As architects, we are primarily tasked with designing buildings. That doesn’t mean we can’t direct our talents elsewhere, as we do with our custom furniture design.
One may wonder what designing furniture could possibly have in common with designing a structure. After all, they’re on two completely different scales of human interaction. But there is a link between designing for one and designing for the other, of creating furniture and also creating buildings in which furniture resides.
We like to first look at furniture design as a microcosm of architecture in general. Both types of projects are made up of details and connections, just on different scales. Both are also comprised of dealing with human interactions. People interact with buildings much in the same way as they do with furniture, and the level of interaction only differs as to what you specifically do with the object (i.e. walk into a room versus sit on a bench).
But the general idea is the same. Designing a piece of furniture – be it a chair, a bench, a desk, or the like – is influenced as much by human interaction as is designing a building that will house humans. There are details that must be addressed. Specific connections that must be made.
There are also preconceived notions about what something should be. A chair has a specific function, as does a kitchen. There is only so much you can do to move away from the core of these functions without completely changing the thing you are designing and making it into something else. Thus, designing furniture – like drawing plans for a structure or room – is an exercise in fulfilling a function in a creative way
Both also deal with the idea of gravity, of addressing the human body and a design’s impact on it. With a building, you’re worried about wind, seismic restraints, etc. With furniture, you are worried about weight, and stress – the same concepts, just from a different angle and on a different scale.
Of course, there are differences between the two as well. Furniture design can allow you to be more hands-on, and play in the worlds of the physical and tangible. There are fewer outside influences dictating what the design will be, so you are free to explore and create.
One of the main differences is found with the process, and is why we love designing furniture as much as we do. With furniture, you don’t have to get it right the first time. The cycle – from design to fruition – is fast, so you can instantly get feedback about what works and what doesn’t and correct it as you go. You know what to expect, and get a gut reaction from the furniture as it is shaped and molded and worked into your vision.
Whereas a building design can take months to years to complete and see in its finished form, a piece of furniture offers something immediate – a form of instant gratification in a field full of long pay-offs.
We like that you can see what comes of an idea. You can get deeper into design. You can be creative and play with materials and concepts and forms, and see them take shape in the physical world as you go. You can also take more risks. Play with the unusual. You can take more chances, bigger chances, and see what you can make. If it doesn’t work, that’s fine; you can go back and re-do it.
Plus, there is something that intrigues us about the openness of furniture. For the most part, furniture is exposed; you see a piece and you see the materials used, and the way they are put together. You can hide certain aspects of architecture; indeed, some aspects of a building’s design will never be glimpsed by the public. But with furniture, there’s nowhere to hide.
Above all, though, you can develop skills and hone your craft. That is perhaps one of the biggest links in the relationship between furniture and architecture. We create furniture to hone our skills and hone our craft, and do progressive design in a way that respects people’s propensity to take risks. It also teaches you to be resourceful, to be mindful of a budget and of available materials and of selecting the best parts for the best purposes.
In a way, designing furniture gives us an opportunity to improve ourselves as architects and designers in general.
And – last but certainly not least – designing furniture is one other thing: fun.