The field of furniture design is strangely diverse. It does not have a well-established definition and is not regularly studied in colleges or universities.
It is also odd to remember that most of the world’s population does not make use of furniture except, perhaps, for a few stools or benches. Western civilization, however, beginning thousands of years ago, has become addicted to the use of furniture of the most varied sort. In the modern world, we are in touch with furniture at almost every moment. We sit in chairs, work and eat at tables, sleep in beds, and are hardly ever out of sight of a number of furniture items, for better or for worse.
Furniture is now produced and distributed for homes, for offices, for schools, for hospitals, and for every other situation in which people are to be found. In spite of this near glut of furniture, the sources of the designs that are so ubiquitous are obscure. Most furniture now comes from factories, but the designs factories produce are generally anonymous, the work of staff that exists mostly to develop variations on earlier designs whose origins are lost.
There are, of course, some exceptions. Most historic furniture can be traced to cabinetmakers such as Chippendale and Sheraton or to architect-designers such as the Adam brothers, but these are rare exceptions mostly to be found only in museums and auction galleries. In the modern world, we know the names of the designers of those special creations we call classic: Eames, Breuer, Mies van der Rohe, Bertoia, Rietveld, and Le Corbusier. If we look into the backgrounds of these famous figures, we find that they were not trained to be furniture designers. They were architects, sculptors, or, in some instances, industrial or interior designers. When they turned to furniture, they had to rely on their background knowledge of structure, materials, human body mechanics, and the many other issues that relate to successful furniture design.
Design history is full of examples of many efforts by distinguished designers that have fallen by the wayside, while a few highly successful designs have come from unexpected sources—one thinks of the Rowland stacking chair, the Pollack office chair, or the Noguchi coffee table. Efforts to establish some form of training for designers who wish to work on furniture have not met with much success. A brief course in furniture design is offered in some interior and industrial design programs, but architectural training is too demanding to include even limited exposure to the field. Some schools with major programs in furniture design are oriented toward craft techniques and train master woodworkers who produce a single, one-of-a-kind effort demonstrating craftsmanship but offering little to the broader world of furniture. In the end, it must be admitted that furniture design is generally self – taught, whether the learner is also a craftsperson, architect, sculptor, or layman.
To turn at last to this book, we find an author determined to give aid to the would-be furniture designer, whatever professional background or lack of professionalism that person
may have. In this one volume, we can confront issues of function, materials, structure, production techniques, and whatever philosophical and theoretical matters may have a bearing upon the realities of furniture.
Although many books deal with furniture (as this book’s bibliography can attest), most are histories, picture books, or studies for collectors. Very few even touch on furniture design as a process, a skill, or a matter for serious study. Here we have a book determined to make up for the furniture design shortage. It is hard to imagine a more complete and comprehensive coverage of this neglected subject brought up-to-date with such tireless effort!
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