Furniture Design

I have been a graphic designer for the past 5 years and I run my own studio. I’ve always known that I couldn’t do graphic design forever, it simply isn’t what I am passionate about. My real passion is furniture design. I fell into graphic design by growing up designing posters and websites for bands. It was simply a good way to make a quick buck and now I am beginning to feel the weight of never having time to do what I want to do.

I grew up building furniture and high-end cabinetry as a part time job with my father who owns his own shop. But his work is all commissioned.

I want to make furniture on spec and sell it in boutique storefronts. Is that even a possibility? Should I go to school, or just spend a few years experimenting while whittling down my graphic design practice?

I have done a bit of research on some furniture design degrees RISD and SCAD (I am in ATL, so a move to Savannah isn’t out of the question) and I’m just not sure that I need to take woodworking or design courses since I have all of this woodwork under my belt. I am not saying that these wold not benefit me greatly, I just don’t want to shell out the cash for school when I have some existing skills. I feel almost like going to school would just be a networking move at this point.

Does anyone have any advice on the matter? I guess I just laid a lot out there that can be the answers to my own questions, but does anyone have any info on selling handmade furniture in storefronts? Is that even something that people do?

Thanks in advance…

I am going to assume a few things:

  1. You have a relationship with your father that is conducive to using him as a mentor.
  2. You have some assemblance of “design sense” being that you’re a graphic designer.
  3. You have some time on your hands, or at the very least, can make time based on the idea that you’re considering going to school.

My advice is forget school (for now) and just do it. Design your furniture. Make a bunch of mistakes. Get guidance from your father on construction techniques, etc. Sell some at swap meets, flea markets, etc. Talk to gallaries and local stores about selling on consignment or something similar.

If your work is good enough, it will get noticed.

grad school is always a good option. at a masters lvl it is a lot more about design thinking than it is about skills, which are usually taught with a BA. although there are plenty of ppl that switch careers and need to skill building as well.

i would recommend a masters with your thesis about furniture or something like that.

Blu Dot was founded by 3 guys, none of them are trained “Furniture” designers.

There are significant galleries and collectors of modern craft furniture.
Mostly on the coasts.
It’s not clear from your post if you studied graphic design or just picked it up as you went. A degree certainly wouldn’t hurt, if not for the manual skills in your case, just to be up to date on whats selling and where and, of course, the ability to b.s. (these are Fine Arts collectors who expect it)

It’s not absolutly necessary though, you could skip the schooling and do exactly what the newly minted graduates do: put your portfolio together and hustle your ass into any/every show you can. After you get enough sales, a gallery should pick you up.

I really appreciate the feedback.

I do have enough time on on my hands to do a piece every month to every other month. Currently I am in the throws of a construction project (I’m building a pretty serious studio / shed on my property) that is going to allow me to have a small shop for assembly and I have access to all of the tools that I need (jointer, planer, and a decent bandsaw) for most any project. My relationship with my father is great, the only problem is that he is like 10 hours away. But for mentoring he is great.

So it looks like I’ll just start trudging away at getting a portfolio together for the next year or so and if that doesn’t work out I can apply for schools…

Any resources (books, websites, magazines, etc.) that anyone can suggest for beginners upholstery knowledge? It is the one area that I am looking to conquer that I am effectively clueless on.

are you thinking of some kind of Dakota Jackson type career?

There a couple DIY upholstery books published by Singer that might be a start. What about your local community college-perhaps there is a continuing-ed class on upholstery you could sign up for. But do you ultimately want to do upholstery yourself-could you contract that part of the work out-especially if your business grows.

additional 2 cents:

It’s not absolutly necessary though, you could skip the schooling and do exactly what the newly minted graduates do: put your portfolio together and hustle your ass into any/every show you can. After you get enough sales, a gallery should pick you up.

I agree

I would also agree with IP_wirelessly. It sounds like you’ve already got some know how and a good resource in your father. In addition to galleries, search out small local owned home accessories stores. I respectfully disagree with trying to sell at swap meets-people who shop at those events are looking for bargains and may not appreciate the level of craft and attention to detail that your work deserves. Seek out the shops or boutiques that you want to have your work associated with.

How would you characterize your designs? Hand made, one of a kind? Honoring craft traditions? Contemporary? Designed for small production runs? Mix of materials beyond wood? You also my look at as a resource.

College will allow you to explore form and materials beyond what you already know. If your sketchbook is packed with ideas then I would agree with your initial plan to try making a few pieces and test the market. Those pieces can then become portfolio pieces for college applications.

BTW, are you looking at undergrad or graduate programs? I’ve gone the furniture based grad school path. If I can offer advise in that area-send me a private message.

Good luck on setting up your own shop!