Phi in the Sky, or Leg, as the Case May Be

When designing a piece of furniture, you really can’t go wrong with using the golden ratio. The same might be true for workbenches, but we’ll have to see about that.

For my bench, I’m deviating from the norm and putting a foot on the legs of my bench. Standard bench legs always looked unresolved to me. And because this is a piece of furniture that I will presumably be working with every day for what may be the rest of my life, I figured I would fix the issues I’ve had with benches and give my the bench a little more charm and dignity.

The legs for my bench are 5″ square, so originally I was playing with making the foot section that high. Plus, I wanted to take advantage of the real estate under the top of the bench with storage, so I wanted the bottom stretchers to be as low as possible. So I made a few prototypes and placed them under the legs and stood back from them a bit. Guess what? They disappeared. They were shadowed by the bulkiness of the leg on top of them – they looked too small.

So I turned to the golden ratio, and bumped my foot dimension to 8″. I cut out a blank and placed it under the leg and it looked great. Sure, I lose the extra 3″ of storage space, but I’m building a tool cabinet to sit near my bench, so I’ll be all set in that regard.

For those of you who are new to the golden ratio, you can have a lot of fun using it as a design tool. The standard ratio is 1: 1.618. What that means for designers is, if you have a dimension, like I did with my 5″ leg, you only need to multiply the 5 by 1.618. That will give you the 8″ length.

But you can also play with it in the opposite direction. Let’s say I have a column, but I would like to make the base for it to be proportional to the thickness of the column. Instead of multiplying your dimension by 1.618, multiply it by .618. That will give you the next pleasing proportion down in the ratio. Of course, this can be useful in designing your own mouldings.

So for my 5″ legs, I know that will have a bunch of potential numbers to work with in my design. They are as follows: 1.8, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34. Mathematicians may recognize this series of numbers, but that’s another story. My bench won’t be much taller than that, but the numbers would go on if it were a taller piece.

– Ajax Alexandre

If you are interested in design, check out George Walker’s DVDs “Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design” and “Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design: Moldings.”

6 thoughts on “Phi in the Sky, or Leg, as the Case May Be

    1. rwyoung

      0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, … ad nausium

      And Fibonacci didn’t “invent” the sequence, just documented it while trying to teach Italian merchants the benefit of Arabic numbers and arithmetic.

  1. xMike

    So,
    Are you going to put an 8″ claw and ball foot at the base of your bench? Now THAT would be a statement.

  2. Jonathan Szczepanski

    The Golden Mean isn’t then end all, be all of design, but it’s also not something to be avoided. It’s a tool like all other things. If it works for your design, use it. It might take you down a road that you never would have thought about going down before.

    I’m looking forward to seeing your workbench Ajax.

    Jonathan
    =========================

  3. Gary Roberts

    Let’s face it, the Golden Rule was created at a time when the intellectuals of the day were trying to apply the new scientific process to everything, particularly to humans. Order from chaos was the word. Plus, it was a totally European centric formula, assuming that all humans are built along the same pattern as created by a deity. It’s a construct and nothing more. The human brain likes things to be proportional but what those proportions are is up for grabs. we’ve grown up in an architectural/design system based upon early Greek and Roman designs, which were based upon the requirements of building in stone.

    How did Maloof, Nakashima and Krenov create their designs? Largely by eye and by what felt good.

    I’m not saying that devolving any given design to a mathematical formula is not doable, it’s just that by doing so, you lower the process of combining materials, function and visual impact to one that meets the limits of your chosen measuring system rather than one that blends all three.

  4. wbtanner

    After working with design students for many years I’ve come to the conclusion that using the so-called golden ratio will just get you to a certain point — a place to start looking. After fooling around with the numbers you have to put the foot on a life-size model and see it. Then see if making it an eighth of an inch taller will feel better. Looking is everything. And then there is the totality of the design. For instance with a workbench: how does this foot look with the thickness of the worktop; does the foot draw my eye down; will I find myself tripping as I’m jointing? These mathematical games are all very interesting, but in the final analysis nothing beats looking.

    Wesley

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