How to Design Furniture – Just Press Play

I’ve spent quite a few hours around furniture designers, starting with the studio furniture maker I worked with years ago in Miami, and of course today in both the online and offline woodworking communities. I like to believe that I’ve learned a few things by osmosis, although I must admit I’m by no means an expert.

Next month we’re releasing a free woodworking download on how to design furniture. As I was assembling the materials I remembered something I’ve learned from every furniture designer I’ve been around – just press play.

The furniture design phase is one of the fun parts of building furniture! You don’t have to worry about wasting material, because paper is cheap. Here are some lessons I’ve learned from others.

How to Design Furniture with the Quick-Start Method

Inspiration is the first step in learning how to design furniture. Plate 11 should help.

Inspiration is the first step in learning how to design furniture. Plate 11 should help.

1. Find inspiration – any inspiration. This can range from ancient furniture styles to Lego models to the great outdoors. It doesn’t matter what it is for you. The important thing is to find it!

2. Sketch. It’s not hard. And again, it’s cheap. There is absolutely no reason not to pick up a pencil and paper and start sketching ideas. Don’t be a harsh critic of yourself or your drawing abilities. The hand-mind connection is a powerful thing that you’ll enjoy!

3. Get some good instruction on refining your ideas. As you begin to transfer your sketches into measured drawings and solid concepts, get a few outside opinions from people who know more than you do. It’s easy to miss some of your mistakes in this phase, regarding proportion especially. Play with a few different scales until you hit it right!

4. Play with surfaces. If you can do this during the design phase, with a mock-up or colored pencils, go for it. Many furniture designers continue to experiment with different surfaces and textures right up to the end of the building process. You can often work in an inlay at a later stage, but it’s also a good idea to think about colors and contrasts early on.

5. Source your lumber and hardware. Great furniture makers consider this part of the design stage, not the building stage. That’s because you’ll sometimes discover a new idea or two when you start playing with the material itself.

Here’s a resource for you that covers a lot of the above steps, and is itself a playful thing. Megan Fitzpatrick assembled her “Fitz’s Picks” value pack this month with an eye to furniture design and fun. Buy it now while we still have the price in place!

Are you more of a designer or a builder? Tell us your tips on how to design furniture in the comments section. Thanks!

Dan Farnbach

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Dan Farnbach

About Dan Farnbach

Dan apprenticed and worked in two professional shops during the years after college. But sweeping shop floors only goes so far toward learning woodworking. These days Dan is online editor for Popular Woodworking, and is learning new skills every day. He divides his time between Boston and Maine.

4 thoughts on “How to Design Furniture – Just Press Play

    1. Clay Dowling

      This doesn’t really require a book. Simply cover the table surface with catnip. The cat will supply himself. After the cat is properly charged (a properly loaded cat has no irises), he will begin to roll of his own accord, thus starting the buffing process. If you wish a higher gloss, simply place your hand on the cat’s belly. Please note that welding gloves are considered an amateur’s crutch, as the blood increases the lustre of the polish.

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