Bryan’s Table: an Heirloom in the Making

Nearly forty years ago, we lived in Sheffield, next-door-but-one to Bryan.  He was and is a carpenter. His wood never came from the woodyard though.  It was always scavenged. You’d find him investigating skips or nosing through derelict buildings.  Not for him IKEA generation pine and MDF. No, Bryan looked for weathered oak, warm-toned cedar, maple, cherry, iroko.  He’d pick up a walnut floorboard or a broken mahogany cupboard door. He’d squirrel away a fragment of marquetry or a shard of polished ebony.  Who knew when they’d come in handy? Everything was carefully organised next to his workshop: it might wait years and months for its moment of glory, but every piece of wood would find a use … one day.

He wanted projects he could put his personal stamp on – no identical sets of anything for him.  And he liked to try things out and experiment. So he made a deal with us. We’d get the dining table we wanted if he could try a few techniques that might or might not work.  No money would change hands. In exchange for being guinea pigs, we would get a table – for free – that might fall apart within the year.

This table was horribly difficult to photograph. Standing unsteadily on chairs hardly seemed to help.

Forty years on, we’re still using it.  We still enjoy the almost-game-of-chess to be played on its surface.  We fondle the dome of wood rising gently along one side. We smile as we remember the small marquetry lines that punctuate one of the legs: they show the knee heights of Thomas, then four, and Ellie, then two.  We invent tales about the stick-man water carrier and enjoy the pretty mother-of-pearl buttons embossed into the surface. Look at the legs. Each is different – one made from pillars of the checker-board assembly scattered on the surface.

Crawl underneath.  The table is dedicated to everyone in the family.  There’s a further notice: this one.

We’ve called in one 10,000 meal service, as promised on the dedication notice. Sadly, Bryan now lives in Wales, and we have moved north from the Sheffield street where we once all lived.  Bryan and I each have a different partner now, and we’ve rather lost touch. But that table ensures that he’s never forgotten.  And when I go, will it have to be chopped in three? Each of my children wants it. Perhaps it’ll be a Judgement of Solomon moment for them.

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47 thoughts on “Bryan’s Table: an Heirloom in the Making”

  1. Oh I L-O-V-E it! Obviously it is 100%original and totally unique and what wonderful memories it must bring sitting around it. I particularly like the notice underneath from Bryan. How on earth can you work out what the future holds for Bryan’s Table? As long as it is loved 🙂

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      1. Hi Margaret, thank you for your lovely words regarding the table.
        It was the start of a long and exciting life of making and it shaped the way I thought, and still do …….
        I hope you and your family are well and happy.
        It would be lovely to see you again sometime !
        Love. Bryan x

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Bryan! What a surprise! What a super-sleuth you are. But if it’s put us back in touch with you, it’s really been worth writing that post. Well, we’re in the Yorkshire Dales – worth a visit. You’re in Wales – ditto. Let’s see if we can contrive an excuse over the next year. Love, M xx

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  2. This is just really super cool–I love the whimsy of it and the unpredictable details–he had fun making it and you’ve enjoyed, and had fun with, it ever since! I hope it lasts 40 more years, and 40 more . . . whichever of your kids it ends up with!

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  3. Whoever inherits the table must promise to be the one to host Christmas every year… What a wonderful piece and with a story that must not be forgotten – maybe it will have a visit to Antiques Roadshow one day?

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  4. That’s an extraordinary piece of work, it knocks most so-called bespoke furniture into a cocked hat. I love furniture that tells a story and this one is still being written. And how lovely to find yourself back in touch with the artist. What a result.

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  5. Oh this is just wonderful! And it’s brought you back into contact with Bryan! This table is beyond price now of course, with so much love and so many family stories behind it. No wonder your children all want it.

    Also, it’s a little odd seeing reference to your Thomas and Ellie (I have both though they are reversed in birth order) and also the date 4-9-81, which is when my Ellie was born.) It’s also a coincidence that we have been trying and failing to have a table made for us and were very recently discussing it with a local carpenter who squirrels wood away just as Bryan does. (Sadly he’s not up for the project.) You give me hope though. We’ll find a solution. 🙂

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    1. Oh, good luck wit this project. It’s definitely worth holding out for the right person to do the job. My Ellie (Elinor really) was supposed to be a Hallowe’en baby, but was a Bonfire Night baby instead. She’s always been a Drama Queen. And you have a Thomas too? We’ll be related next!

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      1. Indeed! My Ellie (Elena – thankfully our offspring are not complete clones) was supposed to be my birthday present but arrived three weeks early. She continues to be forthright and forge her own path!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. That is fascinating as before I started reading I was convinced this beautiful piece was contemporary work especially with all the current trends for conserving and re-using. Bryan was/is obviously a chap ahead of his time. It will be very interesting to see if your renewed contact results in a solution for your Judgment of Solomon issue.

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  7. What a fantastic story and a fantastic table. Squirreling away interesting wood is one thing, but putting it to good use in such an amazing way is quite another. I love that it is so tactile as well as being visually intricate and interesting.

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  8. sorry, for once I need to use a swear word of admiration: Holy crap – this is bloody incredible – even though you risk a family internal war over it after you’ll die! What a story to tell and a life to go back to, meal after meal, sitting around it, discussing, talking, cutting another ‘slit’ in it for whatever reason – I can’t get over it…. and then that label on the underside of the table, that’s really the cherry on the bottom of this cake!

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  9. OMG; this is getting better and better – you’ve been reunited with Bryan – what a dream ‘ending’ and renewal of your friendship. You MUST visit each other.
    His work also reminded me very much of my father, who was also a ‘squirrel’ of some sort. He made stuff of everything reusable, mostly out of hardship, having four children and only a modest income makes you being very resourceful. He did also all our ‘folding up’ beds, including frequent replacement of the wooden legs, because with our bouncing and maybe not complete ‘outfolding’ of said legs, they broke frequently…. but he also made ‘club tables’ with mosaics of little bits and pieces of very hard and quite colourful MDF (?) scraps. He designed birds, landscapes and glued small pieces together to make these tabletops and all had very beautifully finished ‘borders’ and elegant legs…. Sadly none stayed with our family; he probably sold them one by one when finished and we never saw them again.

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      1. Well, that was wahayyyyyy before Internet…. Also, I keep a terribly low profile, have no fb, a ‘silent’ ig only, and I wouldn’t even know where to start. But Bryan’s work just gave me a tug of my heartstrings for a moment. It’s so good to have ‘stuff’ like this – and I do hope you’ll be able to meet up again.

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