Jobs in the south

I’ve heard that traditional furniture has a fairly decent presence in the south. Anyone have any experience working down there? What kind of pay-scale for recent grads etc.? Is it worth it if you truly love furniture like I do?

Anyway, anything that can be said about this topic, please go ahead. I’m listening folks.

also want to know, which of you is a furniture designer purist? meaning who among you chose to design furniture only as opposed to all the other ID goodies… I ask because I’m planning on switching my major to furniture.

To be quite honest, I don’t really care that much about pay… I’d be happy making 40-45k… as long as I get to actually DESIGN furniture and it gets produced… I’m more passionate about designing and seeing people use/buy my work more than anything. Is this a realistic goal in the south or in any market in the US?

If by “fairly decent presence” you mainly corporate offices, then yes, there is still a presence here. There is very little manufacturing, most of what is left is confined to customer-spec’ed upholstery and finishing. Lots of distribution, at least at companies who haven’t gone direct-to-consumer with their own stores. But that is the case with most industries anywhere in the USA.

If you haven’t already, try to get to High Point for the furniture market. It will give you a better idea of what the whole “traditional” (residential) furniture scene is about. I’d recommend ICFF and NeoCon, too, as these will show you other parts of the industry that are likely to have more to offer to those who truly love furniture design (there’s virtually no cross over between High Point and the others). I can offer my opions, but you should decide for yourself weather “traditional” furniture companies will offer what you are looking for.

Pay scale will be lower anywhere in the south, for pretty much any job. The cost of living is generally lower, making it more attractive cost-wise than say, Manhattan, but if raw numbers are your concern, you’ll be sadly dissapointed. For entry level “designer” 40-45k is too high, more like 30-35k, perhaps a bit more in a large city. Maybe you could make that after 5-8 years or if you are promoted to some kind of middle management position. There’s more money in being a sales rep, really. A “furniture design” degree might give you a bit of an edge with an old-skool furniture company, but many only need CAD monkeys (aka “designers”) to turn product managers’ or the latest licensee’s ideas into a manufacturing drawing. Companies that truly value design shouldn’t make a big deal out of industrial/product design degree vs. furniture design degree, and a more generic design degree will allow you to move to other design jobs more freely if you get tired of furniture.

The “traditional” furniture industry is all about selling and making a profit. Once you come to terms with this, everything else starts to make sense, including the pervasive lack of creativity and stubborness to change.

ICFF on the other hand, is where the limits are pushed in the name of design. But there’s little money in being an independent designer/small manufacturer, although to me that avenue is very appealing from the design side. I hope to make the switch very soon (or get out of furniture entirely).

Contract and task furniture is highly technical and design-oriented, and one area of the furniture industry where design and making money seem to be less at odds. From what I hear, its not perfect, but at least this segment of the industry seems to pay better.

lotus, thanks for your response.

the numbers do indeed disappoint me, but I suppose traditional/residential furniture design alone is more of a passion than it is a solid career.

What kind of numbers would a beginning designer at say Herman Miller expect to start off with?

would you say that it would be wiser if i ended up getting a degree in ID rather than just furniture? you see, my dilemma is that I want to be able to “specialize” and I find ID taught in school is very broad and covers everything rather than allowing you to focus on your main interest (residential furniture in my case).

Would traditional furniture makers down south still hire an ID major as opposed to a furniture major?

You see, the school I’m transferring to, has a furniture major and the ID program does not offer any of those same classes… eg… soft seating, chair detailing, etc… In ID, I believe my studies would be too broad…

If you don’t mind, can you tell me a little about your background academically-speaking? Do you work in furniture down south? You sound like you have a good deal of experience. Thank you again.

Yeah, I’d say its a labor of love to some degree, but honestly its relatively high paying for most rural areas in the south, while being meager for urban areas and near-poverty for somewhere like New York City. I made another post in the design employment about this, too, but it touches on some other points…

I can’t say how much starting salary would be at Herman Miller or similar contract furniture manufacturers. I would hope its better than what I make!

Most of the old-school freelancers I know have a degree in “furniture design” or a degree in drafting, and their furniture knowledge comes from working a factories or from their family who was also in furniture, etc. I would say a furniture major has a leg up when dealing with a traditional furniture company in the south. In terms of classes, furniture design courses would definately give you an advantage right out of school (if you are competing with ID/PD majors for a furniture design job, especially at a “traditional” furniture company) both in terms of how potential employers will view you and how quickly you can get into the work at hand. A degree with “furniture” written on it somewhere is an easy correlation, while “industrial design” may be viewed as a type of engineering or only pertaining to machinery, and “product design” may be viewed as only encompassing electronics or other consumer goods (besides furniture…) even though both should be equally capable of designing furniture. “Interior design” is often associated with or thought to be the same thing as “furniture design” or at least qualifies you to design anything inside a home. “Designer” is bandied about a lot as of late, and a lot of people with zero design training claim to be one. Yes, the “traditional” furniture industry is rather convoluted when it comes to design.

I suppose the degree you should go with depends on your career ambitions. If you never see yourself working outside of furniture (and this is by all means as great a career choice as any other part of the design field) then you are well ahead of most students who don’t know exactly what they want to do, allowing you to specialize earlier and get some advantage. But it also means that changing career paths later, say from furniture to shoes, will likely be more difficult, although you should have the same critical thinking, sketching, etc. skills as someone who specializes in shoes. The actual wording on the degree isn’t as big of a deal as most make it out to be. The better furniture companies in the south will hire an ID major just as quickly as a furniture design major, from what I can tell.

My background? I started out in an ID program since I didn’t have the math skills to get into an engineering program (where most of my friends at the time went) but soon discovered it was much more interesting than engineering, so I stuck with it. I initially wanted to go into auto design, but found that I enjoyed just about everything encompassed by ID. My last semester at school I did some freelance illustration for a furniture company, which led to an internship, which led to a full-time position as “designer/illustrator.” I’ve been out of school 3 years, and now I’m just starting to slow down and wonder where my interest in other areas of design went. While its not been the best run of employment, I’ve learned 10 times what I learned in 4 years of college. While I don’t have access to full machine and woodworking studios like I did in school, I now have access to some CNC equipment which is much more fun than cutting things out by hand, and I get to play designer on the company dime vs. my own money. :wink: But at the end of the day, there’s little creative freedom (and because of my contract, I can’t freelance in the same industry) and recent management changes have shortened the leash even more, so pretty soon I’m out and hope to one day manufacture my own goods on a micro scale (“the long tail of furniture”) but that remains to be seen. Finally, I do have to give some credit to the product development team that I work with, without whom I would have a much more difficult time getting products to market. We have a guy that’s done nothing but upholstery his entire life, another guy who does woodworking, another who specializes in natural materials, etc. There’s more to know than one could possibly learn in 4 years or less at school, maybe even a lifetime (to be competent in all types of furniture and all types of materials) and its really a team effort, although had I specialized in furniture while in school I might have started with a bit more advantage, but the learning curve has been steep. I guess you could say my position specializes in creativity, to compliment the r&d team, but that would be stuffing it into a tiny nutshell!

do what you love, the rest falls into place.

furniture designers do make good money. the school he is planning to attend is highly recruited in that field.

thanks Kung Fu for the encouragement. i’ve heard many great things about their furniture dept.

I’m not sure if you had any luck with Design positions in the South, but I am Executive Recruiter out of Grand Rapids, MI and I specialize in placing Product Design Engineers in the Furniture Industry throughout the U.S. I am currently working with a few companies in the Midwest that are desperate for good Design Engineers (ie. Steelcase, HON Company, Allsteel, etc). Would any of you be interested in learning about these positions? And if not, do you know where I would be able to find qualified individuals that would be interested? I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Sarah Cole
Partners in Technology

There is a job board on this site. Why don’t you post the job and see what happens.