In all the creative fields, every once in a while someone comes along and says “Good (fill in the blank- painting, sculpture, poetry, furniture, music) should be X, Y, or Z. We could make up quite a long list and we would find many contradictions. Furniture should have the joinery visible and integrated in the design. Or joinery should be hidden and surfaces seamless. Furniture should not have to rely on ornament and should stand on its own. Vs Ornament completes a design and emphasizes the underlying form. I could go on and on. When I look at these declarations about what constitutes good design, I’m well aware that often they are important keys to understanding a new direction in style and can really have important things to add to what we know about design. But, I always approach these, what I call “declarations of righteous furniture” with a bit of suspicion. I once had a furniture builder tell me he always avoids any curves in his designs. To me he was saying, he was limiting his boundaries to what he could build with his table saw and other simple machines he was comfortable with. I’ve also heard the pronouncement – No more old brown furniture. Which leads me to ask? Since 98% of wood used in furniture building comes naturally in neutral earth tones (shades of brown), what is this saying? Is it saying wood no longer is our primary material for making furniture? We are free to fabricate it out of steel reinforced concrete or lay some veneer over a foam core? I also wonder if some of these pronouncements aren’t meant to sway consumers away from or towards something as more of a marketing ploy than really having something to say about design. I understand the desire to do something new, but struggle with ignoring such a rich beautiful design heritage we have been blessed with. So I’m going to take a plunge and list my thinking on righteous furniture, go ahead and take some shots if you disagree, but hopefully they will resonate and help you build better. My underlying foundation always goes back to the principles of good design laid down by Vitruvius, a Roman architect. He stated a good design should have three qualities: firmitas, commoditas, and venustas. Roughly translated a design should be sturdy, functional, and beautiful. The last piece of that, making furniture that looks good is really where all the disagreement and contradiction comes into play. I’m not pushing a particular style. Any furniture that’s well thought out and executed can have something to say. As an example, I’m not fond of baroque furniture or architecture. Yet you can find profound lessons in how to combine and manipulate light and dark tones in baroque furniture. For my part I’m more impressed by a nicely executed Welsh stick chair than a poor mushy interpretation of a Philadelphia highboy. That’s not to say I don’t like high style furniture. Something masterfully executed can make my heart almost stop, and I mean that in a good way.
I also limit my interest to furniture that’s primarily wood and designs that can be produced in a traditional shop. If a design requires a hidden carbon fiber support structure or titanium castings to hold it together, it’s beyond me. That’s about the only “shouldn’t” I have in my righteous viewpoint. On the”should” side of it, as long as it’s well done, go for it. Leave tool marks, erase them, carve, bend, veneer, paint, gild, even add a little stone, bone, or metal. Ultimately it’s about making furniture the grandkids fight over when you’re gone.
I’m interested in hearing any of your declarations of righteous furniture.