custom furniture

Interior design trend alert: the art of chinoiserie and japanning

Vintage 1970's Chinoiserie mirror available via Dering Hall Martin Pierce Hardware Los Angeles, Ca  90016 The art of Chinoiserie (meaning chinese-esque in french) is re-appearing as an interior design trend for 2015.

In and out of popularity since it was first introduced to western Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, it is often found on wallcoverings, fabrics and porcelain  decorative objects.  Designs included depictions of life in the Orient, exotic birds and insects and plenty of floral motifs.  Its popularity was due, in part, to how well it complimented the then popular Rococo style of architecture and decor.  Chinoiserie represented wealth and luxury and names like Rothschild and Getty, along with royalty,  enjoyed its beauty in many of their residences.

In an attempt to imitate the beauty of Chinese lacquer, the art of japanning was later introduced. This multi-step process is time intensive but will give any item a distinctive style as you can see by the vine design japanned onto our limited edition Ascot tallboy.

Ascot Tallboy limited edition by Martin Pierce Hardware Los Angeles CA  980016

You can employ this trend in large doses as the famed Elsie de Wolfe did in the 1920's in her own residence:

Chinoiserie wallpaper lines the walls of famed designer Elsie de Wolfe's residence Martin Pierce Hardware Los Angeles, Ca  90016

or you can add this historic look through the use of well-curated decorative accesssories such as vases, mirrors and lamps.

To view our entire collection of bespoke furniture and architectural hardware, please visit our site at

Designers, please stop by our showroom located at:

5433 W. Washington Blvd.

Los Angeles, Ca  90016

Tel: 323 939 5929

Tools of the trade for custom hardware

carving tools Martin Pierce Hardware While we agree that the most important tools for any creative profession is the brain, the imagination and the hands, there are other man-made tools that do make the job easier and add those all-important details that can turn a hunk of clay, stone or metal into a work of art.  Chisels of varying sizes, hammers, mallets, knives and vises all play an important role in the final outcome of a piece of sculpture, custom hardware or furniture.

Over the years we have sporadically shared with you some of the tools that Martin uses when creating his sculptures and custom hardware molds.  As you can see from some of the photos, Martin does have his favorites that bear the marks of years of use.  But, like most things, they just get better with time.

Martin Carving a Large Lizard in Wood

Here is the result of the carving seen in the above photo---our lizard door pulls.  The close-up photo makes it possible for you to see the amazing detail and realism on the lizards and the backplate accomplished through the use of all of Martin's carving tools.

martin pierce lizard door pull right and left


We would love to hear what tools you find useful in your job.  And if you would like to view our collection of architectural hardware, custom furniture and unique sculptures, please visit us at

Iris has a new friend- Part 4 and final reveal

Whew!  As you can tell from the previous posts, this is a time consuming project that requires quite a bit of detail to get it just right. When we last left you Martin had begun the process of carving the details of Iris' ears, head etc. and we shared the tools that he uses to create these details.

Carving tools Martin Pierce Hardware

The next step is perhaps the most important, capturing the very essence of Iris in the uniqueness of her facial expressions, beauty marks etc.  As with all dogs, the brow is where we see a lot of their comical and quizzical expressions and Iris has quite lovely frown lines. Martin  began carving these with a fine gauge to create a deep furrow.  He then employed a “V” chisel to create acute sides to the frown furrow and, lastly, he used a reverse gouge to soften the tops of the frown lines.

Iris bust complete Martin Pierce Hardware

Next came the pores where her whiskers were created with a fine veiner that was used to make shallow but well defined indentations. That left her beauty moles.  If you look closely you can see one of these moles just behind her "smile".  Martin approached these as if he were making a miniature “sand castle” i.e. the surrounding wood is scooped out leaving a raised mound.

Completed bust Martin Pierce Hardware

Sanding the entire piece was the next step.  Martin began with an orbital sander using 120 grit paper and then sanding by hand with 120 and finer 150 grit paper.  Finally, he used medium and fine scotchbrite sheets to give her a really smooth appearance.

The bust was finished with oil and clear wax and no lacquer. The oil, especially, is responsible for bringing out the differences in grain color and in making the figuring of the walnut even more beautiful.

Over time and with exposure to the sun this bust will become a gorgeous golden brown and will look very close to Iris' actual color. We are probably going to cast this in bronze and, if so, will offer it in a limited edition.  Our only reservation is that we both like the effect in wood and want it to stay at home as we are all (including Iris who thinks it is a friend) enjoying it so much.

It all began with this photo:

Martin Pierce Hardware

And ended with this beautiful hand-carved sculpture:

Martin Pierce Hardware

What do you think?  Did we capture her?

If you would like to view our entire collection of architectural and custom hardware, visit our site at


Iris has a new friend-part 3 rough carving

The next step in this journey of the heart is the rough carving.  You can bring yourself up to date and review steps 1 and 2 by clicking here. Martin will typically draw bold lines on the surface of the wood he is carving to map out where to remove wood to create the desired shape and depth.  He gathers his carving tools together which includes a mallet and 2 scooped chisels, as well as a pencil.  You can see these tools in the photo below.

carving tools Martin Pierce Hardware

rough carving

Carving is a reductive technique where you start with large, wide and deep gouging chisels to quickly  remove wood and then move to the smaller flat chisels.  The mallet is used to add power to the chisel.  Martin also uses the thick area of flesh on his palms to hit the chisel as you can achieve greater control in any tricky areas with this method.  The wood we chose for this sculpture, walnut, is a hard, dense wood so it takes a lot of force to  carve it.

beginning bust

Martin began this stage of carving by focusing on the ears.  He removed wood from underneath the ear to capture the delicacy and expressive quality of Iris’s ears.  This was tricky but he used fine veining chisels to create crevices and a small spoon gouge chisel to hollow out the ears.

In the final installment of this series we we will share with you how the defining details were created to capture the true essence of Iris' personality and debut the finished product.

To view our collection of architectural hardware and custom furniture, please visit our site at



Iris has a new friend Part 2-gluing

We last left you with the beginnings of a sculpture of our dog, Iris', head.  We shared the process of sketching an idea, deciding on a wood type and tracing the pattern onto the wood. The next step is the gluing and roughing out the actual shape of the bust.  To begin with Martin cut out the profile on 4 pieces of wood using the paper template from the originial sketch.

Mahogany pieces glued together with rough cut of profile Martin Pierce Hardware

For this he used a bandsaw which, as any hobbyist will know, is a saw that uses a band of metal teeth to cut through the wood.  The "bands" vary with each machine and they also vary in terms of how course or fine the cut line needs to be.  For this bust we used a medium band that was 155" long, 3/4" wide and with 4 "teeth per inch.

Martin Pierce hardware

We jointed the sections of wood with a polyurethane glue made in the Netherlands by Rectavit and sold in the United States as Structan.  We have used this glue for many years now as it is not as brittle as typical wood glue.  Since it is somewhat pliant it allows slight movement in the wood to take place.  Other glues may form a tough and brittle bond so that any movement in the wood can result in splitting or cracking.  You may be asking why wood moves.  The answer is that wood is actually a living thing and will expand with moisture and high humidity and contract with heat or very low humidity.

Martin Pierce Hardware

In this next photo you can see the rough sculpture all glued together.  Notice the paper template next to it which was used in the creation of this sculpture.

martin pierce iris bust with paper template next to it

We are getting closer to sharing the final sculpture with you and we are sure you will be as delighted as we are with the beauty of the wood and the fine detail of Iris' impressive profile.  Iris still thinks it is a new friend and wags her tail when she sees it.

To view our entire collection of architectural hardware or to discuss custom pieces for your next hospitality project, please visit our site at



Design inspiration from Mother Nature

Martin Pierce custom hardware Mother Nature has certainly given us all a lesson with this year's extraordinary weather throughout the world.  Unprecedented snowstorms and below freezing temperatures have hit the eastern portion of the United States while unseasonably warm weather has wreaked havoc with winter sports at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  But, along with unusual weather patterns, she also provides us with extraordinary inspiration for color combinations, sculpture and other forms of artwork and design.

Limited Edition Ascot Sideboard featuring our dragonfly drawer pull

We often talk about how nature inspires Martin's designs.  For example, our popular Hedgerow  furniture and architectural hardware collections were inspired by the trees and shrubs found in our native England.  Our Ascot series of custom furniture features beautiful patterns of leaves and vines using the ancient japanning technique of inlay.  We offer many custom hardware pieces inspired by insects and other living creatures and Martin is currently working on new paintings that include one of his favorite subjects, the beetle.

If you are searching for design inspiration for a project, it might be a simple as taking a walk in the park, a hike in your local mountains or just open your own back door to come up with the perfect jumping off point for your color, hardware and textile selections.

To view our entire collection of custom furniture and hardware, please visit our site at

Limited edition tallboy at home

We recently wrote about how to choose between a custom or ready made piece of artwork or furniture.  We shared with you a bespoke version of our Ascot Tallboy designed for a client who wished to display and store their prized collection of 78 record albums and the vintage player.  Custom details included interior shelves and dividers cut to fit the record sleeves. Limited edition Ascot tallboy with japanning detail and custom interior shelves from Martin Pierce Custom Hardware

This limited edition piece is now in place and the client has graciously shared photos of it in use.

Martin Pierce Custom Hardware and furniture

The beautiful wood and japanning details really complement other pieces in the room and no one would guess that those doors hide plenty of convenient storage for easy access to the 78 LP's.  In my humble opinion, the perfect marriage between the old and the new.

If you would like to view other piece of custom furniture or our entire collection of custom architectural hardware,  please visit our site at

Custom vs. ready made or Why should I buy a custom piece of furniture?

Many people question the value of customizing a piece of furniture or hardware when a similar item may be available for immediate purchase.  Take a look at the latest incarnation of our limited edition Ascot Tallboy and you will clearly see the value of a custom piece. This piece was commissioned by architectural designer Jan McHugh of JBM Designs. Jan works in the Chicago and Indianapolis areas and can be reached via email at   This tallboy is intended for her clients who are the proud owners of an incredible art collection.  The interior of the tallboy was customized to hold their prized Victrola and store their valuable collection of "78's".  Coincidentally, this is #78 in a limited edition of 100 and it is going to be used to store 78's...clearly meant to be!

In order to properly support the Victrola and still enjoy the beautiful japanning details we adjusted the placement and allowed the pattern to wrap around the sides of the cabinet instead of across the top.  We also wanted to make the pull more of a focal point so chose to use the medium sized scarab pull from our Animal collection of custom architectural hardware.

martin pierce ascot tallboy number 78 of 100 side view

As usual, the tallboy is crafted from English brown oak and darkened chiseled walnut. You may remember that Martin likes English brown oak for the lovely golden amber hue and the "leopard spots", or dark brown markings that are part of the character of this particular wood.  These brown spots are a result of a fungus that the English brown oak tree suffers from or supports, depending on how you look at it.

The interior of the cabinet was also customized to house the sleeves of the unique record collection.

martin pierce ascot tallboy number 78 of 100 interior view customized for client record colleciton

As you can see, a ready to purchase cabinet would not have met the unique needs of this client but being able to request specific design and function details will make it possible for them to enjoy not only a beautiful piece of furniture but store and display their prized record collection.

To view other items from our custom furniture collection and our bespoke hardware collection, visit our site at

Custom toy chest part III--final detailing

Hand carved toy chest featuring swallow pull and japanning technique from Martin Pierce If you have read, and hopefully enjoyed, our previous posts then you are now aware of the process used to create this incredible toy chest but you may be asking yourself how it gets that glow?  Here is a synopsis of the final detailing process we used.

  • Before the entire piece is finished, details need to be applied to the raised carved animals. Some animals were lucky enough to receive a coating of gilt including the owl, deer, rabbit and geese who were decked out in white gold.  This is a multi-step process that begins with the application of a modern jesso called casein (made from milk solids) in successive layers to fill in the open grain of the wood.  Next Martin applied a gold size called Wondersize over the smooth casein and very carefully laid the paper thin white gold on top.  Once dry the excess gold was brushed off and the gold received a coat of lacquer to seal it into place.  It was now time for all the animals to receive a paint job to bring out the individual details of wings, feet, fur etc.  This was accomplished through the use of a glaze made of pigment, oil and alcohol.
  • It is now time for the entire chest to be finished with a penetrating oil that brought out both the rich grain and red amber color of the wood. We then lacquered the piece with a commercial lacquer for shine and protection.  Unlike woods like walnut and oak that lighten with ultra violet exposure, this cherry chest will turn a rich mahogany color as it is exposed to the oxidation of ultra violet light over time.
  • Final details like those whimsical and "Disneyesque" mushroom feet and the swallow pull add the final magical touches.  The pull was cast in blue jeweler's wax that allows Martin to create details like the wing and tail feathers.  You can learn more about this casting process by reading this post.
  • custom toy chest from Martin Pierce Hardware featuring whimsical mushroom feet

    swallow pull from Martin Piece hardware used on top of toy chest


The end result of all of this is a toy chest that is an heirloom in waiting and while our client is not royalty, is certainly fit for a royal baby, wouldn't you agree?

Please visit us at to view our entire collection of bespoke hardware and furniture.



Custom toy chest--part II

In our last post we shared the initial process of creating such a detailed piece as this toy chest.  You were able to see how Martin scales up his drawings on a simple piece of grid paper and how the end result compares to the original drawing.  But how does this: martin pierce toy chest in progress

become this?

Martin Pierce Hardware

This toy chest is crafted of cherry wood as it has a vibrant and lovely red character and is an excellent carving wood.  The dancing animals are carved directly into the wood with a variety of chisels, a labor intensive process to be sure.

Beatrix Bear, Oly Owl and squawking geese by Martin Pierce Hardware

With this drawing the design is outlined onto the wood and the correct chisel is chosen to begin the carving process. For example, a curved chisel for the back of the bear and a flat, straight chisel for the legs of the geese.  You "set" the chisel and hit the top of it with a heavy mallet that results in a clear cut into the wood where you can begin the carving process.  The “raised” animals are then carved with a variety of chisels to give them fur, muscles, and wings.   Some of the animals were covered with casein plastic so they could be gilded while others were left in natural cherry tones.  You can clearly spot the animals in the drawing in the finished product shown above.

The work involved in creating this amazing toy chest is what sparked Martin's interest in painting.  While he has not painted much lately,  he does like to create fantasy scenes involving very large beetles and wasps.  Until he begins painting more, I guess we are stuck enjoying his insect designs  in our Animal collection of custom hardware.

To view our entire collection of bespoke furniture and hardware designs, please visit us at

also show swallow pull

Childhood fantasies come alive on this custom wooden toy chest-Part I

As you may already know, Martin Pierce Hardware designs and produces not only beautiful and functional hardware but also manufactures bespoke furniture pieces that, in my humble opinion, are true works of art.  Take for example this toy chest that we designed for a very special client: Martin Pierce Hardware

Just as it does with our hardware pieces, the design of this toy chest began with a set of very detailed drawings that Martin created.  It was necessary for him to create a scene for each side with different dancing animals as well as other whimsical touches like those incredible mushroom feet and the swallow pull on top.  Delightful!

This first photo shows how Martin uses a simple grid to scale up the animals to full size for proper proportion on the chest panels as well as scaling up the mushroom feet.

drawing by Martin Pierce at Martin Pierce Custom Hardware

In this photo you can see the finished product.

custom toy chest from Martin Pierce Hardware

Martin's inspiration was most likely memories of his childhood playing in the Perrywood area of Worcester that, while small, seemed to us as children to be quite a mysterious and magical place.

In our next post we will explain the choice of woods and the carving process.  And if you would like to view our entire custom furniture and hardware collection please visit us at

Beds are trending at Martin Pierce--Part II

Here at Martin Pierce we believe that a beautifully decorated bedroom that provides a good night's rest should not be considered a luxury.  The most important piece in the bedroom is, of course, the bed and, as we mentioned in our recent post on what is trending at Martin Pierce Custom Hardware, orders for our custom bed designs are up.  In our previous post we shared our beautiful and exotic Rickshaw bed that offers a zen like quality to the bedroom in a sophisticated residence or boutique hotel. The look of our Hedgerow bed is quite different but also experiencing current popularity. This impressive bed is crafted from American grown walnut, a wood with a beautiful grain and color.  The bespoke features include a hand-carved footboard and headboard while a hand-chiseled "chip" carving detail on the posts provides additional texture to the overall organic style of this bed.

Hedgerow bed from Martin Pierce

Two of these magnificent beds are finding new homes in the McNamara & Hirschman showroom located in the Arizona Design Center.  Since opening their doors in 1989, the name Mcnamara & Hirschman has become synonymous with quality and style and is the go-to spot for designers with a discriminating clientele.

If you would like further information on our custom furniture products or custom hardware, please visit us at

Look what's trending at Martin Pierce....

While we are well-known for our beautiful custom architectural hardware that is so popular with designers, architects and homeowners alike, we also enjoy it when a designer sources one of our custom furniture pieces for their discriminating residential clients or hospitality projects.  Our furniture collection includes unique and functional items such as dining tables, chairs, armoires, buffets and beds.  Speaking of beds, based on the orders we are receiving, they appear to be a very popular item these days.   And why not?  The bed is the focal point of the bedroom and will set the mood for the entire room.    Trending today: The Rickshaw Bed

Rickshaw bed by Martin Pierce Hardware

If you are looking to add an exotic and sophisticated feel to a bedroom with a touch of Asian influence, our Rickshaw bed is just the thing.  Crafted of solid walnut with hand-carved details, we allow the natural shades and grain of the wood to shine through with just an oil and lacquer finish; no stain is used.  A light and airy feel is achieved through the use of reed in the headboard and footboard.  This reed is literally woven by hand through small holes drilled in 1/2 inch intervals--very labor intensive but the final effect is stunning!

The Rickshaw bed is available in standard queen, eastern and western king and, of course, custom sizes when necessary.  You can view this bed at the lovely Gaul & Searson Showroom located in the San Francisco Design Center.  Doug Searson and Joseph Gaul have created a classic high-end showroom that caters to the design professional with a discriminating clientele.  Several Martin Pierce furniture pieces are on display in the showroom.