This Wendell Castle Table Would Be the Absolute Star of Any Beach House

The piece harnesses the revered maker’s unique approach to craft, resulting in a refreshing form with a buoyant, playful and delightfully sunny character.
Wendell Castle's 1995 Voyage starfish-shaped table
Wendell Castle Voyage console table, 1995, offered by Satyricon

What makes a creative pioneer? In the case of Wendell Castle, the Kansas-born designer who has often been called the father of the art furniture movement, it was a daydreamer’s vision and the ability to actualize it.

Castle’s career began in the 1950s and continued through to the end of his life, in 2018. His ideas were blazingly original, performing a distinctive dance between the sculptural and the functional. The forms that whirled around his mind were whimsical and adventurous. The trick was developing the techniques to bring them into being.

A black-and-white photo of furniture designer Wendell Castle wearing a T-shirt and jeans and sitting outdoors
Castle, seen here in 1969, was at the forefront of the art furniture movement of the late-20th century. Photo by Doug Stewart, courtesy of the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Castle’s ingenuity and technical mastery are on full display in the 1995 starfish-shaped console table he called Voyage. The piece is a culmination of the explorations that fueled his work from the beginning.

Throughout his career, Castle looked to nature for formal inspiration as well as the materials to realize his ideas. His projects were made possible by the innovative use of stacked lamination, in which he fused multiple pieces of wood to create a larger, sculptable block.

Rather than allowing the wood’s natural qualities to lead the way, à la Sam Maloof, Castle defined the direction, embracing the potential to craft on a larger scale with greater creative latitude.

A closeup of the base of Wendell Castle's 1995 Voyage starfish-shaped table
The table’s starfish-shaped base was carved with a chainsaw and embellished with a crackled lacquer finish.

In Voyage, Castle applied this process to stellar effect. “The base was stack laminated and then shaped with a chainsaw prior to hand tooling and finishing,” explains Dina Alfano, owner of Satyricon Antiques, which is offering the piece on 1stDibs.

He made the base from jelutong and mahogany before treating it with a polychrome finish and adding a walnut tabletop. “While its simple, biomorphic top is classic Castle, its zoomorphic, almost ambulant base — with its surface finished in brightly colored and crackled lacquer — is a signature of his rogue postmodern period.”

A detail of the signature and date on Wendell Castle's 1995 Voyage starfish-shaped table
The signed and dated piece is documented in Castle’s catalogue raisonné.

Alfano notes that the signed and dated piece has broad appeal, attracting even those who find Castle’s works from that era difficult to approach: “Experimental without venturing too far out, it epitomizes Castle’s sense of wit and fantasy and, as always, his insistence on denying a practical distinction between art and design.”

In straddling that line, Voyage represents an intriguing piece of the story of the American studio craft movement. “Think of it,” Alfano says, “as a meticulously crafted object plucked from a genius’s fever dream.”

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