Project Summary: This project was a pursuit of trying new techniques and combining different materials and styles. The goal was to create a meditation bench that seamlessly incorporated a stone into wood, as well as my love for bridge architecture.
Project Location: Old Colorado City
Design Style: Mountain Contemporary
Finished Portfolio Photos: Stone Bridge Meditation Bench
The inspiration for this project came from Maine architect Eric Reinholdt from 30×40 Design Workshop’s pond house. During the construction of this house, they excavated a large builder while prepping the site for construction. They decided to use this stone within the house and turn it into a prominent feature as a fireplace. The project intrigued me more as I listened to Eric describe the challenges of turning a large, bolder into a fireplace and getting it into the house. I am often drawn to projects that have a lot of challenges to them. Most people take the easy road, which is why we have track homes stamped out as ticky tacky boxes across the suburbs of America.
Projects that take work and ingenuity are where the creative magic is at. Eric would first have to find a skilled craftsman to carve the stone to create a dish for the fire pit and drill for the gas line to be installed.
The stone was so heavy and large that some planning needed to go into the order of operations. They had to crane it into the house before the roof was framed to get the stone in place.
Another challenge was to scribe the hardwood floor around the stone. This inspired me the most as a finished carpenter. Projects like this really put your skills to work and challenge you as a craftsperson. This was the point where I decided the stone would go through the top of the bench, and I would figure out how to scribe the wood to fit as perfectly as I could.
I used to live in Portland, Oregon, where one of my favorite places to hike was around the falls at Multnomah. I have always loved the architecture of this bridge and wanted to incorporate it into the design.
The cross braces that intersected the arch on the bridge are vertical. I couldn’t make those braces look proportionally correct vertically, but they worked great horizontally. This also played nicely off one of my past designs, the Mountain Contemporary Entry Door.
Fabrication of the Bench
To source the stone for my bench project, I had to visit several landscape supply yards to find one that fit my vision. Some of the yards were not interested in selling just a single stone, and some did not want me to crawl all over the stack, picking through their selections. Something about liability, yada, yada, Once I found the right stone and someone willing to sell it to me, they used a forklift to put the stone in the back of my truck.
At the time, I didn’t have a forklift in my shop, and I didn’t have a good way to get it out of the back of my truck without rolling it off the tailgate, hoping it would survive the fall. I ended up going to Harbor Freight to buy an engine puller crane to lift it out of the truck. The driveway out in front of the shop is not smooth, so once I got the stone in the air, it didn’t seem very stable, especially as I tried to roll it back. I drove the truck out from under it so I could lower it to a safer, more manageable height.
My next task in fabricating the stone was to decide how tall it needed to be to fit the design and then cut the bottom off at the right height and flat so it would rest on the floor without rocking around. Once I had the bottom cut off, I decided it was still too heavy to manage, so I ended up using the grinder to hollow out the inside of the stone. I ground it down to about 1 1/2″ wall thickness. Hollowing it out lighted it up considerably, but it was still plenty heavy.
I wanted the stone leg to be the main focal point to grab people’s attention. With many of my designs, once I have their attention and they come closer, I want there to be more for them to see. So, the scribing of the wood around the stone needed to be perfect. I hope the observer will appreciate the craftsmanship, attention to detail, and time spent scribing the wood. I spent a whole day scribing the top to the wood.
Once I finished scribing the wood to the stone, I had to join the two pieces together. I welded up a custom bracket. The stone has holes drilled into it, where rods from the metal basket slid into. Then, the bracket is bolted to the bench top.
To create the arch that emulates the arch support in the bridge, I used a technique called bent lamination. This is where you rip thin strips of wood so that they are flexible enough to be bent around a form. Then, glue them back together around the form so that when dry, they take on the shape of the form. It is also best to keep the strips in order to help disguise where they were cut apart.
The horizontal cross braces that intersect the arch have a through mortise cut in them at the exact location for the arch to go through. This is keeping true to the theme of the piece, having the arch pass through the cross-braces just like the stone passed through the top.
To continue the theme of things passing through, I attached the leg with a through tenon and wedged it in place with walnut wedges. The walnut wedges create a nice contrast to the mahogany from which the rest of the bench is made and celebrate the piece’s construction in an elegant manner.
The purpose of the bench was to be a meditation bench, to be alone with your thoughts. It is great to meditate outdoors, where you can feel the warm sun on your back, feel a light breeze, and listen to nature. However, during the winter, especially here in the Rocky Mountains, meditating in the outdoors can bring on hyperthermia. So, incorporating a stone into the design was a great way to bring the outside in.
When I first shared my design on social media, it was criticized because of the stone. Some said that the stone sticking through the top limited the beach’s usability because nobody could sit on that side. Others criticized the time spent scribing the wood to fit the stone when I could have saved time by cutting the top of the stone off and gluing it on top of the wood. Others criticized the use of a single leg that the bench could tip over if stood on.
But these criticisms, to me, are validations that the design conveys its message. Yes, only one person can sit on the bench at a time, allowing them to meditate and be alone with their thoughts. Yes, there was considerable time spent scribing the wood around the stone. This act tells a craftsman story of developing their skills, attention to detail, and perseverance of patients to do the job right. Yes, the bench gives the allusion to instability, but the weight of the stone keeps it anchored and stable, which we are all trying to do when we meditate to find what keeps us anchored.