Lessons from the 25 furniture case Studies

What recurring themes or cumulative lessons are apparent from the furniture studies? Some furnishings were the first to use a specific material or a new fabrication technology. Some pieces have remarkable workmanship. Some studies reveal deeply rooted social utility or formulate cultural links to a particular place and time. Some are precedents for furniture designs that have followed. Collectively, the studies highlight a range of cultural, technical, and functional ideas about furniture design, but every study is linked to a particular place and time. Zeitgeist is a fundamental notion that tempers how one might consider each of the furniture studies. Furniture is very often part of a larger systemic context, linked to societal norms and grounded by a specific context of both place and time.

The organization of the furniture studies illustrates an important consideration, which becomes evident in hindsight. Following the introductory remarks about background and context, the studies emphasize three recurring themes:

1. A description of material, dimension, weight, and joinery (how the piece is made, how well it holds together, etc.)

2. A discussion on how the piece functions (how it feels and issues of utility, social use, comfort, and ergonomics)

3. Aspects of beauty, meaning, aesthetics, spatial organization, and proportion (how the piece looks)

These themes serve as a basis for a common thread of inquiry and develop a framework for considering and formulating a theory of furniture design, which is discussed in Chapter 5.


1. Edward Lucie-Smith, Furniture: A Concise History (London: Thames and Hudson, 1993), p. 25.

2. Gisela M. A. Richter, Ancient Furniture: A History of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Furniture (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1926).

3. Klismosstol, drawn by Monica Hekk and Karin Hvidt, students at Danmarks Designskole (1989), Jens Overbye, Director of Spatial Design, DKDS, Copenhagen.

4. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary, revised edition (2003); and www. dictionary. com.

5. "The Chair: Handicraft and Industry," in The Italian Chair (Milan, Italy: Istituto Nationale per il Commercio Estero, 1983), p. 29.

6. Thonet Barnestol, drawn by Hanne Meilsoe Dam, student at Danmarks Designskole (1989); drawing courtesy of Jens Overbye, Director of Spatial Design, DKDS, Copenhagen.

7. Welsh and Joosten 1998, cat. nr. B279-308: Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red, 1937-1942.

8. Marijke Kuper and Lex Reitsma, De Stoel van Rietveld Rietveld’s Chair (Rotterdam, Netherlands: NAi Uitgevers/Publishers, 2011), pp. 155-156.

9. www. dwr. com/designers.

10. Sarah Booth Conroy, "Modern View of Marcel Breuer," Washington Post, October 11, 1981, Living section, p. L1. Also quoted in Christopher Wilk, Marcel Breuer: Furniture and Interiors (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1981), p. 38.

11. Istituto Italiano per il Commercio Estero, Elegant Techniques, Italian Furniture Design 1980-1992 (Milan: Electa, 1992), p. 43.

12. www. hermanmiller. com (Action Office brochure).

13. www. zittel. org.

14. Ibid.

15. www. hermanmiller. com.

16. Project description by Erik Skoven; interview and text given to the author, June 2006.

17. Ibid.

18. www. steelcase. com/na.