he library unit shown here, made out of Honduras mahogany, was one of my first big commissions. It was built in the shop I co-own with Frederic Loeven, a fine cabinetmaker. We had built a lot of single pieces in the past, but this was our first opportunity to experiment with the planning and construction of a large, integrated wall unit.
Our first step was to take accurate measurements of the room that the unit would occupy. This had to be done very carefully, since walls are not always straight. The difference can be as much as / inch. So we measured between the walls at the corners of the room and again every few inches out. We only wanted to cut our stock once!
With measurements in hand, we designed the piece in the shop. Our client wanted a traditional English-library look, which was why we chose a dark mahogany. The French doors also contributed to the classical appearance of the unit.
The most critical design consideration was to make sure the bookcases would be well proportioned for the size of the room. The relationship between the height, depth and width of the unit had to be right. To provide ourselves with a visual reference as we cut and assembled the components of the structure, we drew a full-scale plan of the room on the floor of the shop. This enabled us to keep track of all the pieces and position them in their proper locations as we went along.
We used mahogany-veneered fiberboard for the basic structure and joined the pieces with biscuits. Most of the shelves are adjustable; they sit on brass shelf supports which are screwed into sleeves in the side panels. We added solid mahogany banding, twice the thickness of the shelf stock, to the front edges of the shelves to give them more rigidity. The back panels sit in rabbets cut into the back edges of the unit. We made the paneled doors out of solid mahogany using mortise-and-tenon joints with a fine integrated molding. The cornice molding is made up of three separate pieces of wood individually shaped and glued together before being applied to the unit.
We finished the bookcases with a dark red mahogany stain followed by several coats of cellulose-based lacquer, then wiped on a glazing stain to accentuate the molding and give the piece an aged appearance.
Alain Morcel operates Les Realisations Loeven-Morcel, a cabinetry shop in Montreal, Quebec, along with his partner, Frederic Loeven. The shop specializes in architectural woodwork and reproductions of antique furniture.