Gettting into furniture design

Anyone have any advice for getting into the furniture design field. Im fresh out of college and wondering what my next step should be.

What area of furniture? Contract? Home Furnishings? High end? RTA?

NYdesignguy, what do you mean by High end and RTA?

RTA - Ready to assemble (cheap); stuff you buy at Office Max, Wal-Mart or IKEA

High End - Expensive, made from real materials, not particleboard and laminates. Stuff you keep for a long time and pass on to your children (Ethan Allen, Thomasville, Natuzzi, La-Z-Boy, Topdeq, Luminaire)

Thanks for your answer!

“getting into” furniture design is easy, all you need is a sketchbook,
Where you go from there usually involves creating some of your better pieces, learning where the flaws in the concept weaken it, and build more for structural and design strength! Eventually, you should have enough experience to demonstrate competency.
I’m not sure that it’s an industry that hires based on your good looks or experience in designing running-shoes, mountain-bike helmets or PDA’s.

I dissagree with you. The furniture design industry DOES need more industrial designers. I worked in the furniture industry for 2 years and was thoroghly disgusted with people who call themselves “funiture designers”. There is too much of the High Point, NC mentality right now if you’re dealing with furniture design outside of the contract arena. There is no real innovation taking place outside of the contract funishings world (Herman Miller, KI, Kimball and the like).

I felt way more inspired visiting Neocon every summer in Chicago than I did see what comes out of Market at High Point every six months.

First, I’d recommend growing some sort of fashionable facial hair.
I’m currently sporting the “Jazz spot” a small piece of hair under the lower lip.

Currently, you can’t go past having black rectangular glasses either. (To be honest with you, I don’t actually need them, I just think they make me look deck) Coupled with slightly longer hair that’s been cut with a very blunt pair of scissors will really attract the attention you deserve.

Probably the next most important thing to have is an iPod. Now, if you cant afford one, that’s fine. Being a furniture designer, I cant either. However I got a good deal on a display model that has no internals. The necessary thing is that people see you with it. So make sure your always pulling it out and fiddling with it… nodding your head and so on at furniture exhibitions.

Finally, get yourself a pack of those “Designer Cards” so you can easily identify the cool designers. I’ve got Karim on my bathroom mirror. Then, when you see them on the street, ‘accidentally’ trip them over. Its a great way to start a conversation and get on the inside.

Hope this helps!

i’m not too impressed with market, so i don’t go, even though i live nearby. neocon is the stuff to see. i think, sometimes, americans are almost ready to give up on their queen ann leg furniture and go towards a nice tuxedo couch. then i goto market :astonished:

Furniture industry is actually easy to get into but very tough to make any money out of, especially if you go solo. Best to start out as an assistant to an established designer or do corporate gigs for couple of years. Try to learn as much as you can and make tons of contacts. If you are still passionate about it, you can try going solo.

I have recently decided that I would rather focus on furniture design rather than industrial design (consumer products etc). Yet I still am deciding whether or not this might be the right move in my design career. Furniture is my passion- yet many say it’s hard to make a living. Should I stay in my industrial design program at Long Beach State or transfer to the fine arts department and focus on wood/3d/furniture design? What is the best avenue to go if I wanna make it as a furniture designer? I’m sooooo confused! :neutral_face:

I went down to the Fall High Point Market this year and I actually landed a job with a company I spoke to there as a result of it. I was quite honestly completely surprised by how receptive they were to talking to me! I started off by emailing or calling about 40-50 companies which I thought would have need for an industrial designer. In the end, I had about 6 confirmed meetings to speak with someone. Of those 6 though, only one was truely intended to be an interview. When I contacted people I told them I was hoping to do a brief information interview and if they had time, I’d love to have them flip through my portfolio.

At any rate, after I had covered my bases on those companies I had made arangements to speak to prior to the show, I just started walking into show rooms and asking; “I was wondering if I could speak to someone from your design staff if they are available and not busy.” Much to my suprise, doing that worked much better then I had anticipated. I think the biggest in for me was to things:

  1. A prototype of a design I am selling to a company was on display in the Showplace building. This established that I knew something of the industry.

  2. I graduated from Kendall College of Art and Design in Grand Rapids, MI and 80% of our graduates in the traditional Furniture Design program end up working for a High Point based company. Kendall is considered to be in the top 5 in the nation for traditional furniture design, so although I came from a mostly “no name” school (as opposed to Art Center, RISD, etc.) people knew of my college and the quality of the students.

Overall though, I was impressed by the willingness of the people there to speak to me. Chances are if I was able to speak to someone, it was the company president, design department head (if they actually had a staff that big), or VP of Marketing. I certainly made an effort to select companies which were realistic to speak to given my experience level and status as a designer. That meant staying away from the Italian and European companies, and seeing what I could do for a low-mid and contemporary company had to offer.

On a few occassions, I spoke to company presidents who really didn’t have a hand in the development of the furniture (they did mostly exporting or outside development of pieces) and I managed with some success to sell myself as a person they could use to help them duplicate a market offering without copying a competitor’s piece, and improve that design through more engineering or functional aspects.

Overall, it was a great experience. I would STRONGLY encourage any ID person with an interest in designing furniture to attend the High Point Markets. 5 months ago I would have laughed at you if you suggested I should attend High Point. I would have replied, “Why, so I can design Louis XIV pieces?!” What I realized was although there is a limited amount of contemporary or RTA leaning companies there, it is still really a WORLD Furniture Market and there is a decent variety of ID related firms.


While what you say may be true, the High Point furniture “scene” is more about aesthetics than anything else. There is a real need for innovation in design and functionality.

Your typical “L” Desk and “Wall” entertainment centers are less relevant in today’s world with all the innovations taking place in consumer electronics and the switch to a “telecommuter” based society. Except for a small minoirty of manufacturers, most companies that attent high point don’t have a true understanding of the consumer’s furniture needs nor do they make a real attempt to do so.

It is far from what you see in the Contract furniture market where a signifcant percentage of the product development buget is spent on end user/workflow research.

That’s just my $.02 as someone who worked in the furniture industry.


I agree with you completely. About 2 in 10 of the showrooms I walked into actually had ANY product that served a real functional purpose other then being sat on. Many of the companies I spoke to which had a more contemporary or RTA focus had very little actual functionality to their products as well. In some cases I talked to reps or marketing people who said “Sorry, to be honest the company owner’s daughter designs everything.” That sector of the furniture industry really IS a market driven industry. There is more concern for expanding into new product lines and cracking out more pieces for the next High Point then there is designing products which actually benefit users.

I’m happy where I am right now being on the more “fashionable side” for the industry for the time being, but if I do decide to start my own design firm in the VERY distant future I’ll want to get back to contract furniture and the need for egronomics and actual user research.

That was me above /\ forgot to log in.

This is what frustrates me about Industrial Designers and the furniture design industry. What’s wrong with Louis XIV??? Industrial designers forget that furniture is an industry very strongly connected to two things-- fashion and tastefulness. Everyone has a different idea of what looks nice, especially when it comes to artistic things, but in the end people who want a nice home and people who are spending money do NOT decorate their house like a space ship. So what is up with all this contemporary swoopy shit? Honestly? Who do you think is buying it? And who do you think actually IS making money? Three words: Ralph Lauren Home. By the way, I’m a 4th year student in industrial design (at UC)–and I’ve worked for Target corporation doing furniture, decoratives, dinnerware, etc–and then for Thomas O’brien in New York. So I’ve got an idea of what’s going on out there.

What does all the above matter if when you sit on that Louis XIV for an extended period of time, you get back pain? That is one of the things real ID’ers bring to the table that Furniture Designers don’t get.

Target sells cheap. disposable furniture and only cares about trend setting, nothing else. I hardly consider that a worthwhile experience which would help you understand what furniture is all about.

Thanks for replying, I figured no one would. First of all, Louis XIV and XV period furniture was entirely based around finding the most comfortable possible configuration, and entirely eliminating the straight line because the human body has none. And I think Industrially designed things being more functional, in this case ergonomic, is really just an idealization. Eames chairs are nice–but seriously, go to a contemporary design shop and honestly try to tell yourself that contemporary ID furniture is more ergonomic–some of it is ludicrous! As for Target, I agree their furniture is cheap, disposable, and I’ll add unsustainable. But it’s a corporation with massive resources that bases its entire design strategy off of closely scrutinizing everything that is happening in the design industry–it was much more informative that sitting in an ID consultancy sketching plastic shapes for six months.

Eames chairs are nice–but seriously, go to a contemporary design shop and honestly try to tell yourself that contemporary ID furniture is more ergonomic–some of it is ludicrous!

You’re creating generalizations

Are you talking about DWR or Herman Miller/Humanscale/Steelcase/KI? Both are contemporary, but HM sure as hell throws alot of time and resources into Human Factors/usability, just as much or even more than the aesthetics.

But it’s a corporation with massive resources that bases its entire design strategy off of closely scrutinizing everything that is happening in the design industry–it was much more informative that sitting in an ID consultancy sketching plastic shapes for six months.

Thats design, not design strategy which means it is nothing more than marketing innovation which will not be sustainable. Target is sacrifing product and process innovation which still leaves them wide open and blindsided by what IKEA is good at (marketing, product and process innovation). Target is essentially a “pretty” Wal-Mart who still pisses off vendors contiously demading lower priced product. Lower prices+China manufacturing=crappy disposable product which people will eventually learn to hate.