Some of the largest and most established employers of furniture designers in this country are located in the Midwest. Steelcase is located in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Herman Miller is in Zeeland, Michigan; and Knoll is in East Greenville, Pennsylvania. These companies tend to be selective, so you'll probably need a bachelor's degree in design, a few years of experience, and a professional portfolio to get an interview.
There are many smaller companies in cities throughout the United States that design and manufacture their own lines of furniture. They are more likely to hire designers who can perform other functions as well, such as marketing or production.
Industrial design (ID) firms hire people with backgrounds in furniture design. Furniture manufacturers that are too small to have their own design departments sometimes contract ID firms to create concepts for them. The reverse is true as well; large design firms may create designs and contract builders who have the specific facilities and expertise.
Many furniture designers work on a freelance basis. Some develop their own designs and try to sell them to manufacturers, while others are hired by manufacturers to develop designs according to their needs.
Probably the most difficult way to get work in this field is to cold call a firm or a company. If you don't have contacts, check with furniture design associations, as they often publish job listings at their Web sites.
If you complete a four-year program in furniture design, your instructors and professors will likely be able to put you in touch with numerous professional contacts. Some internships can lead to full-time positions upon graduation.
Some designers start out as woodworkers or craftworkers. After working in a cabinet or furniture shop for a few years, you may wish to start your own custom furniture business.
College graduates can start as junior designers for companies that make furniture on a small scale. They may begin by building prototypes in the shop. With some experience, they may begin to work in CAD on company designs. As they gain credibility and experience, designers can advance to a management position, in which they spend most of their time communicating with clients. After several years, they may qualify for a senior designer position with a larger manufacturer.
Another way to advance in this career is to start a business or work as a freelance designer, creating original concepts for furniture, which can be custom built or sold to manufacturers.
Tips for Entry
Read Furniture Today (http://www.furnituretoday.com) and Furniture World (http://www.furninfo.com) to learn more about the industry.
Become a student or professional member of The Furniture Society and Industrial Designers Society of America to access training and networking resources, industry publications, and employment opportunities.
Visit http://www.idsa.org/opportunities/job-board for job listings.