Furniture Designers


Exploring this Job

To investigate your interest in designing furniture, try to design a chair, bookcase, or a table. Make rough sketches. If you haven't had any exposure to technical drawing, find a book that describes drafting techniques and buy or borrow the basic tools (vellum, drafting pencils, architect's scale)—or use a computer-aided design program to create your design. Try to make a detailed drawing to scale.

After completing your sketch, try building it. Make arrangements with a shop instructor to use the tools at your school. You may have to find the materials yourself. Find out how well your design builds, holds together, and functions.

Get in the habit of looking at manufactured objects. Anything that is built began with a design. Look at pieces as a whole and at the details, and decide what you like or dislike about the design.

Visit local companies that manufacture and/or design furniture. You may be able to work part-time or as a volunteer in exchange for learning about the furniture business.

The Job

Furniture design (which is a specialty of industrial and commercial design) encompasses a variety of skills and disciplines, including history, art, mathematics, drafting, ergonomics, interior design, and carpentry. Furniture designers generate ideas for new pieces or lines of furniture. They usually start with a graphic representation (rough sketches) of the piece to be built and then they build an actual model out of wood or foam core to view the piece in three-dimensional space. Once the model is completed, a prototype is built to the correct size using actual materials. After the prototype is approved, it goes into production, which could involve one carpenter for a custom-designed piece, or a huge factory that mass-produces a variety of pieces.

Furniture designers sit at a drawing board making technical drawings, usually using CAD (computer-aided design) software to illustrate their ideas. They must consider the intended function of the piece, its form, its style, and its environment. The furniture may be a reproduction of a period piece or influenced by an earlier style, or it may be a completely original design. Other considerations include materials, cost, manufacturing processes, and the manufacturing time.

Communication is an important part of the design process. Furniture designers must understand the clients' or employers' demands and be able to translate them into a working model. They must then communicate their ideas to builders and manufacturers to explain materials, shapes, patterns, and construction details. Production of furniture is a complex process that usually involves several people. Engineers, carpenters, assemblers, finishers, accountants, salespeople, marketers, and shippers are all part of the team.

Furniture designers who work on their own or for small companies may be involved in the actual construction process in addition to developing designs. They might use such power tools as a table saw, wood lathe, router, joiner/planer, bandsaw, grinders, and sanders, as well as a variety of hand tools. At a larger company, a designer is more likely to be assigned to one function, perhaps technical drawing or building a prototype.