Why Know Furniture Design

The majority of my furniture-making career has been focused around reproductions. I never studied furniture design per se, but I did gain knowledge by looking at way too many pieces over my days. I study magazine pieces. I peruse newspapers that specialize in antiques. I scrutinize photos in any museum book I can find , and I have a large number of books in my collection (so many that Mom discouraged Dad from giving me books for Christmas one year. I’ll forgive her someday!).

As a result of studying furniture as much as I did, I developed an eye for what does and doesn’t look right.

This learned skill came in handy while I was building a Shaker cupboard. I found a Watervliet cupboard pictured in Maine Antiques Digest and immediately decided to reproduce the piece (my cupboard is shown at the left). But As I began to create and install the mouldings, I found myself questioning the design of the smallish crown. It didn’t look right to me. (The original design is shown below.)

 

I generally would have followed the original design, but this crown looked so far off to my eye that I decided to go about it differently. I referenced other Watervliet community case pieces to see what crown design was used most often. The profile I selected, shown below, caught my attention. The crown is more detailed , three stacked profiles versus a single design , but in my opinion, it was worth the extra work. I’ve built and sold quite a few of these cupboards as well as a couple pieces based on this design but with two doors.

 

All in all, the change in the crown moulding made the piece more pleasing to my eye and evidently to the eyes of my customers.

And you think furniture design is not important? I’ll see you at the Woodworking in America Furniture Construction and Design Conference. I’ll be doing my best impression of a baby boomer returning to college. You know, sitting in the front row, gathering all the information I can and screwing up the grading curve. Flash back.

 – Glen D. Huey

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6 thoughts on “Why Know Furniture Design

  1. Martin Shupe

    Glen,

    Your link to the Maine Antiques Digest does not take us to the original piece. Could you provide a link or pic to the original cupboard?

    Thanks again,

  2. Martin Shupe

    Glen,

    I like your cupboard. Will we get to see plans for it in an upcoming issue of Popular Woodworking, or Woodworking?

    Thanks!

    Martin

  3. Jon Johnson

    At the risk of opening Pandora’s can of worms (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?), allow me to express a long-held opinion of mine re "Shaker" design.
    Remember that Shaker community members were recruited from society at large: celibate sects by definition are not populated the "natural" way. It follows that craftsmen trained in a variety of traditions, and possessing varying skill levels, imported a variety of influences into their adopted "Shaker" communities.
    The governing rule of design becomes the "simplification" inherent in Shaker doctrine and culture imposed atop traditional influences.
    Logically,then, details of what is "truly" Shaker (or not) are open to wide interpretation. And the only fair standards, as Mr Huey alludes,are examples known to be crafted by the individual community craftmen. But ‘hard and fast’ rules will often yield in individual pieces.

  4. Glen

    Alexander,

    As Mike pointed out, the crown design that I selected for my cupboard was from another piece within the same community, built by Shakers of the day. I would not have used the design if it weren’t from the period and from the Watervliet community.

    Glen

  5. Mike

    Alexander, from reading the blog it appears that Glenn used a variation from other peices. I guess they were "truly" Shaker folks who used that design–just not on the piece Glen used as a base design.

    I have seen Shaker stuff–made by Shakers of long past–that used various adornments I would have previously thought they would eschew.

    Take care, Mike

  6. Alexander Grrigoriev

    I think the truly Shaker woodworker would not go for the excessive crown.

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