Design Matters: Great Legs


Play with proportion to achieve pleasing design.
By George R. Walker
Pages: 26-27

From the December 2010 issue # 187
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The black stallion’s name was Step. Marvin, the only man I ever saw ride him, called him simply “the horse,” his raspy Southern voice pausing for emphasis. I was 5 years old the first time I laid eyes on Step. He was the scariest and most wonderful thing I’d ever seen. A force of nature, his frame all rough and muscled as though a master sculptor had chiseled him out in a hurry. His ebony coat reflected blue and purple in the sunlight, and the turf shook when he stomped his hoof. Perhaps the thing about Step that set him apart was that everything about him was perfectly proportioned. His massive ironlike legs would have been out of place on a lesser horse, but they fit perfectly with his body and muscular neck.

There’s a lesson there. When proportioning legs to a furniture design the legs need to reflect and connect with the overall mass they support. A workbench uses sturdy tree-trunk-like legs not just for structural support, but also because the hefty timbers visually support the massive top.

I’ve been looking at legs on furniture and studying how they are proportioned. Because they play a key role in such a wide variety of forms, there are few rules that apply across the board. A light side table calls for a much thinner leg than a dining table, even though they are similar in height. Sounds easy, but it can be challenging to design a leg that’s sturdy enough and still looks like it belongs with the overall mass of the piece. I tend to make legs too stocky and have learned through my mistakes to scale them back. Make it a point to closely examine how the legs are proportioned in a variety of built work. Regardless of style, this can help you develop a good eye for proportions.

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From the December 2010 issue # 187
Buy this issue now