The beauty of casework, such as corner cabinets, bookcases, wardrobes, chests of drawers, and desks, is dependent on: Firstly, its proportion as a whole. That is whether the height, the width, and the depth are of dimensions that appear well together. In most problems at least one of these dimensions is fixed by some requirement of utility. The designer is then expected to decide the other two.
Secondly, the disposition of the parts (ie. panels, framing, architectural members, such as columns, mouldings, etc.), of which the case is composed has its influence on the design. Whether the panels are large, or small; whether they are arranged in pairs, or grouped in another way; whether the mouldings are heavy or light; etc., are the questions studied.
Thirdly: The ornamentation. This is the last point to be considered, because if the general form is bad no amount of decoration, whatever its quality, will make a good piece of furniture.
In front elevation casework usually approaches more or less the form of a rectangle and the first condition in its design is to find a method for determining the ratio of the sides of a rectangle most agreeable to the eye. This has already been studied by several writers with at least two solutions.
One assumes a square as the starting point and implies that any rectangle having two sides equal to the sides of the square will be well proportioned if the other two sides are not more than twice its length. In other words, a well-formed rectangle is not more than two squares long. See diagram.
Another ratio given is that of two to three. Assuming that if the width of the rectangle is two, the length should be three. This ratio, o[f course, is included within the limits of the first method.
For the purposes of designing it may be assumed that the rectan gle, whether vertical or horizontal, represents the principle mass of the case. What is technically known as the body. To this may be added at the top the crowning members, and at the bottom the base on which the whole is supported. To the sides may be added the projections of mouldings, columns, brackets, or other decorative features.
The relation of the various parts to each other and to the whole should be kept in mind. Often casework consists of an upper and lower section. The lower part must not only be sufficiently strong to support what is above it, but it ought to appear so without seeming heavier than is necessary. The base or feet should be proportioned to the mass above and the crown members, well supported, are to be made large enough to serve as a finish for the case without apparently crushing it.
The spacing and arranging of the principal lines dividing the case into panels, drawers, etc., is to be such as will give pleasing results, and there are an infinite number of arrangements possible. The whole mass may be divided into two equal parts by a post the same size as one on each corner of the cabinet, No. 3, in the diagram. This sort of a division has the disadvantage of causing the case to appear as if it were made of two smaller ones placed together, and as if the two parts were balanced on the middle line. It is not considered the best way of doing.
A similar composition is one in which the case is divided into three parts with the middle one the smallest. This has the faults of the former method though not in such a marked degree. When three divisions are made the best appearance is obtained by making the middle one larger than those each side of it. See No. 6 in the diagram. Other arrangements are also shown on this same plate.
As was mentioned above, furniture should be adapted to its use, and if possible its design should indicate the use. The location of an article in a room has its effect on the appearance. So much so, that if possible the designer should study the surroundings. He is then in a position to make a design that will harmonize with the decoration of the room, and an article of a size best suited to the space it will occupy. He can also see how much light will fall on it and be governed somewhat by this in determining the size of the mouldings, etc. If the room is well lighted a moulded member if fine and delicate will show to advantage but in a dark corner larger moulding will be more suitable.
Learn more about the building and design of each of the parts that make up case furniture:
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