2 Oval Top Tables by T. Fillingham

I did a series of low, side tables with etched glass tops. Below are 4 of them with one of the tops. By using the glass I added another layer for exploring painted forms by creating clear windows through which some of the painted surface could clearly be seen while the translucent surface of the glass created an implied surface beneath it.

A series of small table bases by T. Fillingham

At some point I became interested in a more literal interpretation of colors and forms and created a series of fish tables. At the time I had 2 assistants working for me in my studio and I challenged them to develop painted designs based on my input. We visited a nearby store that had huge aquariums as well as studied tropical fish coloring from reference material. I carved the shapes and legs and worked with my assistants in developing the palette for each table, they did the painting. Here are a few of the tables we produced.

Collaborative Work from the Studio of T. Fillingham

This next piece is not exactly furniture, but it does show my interest in painted, sculptural forms that have roots in pragmatic objects. This is my canoe form.

This last piece was commissioned by a couple that had received this large copper pan as a gift while traveling in Africa. It had been used to roast cocoa beans over an open fire. They wanted to display it and use it in their home to hold magazines. I suggested attempting to indicate a sense of ritual. The couple were on their honeymoon when they received the pan. I researched some of the art of the traditional cultures from the region they had traveled in and used motifs of form and color to create the stand.

And here we get at something that I find fascinating. Traditional cultures around the world have expressed myth and culture by creating objects of color and form for a very long time. Even though I explore many forms of abstraction and am inspired my a great deal of modern art in this, the use of painted forms on 3D forms I feel part of an almost eternal tradition.


Over the years I’ve made many stools inspired by the stools Wharton Esherick made. Above is one of my latest.

I keep a copy of a clipping on the wall of my studio that I clipped from a magazine long ago.  It shows an artist’s studio with at least 3 Esherick stools.  Maybe the stools were inspiration, I’m sure they were functional. I have used several of my stools both in my home and in my studio. They’re great. They are light weight, sculptural, comfortable, and get better with age (natural daily polishing of the seat).

Here’s a stool I made many years ago. It was sold through a gallery I was showing in at the time. I like the way I did the rungs. The legs on this stool are square in section. My new stools have lathe turned legs and rungs. I’m thinking of doing a stool soon though that has both turned legs and sculpted rungs.

Above is another view of one of two stools I’ve just finished. This stool’s seat was carved from a gorgeous piece of walnut that was sawn from the crotch of a walnut tree. The grain is extraordinary.

I cut the seat to best highlight the grain pattern.

The second stool I just completed does not have as striking a grain pattern nevertheless it is a very nice looking stool.

A couple of angles are needed to get an idea of what this stool looks like.

Wharton Eshericks stools command a lot of money these days.

Live Auctioneers have one listed at an estimated price of $4,000 – $6,000 with the bids starting at $2,000. Architonic, Sotheby’s, and Rago list similar prices.

The Museum of Arts and Design shows a very nice Esherick stool online as well.

Of course these prices are high because of Wharton Esherick’s name and reputation, and (unfortunately) because he is dead.

I am selling these stools on Etsy at a fraction of the prices listed above (…LOL…). I also have two more stools in the works and will list them on Etsy as soon as they are done.

Are these stools art? They are sculptural, but are they sculpture? I think of them as art furniture. They fall close enough to sculpture on the art- craft continuum for me to sometimes shorten “art furniture” to just “art” because in making them I am expressing a feeling and emotional vision in an abstract way. There is no question that they are functional however, functional beyond the true, fundamental function of art.

If you take a little time to contemplate some of the elements and forms that these stools are made of you may notice a few things. One is that the shape of the legs are different for the 2 stools. This shape shifts a sense of motion (or stability) by adding mass either towards the floor or upward. Another thing you may notice is the angles of the rungs and the space that is outlined by the legs, seat and rungs as you move around the piece. These things are subtle and take time to appreciate, but are some of the elements that I considered when making them

Here’s a link to my Etsy store if you would like to consider owning one (or both!) of these stools.

UPDATE: I just got word of this show: Wharton Esherick: Birth of the American Modern . It looks very interesting.

UPDATE 2: These stools have been sold. I am working on several more as we speak though.

I keep a clipping on the wall of my studio

Guitar Stool/ Guitar Stand

This  guitar stool/ guitar stand was created to have a great looking place to keep your guitar, have it readily available and have just the right spot to sit and play a few chords even if you have just a few minutes during a busy day. It offers a chance to step away from the hustle of the day, relax for a few minutes and renew yourself. This stool is now available at my Etsy store as a made to order item.

I am also showing it on my web site.

Yacht braid  creates a restraint to hold the guitar securely. This is easily removed from either end and is not required to hold the guitar, just an extra bit of safety for your valuable instrument.

Cork lined crotch  holds the guitar neck without damaging your guitar’s finish.

The seat is carved from walnut and the legs are ash.

Industrial felt is used to cushion all other contact areas. One note: this works best as a stand for hollow body guitars.

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New Blog

Wisconsin Historical Society

Wisconsin Historical Society

I’ve started a new blog that will carry my posts about Milwaukee’s 3 rivers and my scheme to introduce small boats to folks who live along it. I transferred my earlier post that I originally posted on this blog and have a new post up. Here’s the link (click on the image below)-


I’ll still be posting about lots of other things on this blog so don’t go away.

A small table from scrap pieces

small table by Todd Fillingham, all rights reserved

I had intended to post part II of the Three Rivers series before posting about anything else, but it has been some time since I’ve posted about furniture and I’ve just finished this new piece so I thought I’d sneak this post in now.

We needed a table of just the right height to hold a fan in our bedroom window at home.  Although I am in the midst of a pretty big project just now I thought I’d check out a few of my scrap piles to see if there was anything there to inspire me.



And, while I was at it, maybe I’d check out the paint locker and see what was lurking in there.


Here’s what caught my eye:

A couple of pieces of MDF, some interesting walnut cut-offs and a nice green latex paint.

A couple of pieces of MDF, some interesting walnut cut-offs and a nice green latex paint.

I glued up the MDF pieces into a block 1-1/2″ thick-


Cut the walnut cut-offs to a uniform length-


Then drew a pleasing curve to shape the legs.


I cut out the first leg, used it as a pattern to trace out the other two, cut them on the bandsaw and sanded the curved cut.




Next I created a guide for my router to cut out the mortises into the top that would hold the legs.


The legs were rounded over on the router table on the long straight face.


I used a variety of implements to draw out a pattern for the top, created a template for 1/2 of the top, transferred that shape onto the top, flipping over the template to get the other half so that the curves would be symmetrical and shaped the top.




I wanted to create an interesting joint detail where the legs met the top. I did some sketching and decided that the top should have its bottom edge rounded. This was done on the big shaper, a finger chewing machine if there ever was one.


I managed to get the top rounded with out loosing any fingers and proceeded to cut the mortises on the under side of the top using the jig I had created earlier.


I adjusted the fit of the legs into the mortises by carefully sanding down their final thickness.


You can start to see what this table will look like at this stage. I still need to square off the round corners left by the router bit in the mortises. I did this by hand using a sharp chisel.


Now I was able to see if the joint detail came out like I had hoped.


OK, this was what I wanted. A look as if the legs were cradling the top. This is reminiscent to me of the original tripod that held a bowl or tray from eons ago.

And here’s the table before finishing:


I painted the top, glued in the legs, rubbed on some of my special oil/ varnish mix and the table was complete.


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Three Rivers part 1

google maps

google maps

Milwaukee was built at the confluence of three rivers on the shore of Lake Michigan, the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic . At present there are 9 miles navigable by small craft before reaching the protected harbor. There is an additional 27 miles or so accessible by canoe or kayak up the Milwaukee River to the dam at Bridge Street in Grafton, Wisconsin.

The three rivers have been used for commerce and recreation for a long time.

Wisconsin Historical Society

Wisconsin Historical Society

Wisconsin Historical Society

Wisconsin Historical Society

Wisconsin Historical Society

Wisconsin Historical Society

When I first saw the three rivers commerce had dominated for enough time to have turned them into something just short of open sewers. This was in the mid 1960’s, when I moved here with my sister to finish high school and live at our father’s house. Buildings along the river fronts had their backs to the rivers, waste was dumped directly into them. The rivers stank much of the time. River front property was less valuable for being on the river.

Around 1967 I took a part time job at the Knickerbocker Hotel Pharmacy, just north of downtown. It was one of those opportunities to experience a very colorful side of Milwaukee. The notorious Sally’s Supper Club shared the ground floor of the hotel with the pharmacy.  Working there cracked open a chink through which I saw a world that was slowly dying and I was  intrigued and scared by its shadows. This was the last of a seamy Milwaukee of cheap hoods, organized crime, systematic exploitation and violence.

It was in this world that my boss, the owner of the pharmacy operated. I cannot remember his name now, so I’ll call him Mr. K. The straits he was in by the time I was hired were never fully known to me. His swollen face,  stooped stance and scurrying gait though were  signals of much that lay unseen. He must have been seriously indebted to someone and he had to hustle to stay afloat.

I felt sympathy for this over worked man. He was fair to his employees and never indulged in the exploitation the milieu he was immersed in would have found natural. As a matter of fact he would often give quiet warnings of traps to gingerly step around, such as gifts that were anything but what they seemed. There were times when it was best not to leave the drugstore counter, at least not until the big Cadillacs  had left the street in front of Sally’s. Men in garrish suits would hang out in the soda fountain area around lunch time or on a lazy Sunday afternoon occasionaly making very sexist remarks about the waitress, sometimes bidding her to sit with them to discuss certain propositions. The drug store filled orders that I often delivered by dropping off inside a screen door, under no circumstances was I to knock. A young women’s residence was around the  corner and on occasion I was told to deliver a couple of six packs of beer and “you don’t need to hurry back [wink, wink]” to one of the dorm rooms there . Mr. K. would get irate though about delivering boxes of condoms to another “apartment” in the neighborhood. Somehow he had a more mellow attitude about the daily delivery of a half pint of cheap brandy and a package of  Depends to a resident of the hotel (that was a very quick delivery).

Maybe he sensed my nascent grasp of his predicament and maybe my  naive sympathy.  Maybe I was just a person that would listen. Whatever the reason he began to tell me about his youth and this reflection distracted him from the trap he was  in. I was amazed to hear about the days he spent swimming in the Milwaukee River, about the majestic swimming pavilions and the boats that would be rowed on the river to lazy picnics along the bank.

Wisconsin Historical Society

Wisconsin Historical Society


Wisconsin Historical Society

Mr. K. also told of the farms 1/2 block from where I was living at the time. That land had been “developed” into housing quite awhile earlier and I had never thought of it as farmland. The contrast between that pastoral land and river of his memory and the city I lived in was astounding to me.

I worked at that drugstore a couple of years and moved on. I went to college at UWM and got a degree in independant film making. I travelled some, was part of a travelling film and dance production (1/2 of it to be exact) and eventually wound up living in an old log cabin just north of the city of Milwaukee for a couple of years.

I had always sailed on Lake Michigan. I moved back into the city, right into the heart of downtown, and my girlfriend (soon to be wife) and I bought an old wooden sailboat which we sailed around Lake Michigan, storing it in a boat yard up the Kinnickinnic River over the winters.

Our boat tied up along the KK River

Our boat tied up along the KK River

I had never forgotten Mr. K.’s stories about the rivers of his youth though, yet I found it hard to reconcile those stories with the rivers I saw up close from our boat.  The waters were filthy, and even though you would see the occassional musk rat swimming, more often you were likely to see a dead animal floating downstream.

And this wasn’t necesarily the safest place to keep a boat. There were gangs that motored up the river and would steal anything of value from any and all boats tied up along the banks. A group of us boat owners, particularly owners of boats of a certain vintage tended to watch out for each other’s boats and would have small parties and cookouts along our makeshift docks. We were on a part of the river that could be described as a desolate industrial wasteland.

An aside: As a matter fact, it was few years earlier that I used that area as the scene for a series of photographs I took and submitted as a non-written term paper about the Italian film maker Michelangelo Antonioni.  I was particularly interested in his early, neorealist work. You can get idea of what I’m talking about by seeing this screen shot from his film Il deserto rosso (1964).

I have always been an artist, besides dabbling in film and earning a living at furniture design, furniture making and carpentry.  Twenty years ago Milwaukee held a celebration of the rivers that run through it. A celebration that, it was hoped, would change Milwaukee’s view of and attitude toward the rivers. I participated as a sculptor and created a floating sculpture for the event. It was an attempt to add a bit of “jewelry” to the rivers, honor and celebrate what could be. I created a pretty wild looking canoe form.

Canoe Form by Todd Fillingham 1989

Canoe Form by Todd Fillingham 1989

I set up a small display describing the project then floated up and down the Milwaukee River during the celebration in this canoe. It was a small effort, more of a gesture I guess, but it was part of the beginning of a major change in Milwaukee.

More to come in this series.

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