What was wrong with this story?
David Fletcher's Capstan Expanding Dining Table: Where Function Meets Style
September 5, 2014
Amid one-click shopping on Amazon, mass-produced IKEA furniture and easily accessible Target home decor, one might wonder if craftsmanship is a dying discipline. One look at the work of David Fletcher, a furniture designer based in the United Kingdom, proves otherwise.
In 1997, Fletcher was commissioned to duplicate the ingenious dining table design of Robert Jupe. Patented in 1835, the Jupe table uses a hidden capstan mechanism that expands sections of a round table as it rotates. Once fully expanded, leaves could be manually inserted. The genius of the mechanism, according to Core77, was that by continuing to rotate the table in the same direction, the pieces came together for a snug fit.
Note: The auctioneer unnecessarily changes direction to tighten the leaves into place.
While not a mechanical necessity, the single-direction rotation design gave the tables an added elegance that has made the pieces a highly sought-after antique collectible. The Economist reported that a Jupe table that expanded to seat 12 to 14 auctioned for £130,000 (almost $200,000) in 2008.
Fletcher, however, was not satisfied with simply duplicating a masterpiece. Would any true craftsman? After gaining an intimate understanding of how the original Jupe expanding table worked, Fletcher set out to improve upon it.
In Jupe's design, the expansion leaves needed to be stored, "(the tables) were not truly round in every stage, plus they were slow and laborious to operate," notes the Fletcher Burwell-Taylor website. Years of study and design went into the final expanding Capstan Table. With a simple twist, the table elegantly blossoms to seat nearly double its original capacity – a standout gem in modern dining table design.
The final design has been carefully crafted and standardized into three sizes. The smallest table is 1.67 meters across, seating eight to 10 people, and expands to 2.2 meters to comfortably seat 12 to 14 people. Watching the electronic model and the details of the mechanism will leave no doubt of the workmanship that goes into each and every table.
Every piece of the table is precision laser cut or CNC routed for a flawless fit, Fletcher explains in a video about the making of the table. While the machinery and sizing have become standardized, a table can be customized to suit the needs of the buyer, made in almost any hardwood, though teak, mahogany and walnut are the most popular. One table, he notes, was made with a stone top. The assembly is done on-site by hand, often by Fletcher himself. Once installed, there should be minimal maintenance which can be handled by the owner. "That is the whole basis, or the whole principle behind the table — that it is the finest quality and the best materials, and nothing should go wrong with it."
It is no surprise, that workmanship of this caliber does not come cheaply. One of Fletcher's expanding Capstan dining tables costs between $50,000 and $70,000, reported Business Insider in 2013. While the price puts one of these masterpieces of engineering and furniture design out of the reach of most, it did spark the imaginations and interest of many DIY and carpentry enthusiasts.
One ambitious contractor, Scott Rumschlag, labored to bring the genius of the Fletcher design one step closer to the average consumer. Because Fletcher never renewed his patent on his design, the door was left open for Rumschlag.
Core77 reports that after more than 400 hours of work, Rumschlag has finally developed his own version of the Fletcher expanding dining table. While falling short in some of the elegance of the original (the table does not remain a perfect circle when expanded, and it lacks a table skirt to hide some of the mechanism), the mechanics are the same. It also starts as a smaller table, more suited to the average dining room. He now sells plans for the table on his website for a mere $49.
Why sell plans and not ready-made tables? "Complexity = cost and it's a major impediment," Rumschlag noted in a YouTube comment after posting a video of his design. Rumschlag estimates the cost of materials alone range from $800 to $1,200.
It is unlikely that Fletcher would see Rumschlag's work as a competitor within the elite customer base for the original Fletcher Capstan Table. Instead, one can hope he sees the dedication to replicating his work as flattery and a signal that he is indeed a master at his craft, whose innovations will echo in the works of those who follow after him.
§ Morph, Core77, The Economist, Fletcher Burwell-Taylor, Business Insider, Core77, Mechanical Lumber, and Scott Rumschlag