I just recently applied for a paid apprenticeship with a studio furniture maker. Itâ€™s a pretty high-end shop only using unique solid hardwoods and most of the business is commissions, made to order, some upholstery work.
I posted before that I have a BFA in sculpture and was think of going back to school for ID, but I see this as an opportunity to learn and get paid doing it. I’m am a strong self-learner and practice honing my ID skill sets in my own time. To all furniture designers, do you think that something like this can be parlayed into a furniture design position down the road? How realistic is the transition? And is there an profitable market inbetween the high-end studio furniture and mass produced quantity over quality type furniture.
the difference between one-off pieces and high-end mass-produced is in the details. high-end cottage companies may still employ cnc and a higher-yield manufacturing process. the product is then handed off to different departments where expert craftsmen will work their experience and training into the details. there were still a few places like this in the grand rapids, mi area. in north carolina, these types of shops were quickly dying off. one company in particular (in NC) had a team of upholsterers, about 12, iirc. the least experienced person on that team had 10 years. their craftsmanship was second to none, looking at a finished product was like candy for the senses.
if you want to learn furniture-building techniques, your current route is a good way to go. at the school i went to (kendall), ID and furniture design were separate. the furniture program there focused on construction, detailing, and design of furniture exclusively. the ID program focused on contract furniture for some projects.
I think the (relatively small) market between high-end studio furniture and good mass produced furniture is rapidly moving to China. I know of a few Chinese “factories” that are basically just sample shops, employing real craftsmen rather than fresh off the farm countryside people. You send them a picture of what you want, and they send back the piece. While there will always be some people who will want to buy from a local or big name person, most people find a 50% discount hard to pass up.
Anyway, anything you can do to learn how to build furniture and properly handle wood is going to be good experience.
Hi Kung Fu Jesus,
First of all, thanks for your reply to my other post.
I just wanted to let you know that since my previous post, I have since talked to a designer out of Minneapolis who does contract furniture, like for Target and Crate and Barrell and he advised me to go for ID instead of furniture. His impression of furniture design students is that they don’t look at furniture the way ID students do (as he has had a few intern for him) and he says that it’s all great that they can build their own furniture but they think of it as an art and don’t appreciate the ergonomics and function of the product as much. Kinda of like saying “that’s a nice chair but can you actually sit in it”?? LOL And he says they have a different mindset when designing furniture versus someone with an ID background. Of course, in ID they don’t really teach you how to woodwork and stuff (or do they?) and construct actual furniture other than probably the manufacturing processes of a product (plastics, metal, etc), you can still learn how to design furniture rather than build it in an ID program (but you still learn how to build a prototype, right?). Did you design any furniture when you attended Kendall? Did you get to build any prototypes? And another thing is that since I am also interested in housewares in general, he recommended the ID program in case I change my mind about furniture or I can’t get any work in furniture, etc, I can look into other areas of design. I know of one guy who graduated with a degree in furniture here in Minneapolis, spent 100K and cannot even find a job, as he seems to only know how to build studio furniture. That’s scary. He told me it was his biggest financial regret. but then again, I talked to one designer in New York who has his own design firm and he has a masters in ID and his furniture is high end, custom furniture, so I guess it does pay off to have an ID degree, and you can then decide what kind of furniture you want to get into. That’s my take so far on it. Correct me if I am wrong. Thanks!
Good luck Bennett. I am also considering furniture so I understand your situation. I posted this here so maybe you can get something out of it too.
Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply I was in the same situation at all. If anything, I’m part of the problem.
yes, furniture designers can tend to see their design as an art or craft where we (ID’ers) see them as products geared towards an end-user. i don’t know that i would say furniture designers ignore ergonomics, i think their training lends itself to a wider range of furiture other than desking or seating.
in school, we were taught materials and processes, model making and the like, but some had a better sense of construction that others while still some were more comfortable with the shop than others. most of the prototyping skills i learned came from internships. my first internship was with a small firm that had many clients in contract furniture, so i learned by doing.
while in school, i had 2 or 3 semsters of design that involved furniture (modular desking, seating, and a hospital guerney). ironically, i didn’[t want to do furniture when i stated in ID, i wanted to do electronics. maybe my previous experience in architecture drove me towards furniture.
i think an ID degree is more useful than a furniture design degree. whether you are employed or not depends upon your own skills, goals, and where you are willing to go.
as for working with china, this is how i do it: MAKE NO ASSUMPTIONS.
you have to pretend like you are sending a design to someone who has NEVER seen this sort of product in their life. you cannot leave anything to chance or assume they will be able to fill in the gaps. it takes a bit longer to detail your designs this way, but it_is_the_only way to get EXACTLY what you want the first time. unless you are sending specs to another person there who has uber amounts of expereince in FURNITURE and manufacture of it, you can expect losses in translation.