The State of Furniture Design

  • Posted on: 12 September 2011
  • By: Jay Oyster

I'm a print design guy (and tech writer) by trade. And my urge in my woodworking (as a hobbyist) is to design pieces and build them . . . slowly, as it happens. But I find myself noticing a certain . . strange, mis-alignment between what woodworkers design and build these days, and what people put in their homes. We either seem to build the traditional pieces, in traditional ways, with traditional materials, or we build purely for design, with function only considered as a tertiary property.

For instance, looking at the portfolios of the winners of The Furniture Society's annual 'Awards of Distinction', I see strong, striking designs, of chairs, tables, cabinets, but those designs are almost universally not practical. A high, spindly (admittedly beautiful) three-legged chair is not going to get into anyone's house, except for the wealthy furniture collector.

And yet, I look around my home, which has a mixture of inherited 50s, 60s, and 70s furniture from our parents' homes, a couple pieces that I've built, and storage by Ikea. You KNOW that that's what the average American house is like these days (maybe without the one or two home-made pieces.) And I see lots of clutter. Books, and magazines, remote controls, iPods, electronics, cables and wires, toys and tools, and more remote controls. Everywhere. It seems to me that the furniture makers, the woodworkers who design, are not addressing the needs of the current age. Most of us seem to be addressing the needs of either the 19th century, or the needs of the galleries at the MOMA or the museum of contemporary art in your nearest large city.

Probably, probably, I'm wrong, and there are furniture designers out there who are addressing our cluttered homes and lifestyles. I just don't see the average woodworker building any of these solutions as pieces for themselves, or their custom-furniture customers. The closest I've seen to this is the endless variety of pieces to house large screen TVs. I suppose a lift-cabinet for a 60" TV that also has storage is kind of what I have in mind, but for everything else in our houses.