Peter Asher Furniture, circa 1965

Wed, May 27, 2009

History

Back in 1961, Peter was given a gift by his mother, the money to buy a dining room set for his apartment. At Bloomingdale’s Department Store, there was a display of reproduction medieval Spanish furniture. Peter observed that the construction was solid basic carpentry, similar to the boat building he had been doing over the previous decade. So, instead of buying the dining table, he bought tools and pine lumber.  With these, he built a bed frame, a headboard, a radiator-air conditioner-book cabinet, a kitchen island, wall shelves, four chairs, and… a dining table! Friends were enthralled by the work and said he should do it for a living. Three years later, Peter Asher Furniture was born. The shop was located on East 9th Street (the “East Village”) in New York City.  When Peter and I met in 1966, it had expanded to a double storefront with a showroom in front and a huge shop in the back. Very soon, I was running the showroom and we lived upstairs, with an intercom between home and shop.

The style of Peter’s handmade furniture began as something similar to the antique Spanish furniture he had seen at Bloomingdales, but it evolved into something quite different. We labeled it “medieval-modern” and an artist friend called it “precision crudeness.” The edges resembled the result of the action, over time, of water on stone or of centuries of use (like tables in old European restaurants). This effect was created by first routing the edges, then disk sanding, and finally hand sanding. (There was a great deal of hand-sanding!)

The first wood Peter used was eastern sugar pine and ponderosa, usually stained dark and finished with wax. Later, the finish was changed to Minwax Antique Oil Finish, which was essentially linseed oil with a Japanese hardener. He discovered that each coat could be hand-buffed in the tacky stage, thus driving the finish into the wood grain while avoiding sanding between coats. Later, he also made furniture from unstained hardwoods (maple, oak, walnut, cherry, teak, poplar, and birch). The hardwood finish included a first coat of heated linseed oil, which stayed moist for several hours soaking into the wood. This process created a semi-transparent surface that literally turned the wood grain into an art form.

In the mid seventies, when the East Village degraded to a not-safe-for-family neighborhood, our small family moved to California. We built furniture in Malibu, Concord, Marin County (where we had a shop in Mill Valley’s Old Brown Store), and finally Bolinas.

Experimenting with finishes, we had discovered that nothing seemed to rub out a finish to the proper shine and smoothness like the skin of our hands. After moving to sunny California, we accelerated the process by drying the finish in the sun. Over the years, I did more and more of the finishing and wanted to spare my hands, so I experimented with tack cloths made by soaking pure cotton sheeting in Minwax Antique Oil Finish and hanging it on the clothesline to partially dry. This method was second-best, but less toxic.

Our last adventure in furniture-building was for the offices of an oilman in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Palm beach Florida. The wood-and-leather set included a huge boomerang-shaped desk, a glass conference table, a couch, a desk chair and side chairs. One of the most exciting moments of that time was delivering the first set to San Francisco airport, to be put into the belly of a passenger airline, to be rushed to Florida.

We still have the old wood and leather patterns. Sometimes we daydream about building furniture again.

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7 Responses to “Peter Asher Furniture, circa 1965”

  1. Kids Table and Chairs 16 May 2010 at 5:00 am #

    Thank you. My husband and i truly appreciate reading any posts that discuss about home deco and furnuture , different brand suggestions. We just bought a new house will be doing major renovation and your blog inspire us.

  2. Marilyn Chadwick 10 August 2010 at 3:44 pm #

    Hi,
    I have a dining room table made of poplar which my husband and I bought in 1969 from Peter Asher. It is a bit beat up but still so beautiful. Everyone who sees it thinks it is special. It’s as if the soul of the wood is still alive in the table. I take very good care of it and treasure it.

  3. Peter & Margaret DeAbgelis 4 April 2011 at 6:36 am #

    We married in 1967 and moved into a duplex brownstone on 9th street next to Peter’s “Middle Earth” shop. We purchased three furniture items from Peter; a complete wall desk unit, a wall shelf and a free standing bookcase with two file drawers at the base. At our request, Peter designed this piece specifically for us To this day, to our enjoyment, his furniture remains in use in our study at our home in Mendham, New Jersey. They are true works of utilitarian art which have stood the test of time and are admired by many.

    We are delighted to have found you on the internet and wish you well.

    Peter & Margaret

  4. Robin 31 May 2011 at 12:33 pm #

    Hi, Marilyn.

    Great to hear that your table still lives! What I love about solid wooden furniture is that when it gets beat up, you can usually sand out most of the damage.

  5. Robin 31 May 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Dear Peter and Margaret,
    We are also delighted that you found us on the Internet and especially glad that your furniture is still in use. We loved that wood shop and the fact that we could have the showroom in the front, the shop in the back, and the apartment upstairs. We also loved being part of the block. Remember block parties?

  6. Evie 27 December 2015 at 4:29 pm #

    Got my Peter Asher coffee table/bench in the east village around 1968 or so. It’s now with my sister. She loves it and so do I. I gotta get it back!

  7. James Schwab 18 June 2016 at 12:03 pm #

    Dear Peter Asher,
    Though I knew your 9th St. shop well in the late 60′s had no place of my own. Though I loved your furniture, and saved your business card for many years, by the time I became a buyer you were gone (a beautiful small wooden easy chair upholstered in soft brown leather stands out in my memory). Now 70, I’ve searched unsuccessfully for years for anything Asher on the internet. I’d be grateful for any direction you might provide and was happy to learn you achieved success transitioning west. You were always kind and the furniture, in my view, peerless. Sorry I missed you on 9th but still hoping to be lucky in getting a piece half century later.
    Warmest regards, James


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