Recreating An Iconic Piece of Early American Furniture

When Guild member Pete Michelinie was a student at the North Bennet Street School, he had the great opportunity to measure, photograph and trace a beautiful piece of furniture at the RISD Museum in Providence, RI.

The Newport Kneehole Bureau: An American Icon

The Newport Kneehole Bureau, attributed to Edmund Townsend of the Townsend/Goddard family, Newport’s renowned furniture makers, was made in the early 1800s. An iconic piece of early American furniture, the Newport block-front kneehole bureau is among the most refined forms to date. Ten years ago, when Pete handled it in order to make a replica, it was valued at roughly $3 million dollars.

Making the replica was a milestone for Pete, but the unique part of the story is that he discovered that a handful of woodworkers were interested in also making a replica of this piece. He ended up selling his drawings, along with detailed notes, photographs, and unlimited e-mail back-and-forths, to help the intrepid furniture makers along the way of their build.

Newport Block-Front Kneehole Bureau

Measuring the original with instructor Steve Brown in 2008.

“An Emotional Moment.”

One fellow in particular, Ralph Kangas, bought the drawings in 2013 and soon after started e-mailing Pete with questions. “I could tell that this would certainly be one of the few who would complete the bureau,” said Pete.

All of a sudden the e-mails stopped coming and it wasn’t until about a year later that Pete received an e-mail from Ralph’s son Jon. Ralph had passed away at an early age, and Jon wanted Pete to finish the bureau to have something by which to remember his father.

“It was an honor to get to finish the work of this man who had put so much heart into this piece. The work was about 80 percent done when I received it, and well done, too,” said Pete. “When Jon came to pick up the bureau he brought his mother along and it was quite an emotional moment for her.”

Newport Block-Front Kneehole Bureau 2

Working on Ralph’s replica.

Newport Block-Front Kneehole Bureau

Pete’s completed replica

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