Furniture is designed to meet a variety of functional needs, from providing seating to showcasing significant objects. It also may serve to accentuate a room’s aesthetic and add comfort. Furniture designers work with a wide range of materials, from wood and metal to plastics and glass, to design a broad spectrum of items, such as chairs, tables and bed frames. These specialized industrial design professionals use drawings, 3D models and prototypes to test and improve the design of a piece before it goes into production.
Furniture designs typically involve an initial concept or design idea that serves as a springboard for development and experimentation. Designers look to nature, culture and other creative industries for inspiration. They may also study historical pieces of furniture for style and approach. In addition, furniture designers must have spatial awareness, problem-solving and communication skills.
Most furniture designers spend the bulk of their time in an office working on sketches and technical drawings. Many communicate with clients on a regular basis to discuss their project, provide input and answer questions. They may also spend some time in manufacturing facilities, from a small local workshop to the factory floor of a $2 billion operation.
To create a functional and appealing piece of furniture, a designer will start with a rough sketch. He will then convert this 2D drawing into a 3D model, which will serve as a blueprint for creating the final product. This modeling process can take a while, depending on the complexity of the design. The designer will also need to consider factors like cost, material availability and time of year.
Whether it’s the steel tubes of Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair or the feathers of an elephant, finding new ideas is essential for furniture designers. They keep their eyes open to the world around them and constantly ask questions, hoping to find something that will spark an idea for a new piece of furniture or modification to an existing one.
Some pieces of furniture straddle the line between functional and decorative, connecting with the world of art. Often these are one-of-a-kind pieces that stand out for their craftsmanship, innovative design or materials. Designers such as Jasper Morrison, Sam Maloof and George Nakashima have created pieces that are both functional and artistic in nature.
Those who want to become furniture designers will need to earn a bachelor’s degree in interior design and build up a portfolio. They will also need to develop customer service and networking skills, and participate in professional development workshops. Those interested in this field can find opportunities through internships and apprenticeships, as well as through professional organizations like the International Furnishings and Design Association. These organizations offer webinars, symposiums and in-person classes for those who want to learn more about the industry. In addition, those with a passion for furniture can find opportunities through local maker communities and co-working spaces.