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How two friends built a cabin from scratch in Oregon's backyard.

Rico Castillero and Duane Reed's Idyllic Cabin

03 14 22
Cayla Mihalovich

Nestled into the bucolic backdrop of Mount Hood, Oregon, Rico Castillero and Duane Reed built a 20-by-10 foot dream escape. The cabin, which they’ve titled The Woodlands Hideout, offers a restorative retreat and an opportunity to connect with the natural world. We talked to the duo about how they brought their vision to life and what they have in store for the future.


Tell me about your friendship story. Where did this all begin?

Rico: Ironically, our story began about 10 years ago in San Diego. At the time, my partner and I were photographing weddings, and that business is what connected us to Duane and his wife, Sarah. What year was that, Duane?

Duane: I think it was 2010. We were looking for a photographer to take some engagement photos of us, and someone referred us to Rico and Rachel. During that engagement session, we realized we knew a lot of the same people. Sarah and I were actually doing wedding and art photography at the time. Then we moved to Portland in 2017, and that's really when Rico and I reconnected.

What was the impetus for building The Woodlands Hideout?

Rico: This whole thing started back in college for me. I studied architecture at CalPoly SLO and purposefully steered my experiences to be more hands on than most. I was interested in the design/build side of things. I loved working directly with materials and connections, so when it came to designing, I tended to gravitate toward smaller scale projects and even furniture. Graduating in 2006 and then stepping into construction was short lived due to the economic situation in 2008. However, this did serve as a way for me to press into my hobby of photography, and build a career in that alongside my wife. We were very fortunate, and got to travel quite a bit for our work. And while traveling, we got to experience some unique hospitality spaces throughout the country and even the world. That got the ball rolling in my head, as I started to consider designing and building spaces of our own. Our trajectory began shifting as I started utilizing my design and build background to create short term rentals. Building these spaces proved successful, but a part of my soul still longed for a more nature-focused experience. So in June of 2017, we bought the property where The Hideout now sits, and I began refining my designs of what would turn into a ground-up build.

 

 

Why did you decide to collaborate and what was your collaboration style?

Rico: I knew that Duane and Sarah lived in the area and were working on flipping a house at that time. That clued me into Duane’s skill set, so I reached out about collaborating on The Hideout build, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it completely by myself. We agreed to partner up on an initial prototype build in early 2019, and then after locking down the design together, we began construction later that year. The vast majority of it was built primarily with our own four hands, which is pretty cool now, knowing that we've touched every part of it.

Duane: For me, it was especially refreshing, as I had been doing a lot of interiors, residential type renovation and remodeling. A lot of my projects were starting to feel the same. So, being out in the woods and building something that felt more connected to nature was really special.

 

 

Can you take me through some of the specific design decisions you made?

Rico: At that point, the intention was somewhere hovering around building a small cabin. At such a small scale, I felt like I could wrap my head around all of the aspects of it. One of the biggest design intentions was making a very small space feel expansive and trying to stay within a certain size that we felt was reasonable to transport. So that became our physical design constraints. Knowing the property and the nature of the weather, having a sloping roof was pretty important for maintenance reasons and for the success of the structure. Then it was all about figuring out what we could do on the short side of the building. That really started dictating the floor plan quite a bit. We see a lot of cabins in the woods that have a very rustic feel, which is charming in its own right, but we wanted to create a space that was simple and minimalist and more about the outside than the inside. That was a pretty considerable guiding principle. The cabin wasn't meant to have a super luxurious finish; it really was meant to be more utilitarian. We didn't want to create visual distractions that bring attention to the space.

What kind of materials were used to construct The Hideout?

Rico: When it came to choosing exposed materials, we tried to minimize the number of different materials to aid in the simplicity of the space. We ended up choosing materials that were honest to what they were and served a specific function. Even though the OSB (oriented strand board) we used on the walls, ceiling, and cabinetry, isn't typically used as a finish material, we love its texture and warm tones. Additionally, in the bathroom and shower, we used a material that rarely gets left exposed, but instead is what some internal boat parts are made of due to its waterproof, lightweight, but strong nature. With a little bit of sanding and a sealer to make it more wipeable, it turned out to be perfect for our use case.

 

 

Why did you decide to incorporate Floyd products into The Woodlands Hideout?

Duane: We really love the simplicity of Floyd's products and the aesthetic. Their whole vision is really cool and something that I loved. We talked about not really having any furniture in The Hideout and many things being built in. But I feel like we kept coming back to Floyd because of its simplicity. It seemed like something that could really become a part of the space.

Rico: I like that they created a product with components that can be utilized together. Your design and production efforts can go into a certain type of attachment connection that can help bring things together and make a beautiful piece of furniture that's functional and durable. The utilitarianism of their products is connected with our design approach for the space, too. Floyd also seems to be interested in promoting artists and designers as well. They're trying to build a community. So it felt like there was some good alignment with our intentions for the space.

 

 

Tell me more about The Hideout’s philosophy of unplugging. There are a lot of ways to unplug. Why build a unit as a way to do that? And what kind of experience do you hope that people have during their stay?

Rico: For me, the intention was to hone in on a space that is more set up for a solo disconnect retreat. It was about creating a space that felt safe enough and had a certain comfort level. But it was also about trying to create a space that was accessible, meaning you didn't have to bring a bunch of gear to disconnect. And then also thinking about creating a space that would allow for extended stays, leaning toward creatives and artists looking for a space to disconnect, furthering their journey and art. I feel like it helps humanity produce more beautiful things. So that connection was pretty foundational: setting up a space that could work in all seasons. It bridges this gap between the rustic experience in nature and having all the comforts and amenities of a hotel.

 

 

What can you tell me about the significance of this piece of land, in particular?

Rico: The physical location is out east towards Mount Hood. And I think the uniqueness of this particular piece of property was how old the trees were. You can see that these old-growth trees have survived fire, and they're still there. We're able to see the intelligence of an ecosystem and how everything is connected. Being around those old-growth trees, you feel something that's so much greater and more complicated than you that it’s grounding just to be there. When you think about it, we're all made up of the same stuff. One of our guests was a woman in her seventies. She loved looking out the window and seeing what she called a host tree. A host tree is a tree that has fallen and has become one with the ground. There's life growing from it. It provides the energy and the nutrients for more life to grow out of it. And she had the wisdom and awareness to say that her goal is to become a host tree, to become one with the Earth. She wants beautiful things to grow from it. That's really what it's all about: to clue us into that connective cycle.

Duane: We didn’t build The Hideout as something that everyone can be like, this is so cool or well designed. Those things are nice, but it's really about whether we can create an experience for people.

What's next for you both?

Rico: We've spoken a lot about what it means on a deeper level. And so trying to further that is really what Further is about. We're trying to figure out how to expand this experience to more people. The hope is that it can be a creative community as well, where people find their inspiration in nature. I feel like part of the conversation has always been, how can this grow? How can this be something that's scalable? There was always talk that this likely won't be the last thing we build together.

 

 

 

For more about The Woodlands Hideout please check out:

www.furthersociety.co

The Woodlands Hideout

@stay.further

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Floyd's home amidst a legacy of design.

Flashback: Michigan’s Lead Role in Furniture Manufacturing

03 10 22

Cayla Mihalovich

In the mid-nineteenth century, homes in America were dressing up. Parlor rooms and chamber suits became a Tetris of needlepoint seats, tea carts, rocking chairs, and lush fabrics. Pomp outweighed necessity. Furniture gushed with personality, celebrating specialization, ornamentation, and decoration. Regality was not reserved for the wealthy class. As Ken Ames says in Grand Rapids Furniture: The Story of America’s Furniture City, “The furniture industry flourished because people deeply believed in furniture. They believed that it expressed important truths about them as individuals, about their personality and character, about the quality of their lives, and about the level and nature of their civilization. To most people who shared the values of mainstream Victorian culture, living the good life meant living with good furniture.”


Postcard of the Phoenix Furniture Company factory and lumber yard in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1909.

Berkey and Gay Furniture Company, Rubbing Department, 1929.

 

“The Furniture City”

The furniture industry of Michigan made its debut at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial, the first World Fair hosted by the United States. Grand Rapids-based furniture companies such as Berkey & Gay, Nelson, Matter & Company, and Phoenix Furniture Company led the way for innovative and fast-paced design, proving that a mechanized process of manufacturing had developed beyond the traditional, handmade approach. Subsequently, towns across Michigan erected dozens of factories replete with mechanized technology. The state reached its golden years in mass-producing signature cabinets, tables, couches, and other pieces for the home. No other city producing furniture in the United States could outpace the production taking place in Grand Rapids. The city quickly garnered its title, “The Furniture City.” Manufacturing overflowed into the city of Holland and later, into Zeeland. These cities centered around furniture manufacturing, employing nearly half of its population with jobs that touched every part of the process.

But why Michigan? And more specifically, why Grand Rapids? For one, 95% of Michigan housed untouched forests, and Grand Rapids itself sat directly adjacent to wood such as pine, walnut, and oak. The state also had sufficient labor, optimistic investors, quality craftsmanship, and an appreciation for technology. Individuals moving West, namely immigrants from Poland, Germany, and the Netherlands, fell in love with the land and dropped their packs. Michigan’s infrastructure flourished with the development of railroads, bridges, canals, and roads that served the most efficient routes to and from the factories, which sat next to the Grand River and its reliable supply of power, water, and transportation.

 

The Autographed Suites were created in celebration of Berkey & Gay's 75th anniversary and shown for the first time at the 100th Grand Rapids Furniture Market in January 1928.

Autographed Suite Furniture Plate, Berkey & Gay Furniture Company, The Cowley, Designed by J. R. Vennell.

Autographed Suite Furniture Plate, Berkey & Gay Furniture Company, The Moreland, Designed by Frank C. Lee.

Autographed Suite Furniture Plate, Berkey & Gay Furniture Company, The Hervieu, Designed by William H. Eggebrecht.


Turning the Page

By the early twentieth century, Grand Rapids experienced a new chapter in its evolution, one that involved dwindling forests, aging factories facing costly repairs, and competition for labor, all of which led the city to take a backseat in its title and reputation. Additionally, by the 1930s, the arrival of the Great Depression muted the value placed on stylish living, and people’s needs reoriented around comfort, low cost, and simplicity. From 1945 onwards, a majority of residential furniture manufacturing moved away from Michigan, reestablishing itself in North Carolina and other Southern factories. But not all was lost. By the end of WWII, Christian G. Carron, former head of the curatorial department of The Public Museum of Grand Rapids, notes that furniture companies in Grand Rapids “nearly doubled, from 47 in 1940 to 88 in 1947…[becoming] clear that the pent-up need to buy furniture after 15 years of depression and war, combined with the increased number of marriages and new homes under construction, meant prosperity for furniture makers.” However, post-war recovery in Grand Rapids was slower due to the fact that families did not have the same kind of spending capital they once had. Furniture was a luxury, especially at the kind of caliber produced by furniture makers in Grand Rapids.

Change was edging closer. Factories were closing. Others were being bought out by larger players. Residential furniture was no longer prized, as it once was. The good news? Post-war America was in a state of rebuilding and all of those buildings needed furniture. The same talent that once took on residential manufacturing pivoted, applying their craftsmanship in woodworking and upholstering to meet the durability and ergonomics required of commercial furniture manufacturing that supplied places like schools, offices, and large auditoriums. Companies such as Herman Miller, Haworth, and Steelcase championed commercial furniture designed for efficiency and mass production.

 

Charles and Ray Eames in their home, Los Angeles, California, 1958

 

In this novel landscape, furniture manufacturing in Michigan found its footing due to the leadership of Herman Miller’s founder, D.J. DePree. Although DePree himself was rather austere and conservative, he remained open to outside influence. After DePree bought Star Furniture Company, he teamed up with New York-based designer, Gilbert Rohde. Their partnership paved the way for innovative design that would define the twentieth century. By 1945, designers at Herman Miller, including George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, Alexander Girard, and Isamu Noguchi, shifted away from traditional, ornate furniture. Instead, they leaned into a more modern and experimental aesthetic: bright colors, odd shapes, and varying weights that could produce something equally beautiful using half the amount of material.

The movement of the 1950s and 1960s ushered in what’s now known as mid-century modern design. Notable designs of the era included the Eames Fiberglass Armchair, Robert Propst’s “Action Office” cubicle, and Nelson’s bubble lamps. Floyd’s Head of Product, Tony Rotman, says, “From my viewpoint, mid-century design was a response to a cultural shift in society. Those designers were producing furniture for the masses that was so inexpensive, high quality, and very functional to the shifts in how people were living.” The highly regarded Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan served as a breeding ground for some of the most influential mid-century designers and their iconic work. Although mid-century designs phased out during the latter half of the 1960s, popularity surged once again in the 1980s and 1990s, prompting reissues of signature pieces and satisfying the demand for a direct to consumer model.

 

Eames Fiberglass Arm Chair


Floyd gets its start in Detroit.

Floyd co-founders Alex O’Dell and Kyle Hoff first met in Detroit at North Corktown’s Practice Space. It’s there where the idea for Floyd first began to grow its legs. Both from the midwest themselves (Michigan and Ohio respectively), O'Dell and Hoff were proud to be tapped in to the rich legacy of midwest manufacturing and ingenuity. “As we began to build the business, we found that our location in Detroit not only gave us great access to the manufacturing infrastructure of the Great Lakes Region, but we were also in a state with a rich history of furniture production." Hoff says.

 

Floyd HQ, Eastern Market, Detroit.

 

Today, Floyd’s manufacturing footprint mainly runs from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, and Tennessee, with around 25-30% of its products being manufactured by partners in West Michigan. Many of Floyd’s suppliers are multigenerational businesses: industry veterans who pride themselves on true craftsmanship, institutional knowledge, and respect for the design iteration process. “Being in Western Michigan, the whole entire supply chain is right here at our fingertips, within a 30 mile radius,” says Todd Folkert, CEO of Bold Furniture, one of Floyd’s Muskegon-based manufacturing partners. “A number of our employees, their fathers worked for Steelcase.” For these individuals, Folkert adds that the intrigue lies in being able to both influence and shape work environments and larger design trends for corporate America. The longevity in career makes sense in the context of nineteenth-century Grand Rapids furniture makers, whose typical trajectory required patience and dedication, putting in years of apprenticeship before moving up the ladder to a journeyman and then an expert.

Akin to Folkert’s employees, Floyd’s very own Tony Rotman grew up in West Michigan, where his dad worked at Herman Miller for 40 years. Rotman speaks to the pride and resiliency of manufacturing companies in the area. “The working mentality of West Michigan is culture, community, and resourcefulness. It’s working hard, not wasting anything, and smart thinking.” Rotman returned to Michigan after working on IKEA’s product development team in Sweden. Similar to how mid-century modern designers were responding to a cultural shift in society, Rotman says, “What excites me most about Floyd is that we’re pushing into the 21st century with an obvious nod and love for those who came before us, but focusing on the problems that we face today: climate change, chemicals and materials, human and environmental health. One of our design principles is [asking the question] ‘Why does this deserve to exist?’”

 

 

1. Berkey & Gay Furniture Co.’s salesrooms, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Schuyler Colfax Baldwin, New York Public Library; 2.. Postcard manufactured by Will P Canaan Company, Grand Rapids Public Museum; 3. Grand Rapids Public Museum; 4, 5, & 6 Grand Rapids Public Museum; 7. Julius Shulman, photographer, 1958, for Time Magazine, The Getty Research Institute Special Collections; 8. Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr.

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Born from a table leg, named after a family legacy.

Floyd. What's Behind the Name?

03 04 22
 

When you come from a family of 'Floyds' and steel is in your blood, there's no guessing what your company name will be.

Here's the story of how Floyd became Floyd.


Co-founder Kyle Hoff's family includes three generations of 'Floyds.' His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather worked in steel mills in Youngstown, Ohio, and were named Floyd.

 

Floyd I (left), overseeing completion of the first cold roll strip at Federal Steel, March 11, 1937.

 

"When Alex [O'Dell] and I searched for a name, we were in the process of bringing The Leg to life on Kickstarter," recalls Kyle. "The Leg is made of sheet steel, and when you turn it sideways, there’s a distinct shape of the letter F. That was the first point of inspiration for the name."

 

 

"We also thought back to the manufacturing heritage of the Great Lakes region. Going back multiple generations, my family worked in the steel industry, manufacturing at steel mills in Youngstown, Ohio. My parents even met in a steel mill! The industry powered the whole city, so it was just part of my upbringing. The idea of naming The Leg, 'The Floyd Leg,' and eventually the company itself, Floyd, came from that legacy."

 

The Floyd name is fun and isn't intimidating. It signifies that you can be a part of this brand, this design world.

 

"And this notion drives how we approach our brand overall — how we photograph, how we think about products; they should be approachable. It's not about the piece of furniture you buy. It is about you as a person and the world around you. Hopefully, people can connect to that idea and appreciate the heritage behind our name.”

No exclusivity here. Floyd is welcoming, like a friend. We’re a company that focuses on comfortable furniture, simple design, and long-lasting materials to stick with you through every step of life's journey. And we like to think that’s how most Floyds are as well.

 

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Inside this writer and editor's easygoing and playful, yet relaxing Brooklyn apartment.
Aemila Madden sitting on a blue sofa

A Look at Aemilia Madden's Home

03 03 22
 

California native Aemilia Madden always had a passion for writing, which ultimately brought her to the world of fashion. The editor, writer, and creative consultant — most recently, the senior fashion editor at The Zoe Report — now calls New York home. Her Brooklyn home is airy with pops of color and vintage elements, much like her personal style. It's a space curated with pieces she loves, brings her joy, and creates relaxing energy for her days at home.


Tell us a little about yourself!

I've lived in New York for a little over eight years now. I'm not sure exactly when you qualify as a New Yorker, but I think, at my core, I've mostly retained my chill Californian outlook after all this time. Growing up in Oakland, I used to visit family on the East Coast every few years and was always drawn to the creative energy and pace of the city here. I went to college in the Bay Area, and as much as I love the access to nature and the balance of life there, I was hungry to get out. I don't know that I believed my current career as a fashion editor was an available option to me, but I followed my interests through internships and eventually landed where I am today — a writer, consultant, and editor.

Last year, I moved from living in Manhattan (I'd spent the last five years on the Lower East Side) out to Clinton Hill in Brooklyn. It was a gut feeling — I didn't have a ton of friends in the neighborhood, but I was itching for a change. I spent months searching and got so lucky with my apartment, it's my happy space.

 

Aemilia's Floyd Bed Frame in an white bedroom with guitar and art on the wall.

 

You studied Political Economics and now work as a writer. What made you choose this path?

I've always been a writer, even if my path to my current role is a little circuitous. I was the arts editor of my high school newspaper, and I still have the diaries I wrote as a 10-year-old. I went to college not knowing exactly what I wanted to study — I considered being an archeologist for a while, ha! I knew I wanted writing to be an element of my work, but I wanted to explore history, sociology, and all these other things … I think I wanted to contextualize what I was writing; to put ideas into a larger framework. Political Economics was a way for me to do that.

While I was studying, I spent every semester doing a different internship in something related to writing, the coolest being when I worked at Radio Free Europe in Prague, a news organization funded by the State Department. With every internship I had, I always found myself drawn back to the storytelling element. I was keeping a personal blog while I traveled abroad (as one did back in 2012), and I liked the format of online writing. So I took an internship out of college and just kept at it.

 

Amelia is reading a magazine while lying down on a tan leather sofa.
A close up of a glass center table with stacked coffee table books and scented candles and a healing stone on top.

 

Has fashion always been a passion of yours?

It's funny because if you ask my friends from college or high school, they probably wouldn't have guessed at the time that I would have become a fashion editor. I grew up in the Bay Area, and my everyday style has always been fairly casual and outdoorsy. But, my mom jokes that I used to show up to dinner in fancy dresses as a kid. There's always been something about expressing a personal style that I've been attracted to. There are still old Teen Vogue, Vogue, and Elle magazines stacked in my parents' basement.

I remember a store in Oakland and San Francisco growing up called Jeremy's that used to consign returned pieces from Barneys (RIP) and other luxury stores. I used to be a voracious second-hand shopper there — I still have a pair of Miu Miu moto boots I bought (I think in high school). I was always interested in fashion, but it was never a career that I envisioned as a possibility. It felt so far away from my life.

You're not just a writer but also a creative consultant. How did that come about?

Working as a fashion editor is about wearing so many hats. There's so much technical knowledge, and it's about finding a balance between the creative and analytical. Over time, I had friends coming to me wanting advice for their own brands, and I realized that I had a skill set that I could apply to help them build their brands. It was a very natural process.

 

Close up of a framed letter which reads: Dear World, I am writing you this letter to inform you of my unbreakable nature. That's all. Love, Women Everywhere.

 

What advice would you give to those trying to find a career they enjoy/love or a new way to channel their passion?

It’s funny; I think the last few years have shifted my perspective on this a bit. It’s great to find work that fulfills you in some way, but I also think it’s so important to evaluate how you can find that fulfillment outside of the job as well. Pay attention to what excites you and pursue that.

How do you like to spend your time when you're not working?

Since I work from home, I spend a lot of time in my own space, and luckily I feel like I've created an energy here that makes it easy to relax and turn off. I love being outside: hiking, running, and even just having a coffee in the park, so any time the weather permits, I'm in nature. I've always been a big reader — pre-COVID, I used to host a book club, but it has gone dormant — so I like to spend downtime doing that as well. Also, a personal hobby is music. I grew up singing, playing piano, and guitar, and as an adult, I'm very mediocre at all three. Still, it brings me a lot of joy to take time to practice just for myself.

 

Aemilia's living room with cow print rug, blue chairs and light fixture, tan sofa, glass coffee table, and fireplace.

 

Describe your personal style in three words.

Easygoing, playful, instinctive.

Do you find these three words also describe your home, or would you describe it differently?

I'd say my home styling is definitely similar to how I dress. I love vintage pieces. I love color, quirkiness, and imperfections. Also, it's instinctive in that I trust my gut and don't overthink what works and what doesn't — if I like it, I'll figure out how to make it fit. My home is never the type that looks perfectly organized either. There's always a little bit of clutter or something lived-in about it (unsurprising, since I'm here all the time!).

What was the intention behind your home's decor (color selection/furniture/etc.)?

I'm not an organized decorator. My current space is a mix of new things and pieces I've carried through two or three other apartments. I buy a lot of furniture vintage, so the aesthetic is more just a combining of different items that make me happy. I'm definitely attracted to natural elements like wood and stone. Also, I recently realized my living room has a lot of blue elements. It wasn't purposeful, but I like the cool, relaxed element the color brings to my space.

 

Built-in bookcase filled with books.
Aemilia shows the colorful print inside a coffee table book.
View of the wood dining table with black chairs and cane-back chair.

 

What are some of your favorite items in your home? Do any have an interesting story that you'd like to share?

I keep a box of photos and letters tucked away in a closet — that's probably the first thing I'd go for if I had to run out of the house in an emergency. I don't go through the box often; I sort of hide it away and forget about it. But every so often, I'll pull everything out and just look over it again. It speaks to so many relationships and periods of my life. Also, as a fashion editor, I'd have to say I have a thing for handbags, especially vintage ones, so those are among my favorite things.  

You have a great bookshelf! Are you an avid reader? What are some of your favorites?

I am a big reader, and I was very excited to have a little bookshelf for the titles that I have here in New York. One of my favorites is The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I read it right before college, and it totally changed how I thought about food and our ecosystem. I don't know that another book has ever had such an outward impact on my life.


I also have a precious vintage copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion, another favorite of mine.

 

Aemilia sits at dining table wearing colorful print shirt and dark jeans.

 

Some find their home is an extension of their work. Others call their space a retreat. What would you say your home means to you?

My current apartment is the first one I've lived in here in New York, where I'm at peace and don't feel cramped or stir crazy when I'm home alone all day. Though I often work from home, I don't want a formal office-y vibe; I want to feel like it's my space to unwind and recharge. I definitely have introverted energy, so though I could be out meeting friends every night of the week, I need a space to come home to and just veg a little.

 

 

For more about Aemilia please check out:

@aemiliafay 

aemiliamadden.com

 

 

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A peek inside the room where the President sits.

The Six Desks of The Oval Office

02 17 22
Jonathan Bender

When you start a new job, the first thing you might think about is where are you going to sit. It turns out presidents are the same.

There have been only six desks in the 113 years that a president has worked in the Oval Office. Each desk was designed with a specific purpose, a reflection of the style and moment in history that they were made.

This is how each piece arrived at the White House.


Let’s go back to 1909. Cars raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time. Alice Huyler Ramsey became the first woman to drive across the United States (It took 59 days.). The Manhattan Bridge opened on the very last day of the year.

In October of 1909, President William Howard Taft began working in a newly built spot in The White House called the “President’s Office.” What we know as the Oval Office today was painted olive green and had chairs covered in caribou hide held in place by brass tacks.

In the center of the office was the Theodore Roosevelt Desk (named for and used by Taft’s predecessor), a pedestal desk created by Charles Follen McKim, one of the partners in McKim, Mead & White — the designers of the original West Wing. The mahogany desk was more than 7 feet wide, a stolid rectangle softened by rounded corners and semi-circular brass pulls.

 

The Roosevelt Desk used by President Truman


The Roosevelt Desk replica in the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum

Charles Follen McKim

 

Four presidents would sit behind the Roosevelt Desk until a fire swept through the West Wing and destroyed the original Oval Office in 1929. The desk was saved; but placed in storage for the next 15 years.

A new desk — the Hoover Desk — arrived in the rebuilt Oval Office in 1930. It was a gift from the then “Furniture Capital of the World,” and the Grand Rapids Furniture Manufacturer’s Association. The walnut desk with clean art deco lines (part of a 17-piece set) was envisioned by J. Stuart Clingman, a designer with the renowned furniture maker John Widdicomb Co.

 

J. Stuart Clingman

 

While President Herbert Hoover used the desk — it was the first Oval Office desk to hold a working telephone — its place in history was cemented by a few strokes of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s pen. In December of 1941, FDR sat behind the Hoover Desk as he signed declarations of war against Germany and Japan as the United States entered World War II.

 

The Hoover Desk in a recreation of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Oval Office at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

 

In 1945, the Theodore Roosevelt Desk returned to the Oval Office with President Harry Truman. It remained there for 18 years until First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy discovered the Resolute Desk in a White House broadcasting room (President Dwight D. Eisenhower had sat behind it when he addressed the nation on television.)

Now when you close your eyes and picture the Oval Office, it is likely the Resolute Desk you see. The sturdy, two-pillar desk is immortalized in the candid picture where John F. Kennedy Jr. peeks out from underneath the desk as his father works above him. It’s even got a cameo in National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

The Resolute Desk was built from the oak timbers of a sunken British ship, the HMS Resolute, a gift from Queen Victoria to President Rutherford B. Hayes. It was constructed in the traditional style of a partner’s desk, wide enough to let two people work across from each other. The back opening to the desk was modified by FDR, who commissioned a swinging panel featuring the President’s Seal to bridge the gap between the two pillars. That panel was completed and installed after FDR’s death.  

The Resolute, or “Hayes,” Desk is the only Oval Office desk to go on tour. After President Kennedy’s assassination, it was part of a traveling exhibit to raise funds for the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.  

 

The Resolute desk in William Howard Taft's Presidential Study before the kneehole panel was added.

H.M.S Resolute and Intrepid winter Quarters, Melville Island, 1852-53

The Resolute Desk in the Broadcast Room on the ground floor at the White House, October 6, 1952.

 

As the Resolute Desk toured the nation in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson began an unofficial tradition by taking the desk he had used as vice president with him to the Oval Office. While the Johnson Desk was only used for six years, its history goes back much longer.

Cabinetmaker Thomas D. Waldeton designed the two-pillar mahogany desk with ornate carved flowers in the corners and circular bun feet. It was built by S. Karpen and Bros, a Chicago-based furniture company, in 1909, the same year the Oval Office was first used. The Johnson Desk (original price tag: $80) was part of 125 sets used in senators’ offices, which is where LBJ first sat behind the green leather-topped desk.

By this point in time, the desks of the Oval Office had taken on an aura of their own. And the desk they picked became a point of pride for a number of incoming presidents.

 

The Johnson Desk in the replica Oval Office at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum.

 

President Richard Nixon selected the Wilson Desk as his workspace because he believed that it was used by President Woodrow Wilson (who had actually used the Roosevelt Desk). The desk had actually been used by 15 different vice presidents and was Nixon’s desk before he was elected to serve as the 37th President.

The Wilson Desk is a mahogany, two-pedestal desk (noticing a trend, yet?) with a set of drawers in each pillar. And yes, this is the desk where President Nixon had the Secret Service install hidden microphones, which would record conversations at the center of the Watergate scandal. The desk, sans microphones, would be used by President Gerald Ford before being returned to the Vice President’s office in the Capitol Building.

 

The Wilson Desk in the Vice President's Room of the United States Capitol in 1920.

The Wilson Desk replica in the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

 

The Resolute Desk was brought back by President Jimmy Carter in 1977. It’s been in place ever since, with the exception of President George H.W. Bush’s term between 1989 and 1993.

The last vice president’s desk to get a call up to the big leagues was the C&O Desk. This was President George H.W. Bush’s desk, although it was originally built for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway before being donated to the White House.

 

The C&O Desk, Oval Office, George H.W. Bush Administration.

 

The walnut partners’ desk is an homage to 18th century English furniture-making with a maple top and bracket feet. Muted gold handles are on the tiered drawers that line both pedestals.

President Bill Clinton opted to bring back the Resolute Desk and the four presidents after him have all kept it in place. An oak desk made with timber rescued from Arctic ice where they have witnessed and made history.

 

 

 

1. Jules Cambon, signing the Treaty of Paris on behalf of Spain in 1899 at the Resolute desk during William McKinley's presidency, p. 431 of Harper's Pictorial History of the War with Spain, Vol. II, published by Harper and Brothers in 1899; 2. Abbie Rowe, 1905-1967, Photographer, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Office of Presidential Libraries; 3. Jason D. Smith, 2011, CC BY 2.0; 4. Portrait of American architect Charles Follen McKim by Frances Benjamin Johnston, between 1890 and 1909,The Johnston (Frances Benjamin) collection at the Library of Congress;
5. J. Stuart Clingman, Designer For John Widdicomb Co., Grand Rapids Public Museum; 6. Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum;
7. Abbie Rowe, National Park Service, Harry S. Truman Library & Museum; 8. Harris & Ewing, photographer, Library of Congress; 9. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London; 10. Michael Barera, 2017, CC BY-SA 4.0; 11. Jeremy Thompson, 2016, CC BY 2.0; 12. Library of Congress; 13. Records of the White House Photograph Office, 1/20/1989 - 1/20/1993.

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