Rhode Island furniture designer lives daily with his own work


NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. -- Tage Frid lives in a museum of his own making.

The modern, cedar-sided house where the great woodworker and his wife, Emma, live sits well back from the street, secluded from neighbors by tall stands of trees. Inside, there are five pieces of furniture Mr. Frid didn't make: two sofas, an antique desk, an antique crib and a round, lathe-turned stool made by a student. Everything else came from his shop -- even the kitchen cabinets and the bathroom medicine cabinets.

Walking through the house, a visitor has constant shocks of recognition. Some were featured in the pages of Fine Woodworking magazine; many have appeared in other books and versions of some are in museums.

In the living room is the famous jointless rocking chair; aluminum sandwiched between walnut and bolted together, with a seat and back of nylon parachute cord. It is remarkably comfortable.

Behind the rocking chair is the catlike grandmother clock, all swooping concavities except for the door, which is worked into a demure potbelly. Mr. Frid claims he was the model for that.

In the dining room is the big walnut trestle table, surrounded by the final version of the dining chairs first made for the Museum of Contemporary Craft, and later refined for the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

On one wall is perhaps Mr. Frid's greatest design -- the ineffably elegant pedestal sideboard. More than any other piece, it displays the thematic echoes at the heart of his design theory. The triangular shape of the pedestal is reflected in the pyramid of the case and repeated like fading musical tones in the raised segments of every surface, and in the dovetails that bind them.

In upstairs guest rooms one can find a reversible bed -- two can be stacked to make bunk beds -- and drawing table desks designed for dormitories at the Rhode Island School of Design, and a chest of drawers made for a Fine Woodworking feature.

Throughout the house are examples in three sizes of what has become Mr. Frid's signature piece -- the three-legged stool inspired by an afternoon sitting on a fence rail at a horse auction.

He is a deeply innovative designer of furniture, passionately committed to instilling that innovation in others. Hundreds of young men and women have studied with him at the Rhode Island School of Design, paying $20,000 a semester.

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