Vantage point


Facial angle takes into account the vantage point of the veiwer

 In my youth I barely survived a period now referred to as the “Running down the down escalator of life. “ My judgment was severely impaired by high levels of testosterone poisoning. One night I lost control of a motorcycle trying to cheat the laws of physics on a sharp bend in the highway. Amazing how different the landscape looks when you are grinding off bits of your backside on a tar and gravel road. It took only seconds but I can still remember vividly the bike bouncing in front of me with sparks flying and the headlight beam shooting skyward. It felt like an eternity before I landed face up in a culvert and the bike came to rest in a cornfield with the handlebars plowed into the dirt. Luckily I came through with just a good case of road rash but the vantage point as seen from the bottom of a ditch got my attention.

Sometimes it’s helpful when designing to think about the vantage point which a piece of furniture will be viewed. Facial angle is a term used to describe orienting moldings so they can be viewed with greatest effect. The gist of it is that depending on the height in relation to the viewer, the molding should be tilted so that the detail can be readily seen. In this little pencil sketch, moldings above the eye are tilted in at the top towards the viewer. Moldings at eye level are more vertical, and moldings below eye level are tilted in at the bottom. Imagine a molding above your eye that has the top tilted away from you. It would essentially disappear from view. This has several implications beyond moldings. Note how on Windsor chair seats, the underside of the thick plank is relieved with a gentle radius. Because it’s viewed from above, the thick seat appears delicate as the facial angle hides the true heft from your line of sight.

Facial angle is used to mask the true heft of a chair seat

The same goes for so called “floating” shelves or floating ceilings. The concept is to hide the actual supporting structure from view making the element appear to float. This is done with a floating ceiling by designing a recess where the wall intersects the ceiling. It’s been employed for centuries in domed structures and gives the impression to your eye that the dome is hovering over the building. Occasionally I see designs where the facial angle is not taken into account and the desired effect disappears because detail meant to be seen plunges from sight once you stand up and view it from a higher vantage point. Facial angle can have a pronounced effect on how a molding comes across visually. If you see some moldings that really grab your eye, take note of how they are oriented to your line of sight. It may lead you to understand one of those subtle details that make the design work.

George Walker

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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4 Responses to Vantage point

  1. Nathan Beal says:

    This is one of my favorite techniques to employ when I am making a table top. It can make it appear wafer thin or thick and massive, just by changing the edge detail.

  2. Joe says:

    I knew an old “Maine Yankee” boat builder that would put his head down looking thru his legs at the hull and fair the hull that way, all his boats where ‘Eye Sweet’ and he didn’t have a beer-gut which made the whole operation easier.

  3. In my world of commercial furniture design the term for the effect is “foreshortening”. With furniture it tends to be the downward aspect that has to be accomodated. The 2 things that come to mind in particular are hardware placement and the height of bases on case pieces. When “centering” a knob or pull on a drawer the lowest drawerr I always add 1/8 or so above the centerline to adjust for foreshortening. When sketching a dresser or chest, if the elevation looks “right” in the drawing I always add at least another 1/2-1″ in height so it looks “right” in reality. Oddly enough you’d think 3d CAD design helps with this but on the small screen I still don’t trust what I see and add more to the height. (It’s also simpler to cut down a base or leg in the sample department than to have to add material).

    My 2 cents…Thank you again for a great site…

    • walkerg says:


      Interesting how through experiance you have learned to compensate for how we perceive something in real space. I’ve read that when dealing with very tall columns designers reduced the amount the shaft tapers at the capital because the height already causes the form to appear tapered. The eye always trumps the rules.


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