Best 14 Practical Steps to Designing Furniture

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8 – Add some asymmetry to your work. Symmetry is quite common in our lives, so breaking from the norm can add intrigue to a piece of furniture. It’s a good idea to not ignore balance, as I think you can go too far, and create something that is more of an eye sore than a work or art.


Symmetry … sometimes – Asymmetry adds visual interest to a piece of furniture, and gives you lots of options when designing furniture.

9 – Add curves or angles to your work. Curves don’t have to be difficult to cut – often the bandsaw and some basic handtools will get the job done. Bent laminations, steam bending and hot-pipe bending are some other techniques you can use to add curves to a piece of furniture. Curves and angles add energy and elegance to a piece of furniture, and they both go a long way to set your work apart from a store bought piece of furniture.


A slight twist – Curves and angles add energy to a piece of furniture, as well as separate a piece of custom furniture from their store-bought counterparts.

10 – Feel free to experiment. Using new techniques, machinery or approaches to building furniture may help round out your skills and improve the pieces that you make. When I purchased a vacuum press, I expanded what I was capable of quite considerably. I could now add figured and exotic veneers to my projects as well as make curved panels with relative ease. Maybe you’ve always wanted to chip carve, turn, or make your own hardware. Try it out and you may be surprised how much you learn and how your furniture improves because of it. Your project may take longer to complete as you learn the new techniques, machines, etc. but it will likely turn out better in the long run. You will also have fun doing it.


Expand your horizons – By experimenting with different techniques and machinery you will likely enjoy the process more. You will also have more freedom when designing a piece of furniture. When I bought a pyrography pen, I was able to add some designs – Native American petroglyphs, in this case – to some of my work.

11 – Look at other furniture. Sometimes a good starting point for overall sizes and critical dimensions is other pieces of furniture. There are many traditional styles of furniture available for viewing in books and museums. Different regions of the world have different furniture styles to inspire you. There are also many contemporary pieces available for inspiration. When looking at contemporary furniture, it’s very important not to “steal” designs, but to just be inspired by an aspect of the piece of style. Maybe it’s a combination of wood species, or how someone has performed a specific technique that interests you. Don’t follow 100 percent in their footsteps though.


Look to the East – Different countries and geographical regions offer a wide array of furniture designs. You may want to do some research on the different styles available, and be inspired by some of their work. This step tansu was used for storage in small homes, and was also used to access the upper level of Japanese homes.


Look to the West – If reproductions are your style then you have lots to look at. This empire style table by Ontario maker Jacques Mathurin is one of many pieces that you can look to for inspiration. There are many books on specific styles if you have your sights on something specific. (Photo by Jacques Mathurin)

12 – Don’t rely heavily on exotic/figured woods.  Sometimes people think that as long as they use enough heavily figured wood they will be left with a gorgeous piece of furniture. That’s not the case. My general rule is that a piece of furniture should still look nice if you were to remove all the figured wood and replace it with very simple, plain wood. Use exotic and figured woods to accentuate a piece of furniture, but don’t rely on them to disguise poor design.


Too much of a good thing – Exotics and figured wood will not disguise poor design. They should be used carefully, as too much figure competes with the overall design of the piece. The pomele sapele tops on this set of nesting tables are the focal point. To not draw attention from the tops the straight-grained white ash base has been ebonized.

13 – Use non-standard dimensions when appropriate. Material thickness, overhangs, widths, etc. should sometimes vary from the standard, in order to create different looking pieces of furniture. Having said that, there are certain dimensions that generally should be adhered to: seat heights, dining table heights, counter heights, etc.

14 – Use a sketchbook to explore ideas. Use it to work out different designs and shapes, and don’t get frustrated if the vast majority of your ideas don’t look good at first, or ever. After sketching out many different design options you will start to get an idea of what looks good and what doesn’t. And sometimes when you’re stuck for ideas, you can look back at some of your old sketches. Most people don’t enjoy sketching and are not great at it, but if you practice you will improve.

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