I’ve had the privilege to talk about design with many talented woodworkers. A common thread I see is a design sense, an eye that guides them to make confident decisions. Somehow they know when a design looks too heavy, clunky, or weak.
I was putting together material for my first installment on my new column in Popular Woodworking Magazine (Design Matters) due to begin in Feb 2010. I discuss how to proportion the rails on a raised panel door. Seems simple enough. If you had to choose between the two frames pictured above, which looks right to your eye? For those new to frame and panel construction the term rail refers to the horizontal frame members. I held up a similar graphic while speaking at the WIA design conference in Chicago and asked several hundred in attendance. It wasn’t scientific but I could tell that all eyes pointed to the example on the right where the bottom rail is visually heavier than the top rail. I agree with that conclusion, but why do we see one more favorably than the other? That’s what this blog and my column is all about. How do we design furniture people connect with, and want to live with in their homes? Many of my posts will be about examples I see in nature, art, architecture, and furniture. Design models that can shed light on proportions and visual harmony. Stick with me on this. Over time your eye or design sense will change. You’ll grow more confident in making solid design decisions and perhaps more adventuresome with your own designs.
By the way, there are several reasons we gravitate to the heavier rail on the bottom. One is that just about every frame and panel door ever made (except modern stock cabinets where efficiency trumps easthetics) has the rail heavier on the bottom. This includes furniture casework, architectural entry doors, even window sashes. So we may just be programmed through pure repetition. A second reason, and the one I favor is that we frequently see in nature something refered to as pyramidal. It means the visual weight lies heaviest closest to the ground and lightens as it rises up. You find this in tree trunks, mountains, etc.
Finally, this is the way a classic order is configured. The pedestal at the base is weighted heavier than the entablature on the top of the order. My own view is that the classic order and all those examples of door frames stem from the pyramidal in nature. If I lost you at the mention of the classic order, there will be plenty of information about that in future posts.