In this article I hope to introduce to you some of the aspects of modern
furniture design. There is much involved in
furniture design and some say it is the most important step in the crafting of a
piece of furniture. With the high cost
today of wood resources... it has become more important to get
the design correct rather than wasting
resources on a project that may or may not look right. Custom furniture
design is a combination of many factors
which are listed below..
- The period from which the
- The style of the furniture, typically derived from the period
- The ergonomics of the furniture
- The construction and joinery techniques used
- The material (wood and non-wood) characteristics
- Which type of finish is to be applied
all the factors above are combined to guide
you in the
design and crafting of custom, unique furniture.
The initial steps in furniture design are comprised of the following
- Determining the size and
complexity of the project
are you familiar with many of the design considerations and the type of
construction involved ( joinery, details, curves, finish, etc.)
- Defining and applying furniture standards
perhaps you want to base your design on an existing furniture design,
there are fairly standardized proportions for furniture design available
i.e. desk height - 27 in., chair height- 17 in., ergonomic standards)
- Creating ideas on paper
sketches and drawings
become comfortable with basic sketching and line drawing
- Creating mock-ups or scale
representations of the furniture
mock-ups can consist of cardboard, small sticks, or any available material
which can be used to provide an visual idea of the proportions and design)
- Examine the mechanics of the
design, component shapes, sizes ( proportions)
and materials to be used. Mechanics of construction typically describe the joinery
and the engineering of the design.
Assess the demands of the
recipient of the furniture, be it yourself or a client.
Both form and function should be incorporated into the design, the design should
customized specifically for
intended use and also for the recipients' wishes.
You will need to create a form
that fulfills all the functional expectations of the piece.
Both form and function need to be considered in a furniture design.
The furniture design needs to work (function) but also be aesthetically pleasing
- Begin to
visualize your design ideas
- You can work with ideas that have been created before
- You can also work with your own or others ideas
- You can create in your own style or a pre-existing style
A design is
initially developed in both your mind and subsequently transferred to preliminary
This is a back and forth process, form an idea then sketch, form next idea from
- Define the type of furniture you are designing (
cabinet, table, dresser)
- What size do you want to make the furniture (proportions)
- Where will the piece of furniture be located (style or period of furniture )
- How will this furniture be used
( function )
- What size will you make it ( proportion)
- Who will use it ( customize)
- Where will it be placed ( location)
- What should it look like ( style)
- What visual impact should it have
( to complement or contrast the surrounding furniture)
- Is it to be a focal piece or to blend in with surroundings
- Should it enclose (hide) or showcase its contents
both function and form in
- Begin with
known, proven design standards ( Golden rule or mean)
both positive and negative shapes and areas
( both solid and empty areas in a design each form a shape)
i.e. area between table legs, negative space around curves
- Are the components of the design to be large... or small and fine
furniture to complement other furniture in the room or
alternatively, to contrast with surrounding furniture
- Base your
furniture design on a previous style or period
(Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Federal, Shaker, Art Nouveau)
- Use design
elements from previous styles
(tapered legs, ornate, large components, small or fine components)
Most of the different periods and styles in the history of furniture are noted
Golden Age of Furniture (
Late Jacobean 1160
Queene Anne 1702 - 1714
- 1774 ( Queene Anne cabriole legs, complex , ornate carving)
Hepplewhite 1750 - 1790 ( tapered legs, clean lines, fine construction, curved
Sheraton 1790 - 1810
Shaker 1784 -
Federal 1790- 1825
Victorian 1800 - 1850
Regency 1811 - 1820
Crafts 1876 - 1916
Modern 1900 - Present
Bauhaus 1919 -
Art Deco 1920 - 1930
few modern , well-known furniture makers
maker (Scandinavian influence)
Each of the
styles above have been influenced by many factors including the reigning monarchy of the
renaissance or revivalist style (Greek, Roman architecture influences), the
repudiation of the previous style, etc.
Sometimes style periods contrasted the previous style, much like fashion today
( the design pendulum swung from ornate back to simplicity and back to ornate).
- Elaborate (
Gothic, Barocque, Louis, Empire)
- Utilitarian ( Queene Anne, Georgian, Biedermeier)
- Contrarian ( Art Nouveau, Shaker, Craftsman)
Modern style is a
statement against opulence and complexity,
a movement towards minimalist furniture.
Certain periods in
history also embraced certain woods as follows:
Walnut 1660 -
Mahogany 1720 - 1765
Satinwood 1765 - 1806
Oak 1890 - 1925
Keep your furniture design
Use a minimum of parts, eliminate unnecessary frills. Design with strong but straightforward joinery.
Create strong joints which are hidden within the facade of the furniture.
into furniture ( contrasting woods, subtle design elements, inlay, carvings,
Shaker furniture is a good example of a minimum of shapes and
components assembled into a simple, straightforward design.
furniture (Danish Modern) has simple lines
- Develop the
furniture design in its entirety
- Break the design down and incorporate detail into the individual components
and groupings of components of the furniture
The complexity of the furniture
How much time will be consumed in creating this piece
of furniture. Do you have the necessary skills
and expertise to undertake the project. Are you sufficiently equipped to
undertake the crafting
of this furniture design. How large is the furniture, do you have sufficient
space to be able to work in.
Is the furniture
design adapted from a previous style. You can apply elements from a previous
or period into your design. Resources you might use to derive a furniture design
woodworking publications, woodworking books, etc.
perfectly fine to adapt a pre-existing style and design to meet your objectives.
have been in existence for many generations for good reason, they are both
functional and have
good form and aesthetics.
furniture period has not yet been defined and can be considered a work in progress.
The assembly of
all the individual components of your design, with aesthetics, proportion and
symmetry all being considered. The height to width to depth ratio for your
furniture design are factors
which form the design proportions. You can use existing ratios to scale your
proportions as follows:
Coffee Table -
Armoire - 3:2:1
Dining Table - 2:4:3
Curio Cabinet - 2:1:1
End Table - 1:2:1
Keep in mind the standard work surface heights from
published ergonomic charts.
The height of furniture is to be considered along with the depth of the
ratios which have been used by master architects,
painters, and implemented in furniture design throughout the ages.
Golden number or
mean is .618 or 5/8:3/8 = .625
Depth = .625 of Height or 1:1.6
rectangle is a proportioning guideline for:
front or sides of chest of drawers
H= 1.625 therefore W = 1 or
H= 32 if W=20
For a Golden carcase maintain
the balance of proportions
depth = shell height ( h= .625, w=1, d=.625) or
You can also stack
multiple golden carcasses together
sequence of design
sketches ( use each successive sketch as a basis for a new idea
or extract an element of the sketch to be added to design)
The next logical steps are as follows:
You can create a rough drawing of the design
from the sketch with the major
proportions, scale, and elements of the design described.
orthographic drawing ( front, side, top view) follows
projection ( improved 3-D view of piece) is one of the final
steps in the design sequence, this includes key measurements.
You can go on to create a full scale drawing of the furniture design. This will
you to have accurate drawings of the individual components of the design for
of the furniture components.
The most important piece of advice
Take your time,
learn and enjoy the design process !!