The Art in Design
However you choose your furniture, its design is the first step in its evolution. The design should deliver both the practicalities of function as well as the less tangible matters of how it looks and catches the eye. Both are equally important, in this writer’s opinion, for the piece to endure.
I firmly believe a piece of furniture must first and foremost be functional – a pleasure to use – so this is where I start. Having nailed (the one and only pun, I promise!) what the piece will do, I move onto the aesthetics with the aim of transforming a piece of ‘living equipment’ into something which really warms the heart and the owner will love to have around the house or office.
Take the coffee table in the image above. The top surface is dead flat so that your coffee cup won’t fall over and is set at the right height for its intended purpose. Its appearance, however, is quite different from the norm, if such a thing exists. In my mind, the curves encourage one to imagine shapes and possibly to look beyond the room in which it sits and gaze on the outside world which is where its inspiration came from.
Furniture design over the centuries was driven very much by artistic movements of the time, such as the highly ornate Rococo period or the more restrained Classical movement etc etc. One can usually date an older piece fairly closely by its design features. In contrast, design nowadays is much more of a melting pot of ideas which can include reworking of older aesthetics as well as more radical modern thinking. Many designs are based on or even mimic features of nature, such as leaves and branches. To an extent, much of this diversity has been made possible by the sophistication of today’s tools and machinery which in woodworking terms are capable of performing acts of sheer wizardry compared with many tools of yesteryear. This has allowed designers greater freedom to push into previously unexplored design territory.
Machines, however, can only do so much, i.e. act on instruction, so design is still (happily) down to human imagination and artistry. In the mainstream market, though, how much of the latter goes into a particular piece is probably as much to do with economics as anything else. I often feel that industrially produced furniture – and I’m not just factory-bashing here – has a rather ‘dumbed down’ feel when it comes to design. Chair shapes are squared up, tables are built around perfectly parallel lines and cabinets have equally sized drawers which can be batch produced. Of course this all makes absolute sense in commercial terms – if the design is simpler, it will be easier, quicker and cheaper to make and produce in large quantities. And a bit like supermarket food, we can over time become accustomed to this design-lite such that it becomes the accepted norm. I do hope not!!
I am pleased to say however that the craft of artisan makers producing well made bespoke furniture is alive and well albeit in a niche area of the market. More and more makers – young and old – are emerging along with stunning new design ideas which are certain to inspire us all. This will result in more choice for customers and, it is hoped, generate greater interest in what we do.
The furniture we make unsurprisingly and necessarily costs more than ‘off the peg’ items. But the point is customers can get exactly what they want by giving us the scope to maximise the design element of the furniture we produce as well as providing top class build quality. As it is such a personal approach, the bespoke route also provides an opportunity for customers to have a much more fulfilling role in the journey than just writing the cheques. More bang for your buck and the greater likelihood that the resulting piece will be treasured and passed on to future generations. Choosing to commission a bespoke piece is therefore a very practical way to go as well as being a pleasure.
The other spin-off benefit is that choosing the type and source of wood is an integral part of the process rather than just taking what is on offer in the shop window. This in turn will I believe lead us all to value our woodland far more as a natural and sustainable resource as well as a thing of beauty to be enjoyed. That however is a topic for another blog!!