The furniture design process: 10 steps to success

The spring term at the Chippendale International School of Furniture started with a design theme. Design is the very essence of a good furniture school and is taught throughout the course from many different angles, starting right from the very first day.

Emily Norman and her Design Award Winning desk in 2009

Anselm Fraser, the school’s principal, says:
“Our students learn how to conceptualise their designs using line drawings and perspective. Being able to draw furniture designs accurately and well is essential for furniture craftsmen. It gives you the knowledge you need to make the piece. Our students need to learn to draw furniture in different ways.
“Drawing a piece’s design plays a key role in the decision process between you, the maker, and your client. By seeing and agreeing to the final design, you know that the client will be delighted with the furniture on delivery.”

In order to develop the design for a piece of furniture, a student needs to answer a series of questions in an organized way. Design must follow a systematic process. The following is an example of one approach to design that is covered; it uses the ten step conceptual design approach to demonstrate how a desk is designed – you can also see some slides which illustrate this process here:
Step 1: Rough in carcase proportions – you draw the rough proportions using perspective to work out the depth, width and height of the desk.
Step 2: Block in spatial relationships – you decide the size of major shapes such as the opening for a chair.
Step 3: Assign overall dimensions – You work out the overall dimensions, like the width of drawers on the left and right sides of the desk.
Step 4: Select design form – you decide whether the desk is on a plinth, or floor based, and what height it should be.

A desk created by a Chippendale student

Step 5: Configure spaces – you decide the depth of the drawers on the left and right, possibly with the larger drawers at the bottom and smaller ones at the top.
Step 6: Choose the construction method – you choose the materials, wood (solid or veneers), handles and whether there should be decorative panels on the sides.
Step 7: Assign component relationships – you work out the thickness of the top and decorative facings.
Step 8: Design details and embellishments – you consider the added details and the optional extras, depending upon what the client is willing to pay for.
Step 9: Colour and finish – you confirm the planned colour, finish and type of wood.
Step 10: Select complementing hardware – you confirm handles and other chosen hardware.

Photo captions
These photos show examples of designs produced by two of the students in their first term using the 10 step conceptual design approach.

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