The New York architect, who has retooled
everything from parks to food-processing plants,
explains the origin story of the unusual wood tablet she keeps in her office.
On a trip to San Antonio to meet clients a few years ago, my partner, Mark Yoes, and I stopped by an art supply house to pick up a pair of scales. As we were browsing, we caught a glimpse of a backroom full of plaster models and other bric-a-brac. Intrigued, we struck up a conversation with the owner and found out we shared an appreciation for legendary local architect O’Neil Ford, who with his younger brother, Lynn Ford, a master builder, mixed vernacular roots and architectural modernism in Texas in the mid 20th century.
At this point, the owner volunteered to show us something unusual. From the backroom, he produced a two-by-one-foot wood tablet, its face engraved with diagonal, chamfered, corrugated, and rounded carvings. He told us he bought it at Lynn Ford’s estate sale. It was his personal sample board—basically a 3D reference chart used by woodcarvers to create new patterns. It must have been at least 50 years old.
The shop owner was willing to part with the board—for a cost of about $100—and we’ve had it in our office in New York ever since. Each pattern represents a different technique, showing how much you can do in less than an inch. Seeing a limited set of choices laid out, and knowing that repeating these designs made them into something new, is endlessly fascinating.