Design Critique Sept 2011

  I recently had two very different furniture pieces submitted for a design critique by the same builder. Below are his comments and request for feedback about his work.
 Hi George,
 I have two of pieces of furniture that I’d like to offer for your consideration in the design critique.
The first piece is a coffee/collection table I made for a client a few years ago to display her late husband’s treasures.  I had struggled with the design on paper for weeks, looking at an arch support under the table.  It was just not working.  I decided to try Sketchup and was almost instantly rewarded with a much more pleasing design – well to my eye.  The drawer is slightly recessed and is without visible means of opening to discourage little fingers. Perhaps it may be of interest.
The second piece was designed on paper.  It is a cantilevered coat rack that stands in a corner to take up unusable space.  It recently won a Design excellence award at an Australian wood expo and the judges, including a leading Australian architect had glowing things to say about it.  But it has been quite polarising.  Mainly people are concerned about the stability of the piece.  The centre of gravity is right in the middle of the base and as weight is added it becomes even more stable, not less.  It is a prototype and is deliberately unadorned, just a few subtle features to link the different elements together.  The upright is steam bent and the hooks are hot pipe bent.  The hangers are arranged to give an equal vertical spacing between hangers which is why the gap between them appears different.   I am not completely happy with the shape of the hangers, but the shape was determined to make the best use of some beautifully figured wood from a dead tree in our paddock.

About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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17 Responses to Design Critique Sept 2011

  1. Jim B says:

    I think both pieces are lovely! My first impression of the table was that perhaps the legs could be a bit thicker, but now I’m not so sure. They give a bit of lightness to offset the large mass. I like the way the square shape of the inset glass top is reflected in the trim around the drawer. And I agree with the builder that the coat rack hangers look a bit on the chunky side but its hard to see details of the grain in the photos. The size may well be appropriate as suggested.

    Design Critique posts are the best part of this blog.

  2. Mike Siemsen says:

    My initial response to the table was that it is very nice and well executed. I would like to have seen the curve of the leg reflected in the drawer front rather than the rectangle of the glass. I think the cathedral in the bookmatched veneers across the front would have looked better if it were pointing the other way, overall a nice piece.
    As to the coat rack. Again well executed, when in use you will not see much of the rack, even the single coat on there obscures much of it. I find the coats on hangers rather than hanging them right on the pegs a bit odd. It seems a bit “permanent” , it is probably better for the coats but I see coat racks as temporary storage for guests or easy access for family, maybe there is no nearby closet so this is the solution.
    Even though the piece is stable, if it appears unstable to most people then it is visually unstable ( if it looks right it is right). The main criteria is always, Does the customer like it and did they pay for it.
    Good job on both pieces,

  3. Dave Mc says:

    I think that the table is nicely done. Perhaps some crescent shaped pulls in the center of the drawer that matched the curves of the legs.
    I think that the coat rack would appear stabler if the base was made chunkier with thicker stock. More tree trunkish in silhouette.

  4. Hi, Thanks for the feedback it will be very useful. I had not thought about matching the shape of the legs in the drawer front, that’s a good tip. It wasn’t til recently I looked at a photo of the table and the upside-down cathedrals struck me. Oh well, at least my eye is getting better…
    You are right about the coat rack not looking stable, and that is the problem, and one solution as mentioned is to increase the mass at the base. I called it a coat rack because I didn’t know what else to call it, the design came out of a need to help my partner organise her blouses etc (it’s a Libran thing) that seemed to accumulate on the end of the bed during the working week. She reminds me occasionally that I should add hangers for slacks too. So although you could use it as a coat rack, that’s not how this particular one is used. I had thought perhaps a boutique clothes shop might be interested in this sort of thing, which might be another application. We have a pretty small bedroom so it helps that it takes up little room in a corner. Thanks again.

  5. I really like the visual look of the rack. Shame that you have to cover it with clothing! It is very clever.

  6. walkerg says:

    I’ve been thinking about the coat rack and your comment that it’s polarizing. Was wondering if it’s not so much about the design itself but what you are attempting to accomplish. It very much takes a modernist tack with the bold display of structure. That in itself is polarizing and goes with the territory if you move in that direction. If that was your goal I wouldn’t be concerned about whether it’s polarizing. However, I would address the issue of stability, especially if it’s real vs percieved.


    • George you are right. While the majority of the negative response is based, rightly, on the apparent instability, I think there is an element of not liking the aesthetic too. So I shouldn’t worry too much about that as you suggest. Was it my goal to go into modernist territory? Heck knows! I don’t even know how I come to design some of the things I do. I just have an idea and I play with it until it looks right to me. There’s certainly no codified rules of design up there leading me this way or that!

  7. Jim Tolpin says:

    Maybe the curves on the drawer needn’t be decorative–instead make the sides of the drawer face curved to match the sides of the case. I’d do a full scale mockup to check it out.

    Maybe get more look of stability to the coat rack by making a beefier, semi-circular base—perhaps matching the curve of the hangers.

    My two cents worth (and worth every penny!).

  8. John R. says:

    Fabulous coat rack. For what it is worth, I don’t see it as unstable, but minimalist. To me, the lightness of the base is a virtue, not a vice. It has an elegant, modern feel to it. I would resist the temptation to increase the mass of the base (although it makes me nervous to disagree with the likes of Jim Tolpin!). I also like the hangers, particularly the unique way you used the brass rods to create hooks and resisted the temptation simply to use traditional coat hooks.

    Finally, nice job on the table, the curved legs are well proportioned, although I agree that making the drawer front match the curve of the legs would have been a plus.

    Thanks for letting me comment.

  9. David Myers says:

    My first reaction to the coat rack is one of discomfort: it resembles a kyphotic spine (think old people forever hunched over staring at the ground). Probably the coat hanging there as a representation of a thorax strengthens the emotion.

    And yes, I’ve been working too much. Well done on both pieces.

  10. Isaac G. says:

    I feel feel like the proportions of the table legs are just fine. I actually would not like to see them any thicker in cross section. I think that there is some disconnect between the curves of the legs and the more rectilinear nature of the carcass. What if the entire front, the drawer-face as well as the leading edge of the top, had a gentle, fair curve, when seen in plan view?

    As for the clothes rack, I’d love to see the curve of the upright continue as it intersects with the plane of the floor — more like an upside-down question mark. The continuation of this line could even be used to create a third forward leg, adding some visual and actual stability by creating a tripod. As it stands currently, I think that the vitality and energy created by the curvature of the upright comes to an abrupt end where it hits the

    Both very interesting for sure. I’d love to see the next iterations.

  11. Thanks for all the feedback, it’s really interesting and helpful to read the different views and ideas of people. The thought of making the table top look curved in plan view is a neat idea, maybe pinched in ever so slightly rather than bulging. I’m rather against adding more complexity with an extra foot at the bottom of the coat rack. I believe it can be done minimally with just two. I’d like people to have the notion that it has been ‘engineered’ within certain parameters so it is stable but also elegant (and so clients buy it!), much like a modern bridge might have a slight appearance that leaves you wondering how it stays up. thanks again!

  12. I wonder what the drawer might look like if it took up the whole of the front of the table, mind you, doing a curved sided drawer well and making sure it was stable enough to use, could be “a bit of a challenge”.

  13. Jim Tolpin says:

    Wouldn’t curve the drawer sides…yikes! Instead, just curve the ends of the drawer face….no one would know (til you opened the drawer).

  14. John Deerman says:

    I agree with Jim don’t curve the drawer sides. I don’t think people realize how much work that would be. Making a square drawer that works is plenty work enough. I don’t think you should curve the drawer sides to match the legs either. The bottom of the drawer and the bottom of the legs aren’t at the same height and the resulting chaos would be distracting. I like that the drawer box has corners it complements the top and makes the design solid and the curve of the legs make it playful. To many curves would make the design uncomfortable mentaly to sit on.
    My thoughts on the coat rack are basic. Did she like it? And by making this for her does she allow you to spend long hours in the shop doing what you love for less money than her ex-boyfriend does? If you can answer yes to at least one then it is a great design.
    John Deerman

    • I wouldn’t like to curve the drawer sides either.
      John, yes to both questions! On that basis it’s proven to be a good design! Oh wait, that theory is predicated on the notion that keeping the wife happy is dominant over the quest for design perfection. Which of course it is 😉

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