Furniture designing is the art of delineating and ornamenting household effects so they become objects of beauty and pleasure as well as service. Furniture designing means giving thought and study to the proposed plan; the seeking for the best forms, sizes, proportions, materials, and workmanship to produce what is required. It may be necesisary to make several attempts before success is attained, but the result will be the best individual effort. In this sense designed furniture should be useful, handsome, and well made of properly selected material used in an attractive way. Furniture may be made without any special study or thought, the result being mechanical, careless, and lacking in artistic qualities. A mechanic may make something that is serviceable but extremely ugly, and without design. If, however, he has the personal quality that causes him to take pride in the appearance of his work combined with the knowledge of how to proceed to obtain the beautiful he will become a designer, for he will put his mind to his work, giving it a personality, independent of chance effects.
Furniture made without this thought and study brings to the mind at once the feeling that something is wanting. Either the lines indicate an indecision in the mind of the maker, or the methods employed in its construction show no desire to produce the best effect with the material.
Types of Furniture
Furniture can be divided into three types, according to use.
First, domestic furniture, including that for dwellings of every rank.
Second, civil furniture, that for public buildings and places of business.
Third, ecclesiastical furniture, for churches.
Framework & Casework
Furniture may also be divided into two groups named for the methods of construction. The first, framework, includes seats, dining room chairs, dining tables, wood mirrors, screens, etc., and all articles not boxed in. The second, casework, includes chests, bureaus, sideboards, desks, etc., and all articles which are cased (boxed) in by panel work or its equivalent such as curio cabinets and display cases.
The materials from which furniture is usually made are wood, metal and stone. The use of metal and stone need not be considered here, because these materials are employed for extraordinary furniture of a more or less fixed architectural character not strictly within the general accepted meaning of the word. The natural material is wood, which has many qualities to recommend it. It is abundant, easily obtained, and easily prepared in convenient form for use. It is of light weight so that objects made from it are not heavy enough to become inconvenient, and it is sufficiently strong to serve all practical purposes.
Advantages of Wood
The ease with which it is worked into the forms desired, and the facility with which necessary repairs may be made are recommendations in its favor. In addition to these advantages, which may be called technical, there are the aesthetic and physical reasons why wood is superior to other materials. It is agreeable to the eye in its natural state, which furnishes a large variety of colors, but if these dont meet the requirements stains of any shade can be applied with ease. It also assumes, under proper conditions, a polish of a greater or less degree. There are no objectionable sensations experienced when it is touched by the hand, as it is not hard or harsh, nor is the temperature unpleasant.
Types of Wood
The kind of wood used may have an influence on the character of the design. Some woods are of a coarse, open grain hardly adapted to small details or fine work. Such woods are oak and ash. They are well suited to large, heavy articles for severe usage, and of broadly executed designs. Woods like mahogany, satinwood and maple are of a fine, close grain and admit of a more delicate treatment. Mouldings and carving in these woods may be smaller in detail than seems proper for those of a coarser grain. This feeling is quite well recognized by everyone, so that furniture for halls, libraries, etc., is often of the coarse woods, reserving those of finer grain for the living room, parlors and bedrooms.
The character of the wood need not affect the quality of the design, as each variety may receive equal aesthetic treatment. The bold, coarse work may have just as much feeling expressed in the design as the more delicate. It is not the material used that is the most important consideration, but the form and proportion of the article, and the harmony of the design with the surroundings. It is the study of these conditions that gives opportunity for the designer to display his skill. He asks himself: Shall the article be square or oblong? Shall it be high or low in proportion to the width? Or if, as frequently is the case, one or two dimensions are given, what will be the best proportion for the other?
After the general proportion and form is determined, then the dimensions of the component parts are considered, and it may happen that these will be the only ones left for the designer, as the conditions of the problem sometimes fix all other sizes. By the component parts is understood (taking a table as an example) the relation of the size of the leg to the whole, the thickness of the top, and its projection; the depth of the frame, etc. Such questions must be answered for every article, and on the solution depends the quality of the design.
The stumbling block for beginners in design is the habit of thinking in feet and inches. One of the first questions usually asked by students is, how many inches wide shall this, or that, be made? There is a feeling that because it cannot be answered at once it is impossible to make the drawing correctly. It is not necessary, in most instances, to know the figure, as the dimension is dependent entirely on the sense of proportion and practicability. All dimensions fixed by common usage are known or given to the designer; the others should be determined by the knowledge obtained from experience and observation. As the designer becomes proficient he learns that within limits a square post of a given size may be used in certain places, but whether it will look better a little larger or a little smaller is determined by judgment.
The sizes of material found in stock need not interfere with the expressing of ideas that may occur. Lumber can be obtained of almost any size desired, and if it is not at hand the next largest dimension can readily be cut down, at the small expense for waste and labor, which in special work is hardly to be considered. It certainly is not advisable to spoil a good design in order to use material without cutting a little to waste.
A good piece of furniture must be adapted to the intended use, and it should not defy the laws of nature even in appearance. It is not sufficient for it to be strong, but it must appear so, that no thought of weakness may occur; nor ought it to appear unstable. It must be well constructed, otherwise it soon becomes broken or rickety; and when new, if carelessly made, there will be something about it to cause dissatisfaction. It ought to be pleasing to the eye, not only in design but in workmanship, and its form should express its purpose. Excessive ornamentation is to be avoided. It is better to have too little ornament than too much.
Construction has been placed second in these requirements for good furniture, believing that by following the laws of utility and construction natural and rational forms will be obtained. A designer should, then, have a little knowledge of the principles of construction, and in the following chapters the usual methods will be described as far as is necessary for the needs of a draughtsman.
First is a look at the form, history, different types, and ways of making wood tables followed by complete information on chairs, how to build the major items of case furniture such as bookcases and cabinets, drawers, ornamentation, and Designing Your Own Furniture.
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