funny, I’ve been thinking the same thing. I’m in my final year @ CCA and I’m now starting to figure things out. The great thing about furniture design/making is that the field is very wide where you can get into soul sucking positions to positions that actually feed the soul. I worked as a summer intern last year at a place that was soul sucking(they had a very set way of doing things, they used questionable labor to get the stuff made, etc) and soul feeding(i was able to get a few designs out). As a paid intern I made around $15 an hour. The senior designer made about 35k. This in no way reflects the way things are because he managed to put himself in a position where he didnt sell himself hard enough and the company was very much about cutting every corner. To make it as a furniture designer(in my opinion) you have to have a few things on lock down.
It’s great to know how to use solidworks to render pieces but its also critical to know as many other programs as possible. Alias, 3d MAX, AutoCAD, Rhino and even sketchup seem to open a few doors. I also think that its good to get outside of the techno weeny world of FURNITURE MAKING. I’m trying to get as much art education on my side so that I can have the element of critical thought on my side. It’s good to know how to make stuff but it seems that a lot of schools are prepping furniture students to become STUDIO FURNITURE makers and not people who understand the other parts of the furniture world.
So far most of my classmates that have gone on into the proffesional world are in the 35-50k range starting out.
Kerf, did you work at the same company I’m at now? Crap pay, soul sucking environment… Sounds like its all the same no matter what residential furniture company you go to. But this is the old way of running a corporate environment that still seems to live on in the furniture world: find someone with the skills but little corporate experience, and suck every last bit of work from them before they realize they’re getting paid much less than they are really worth.
Seriously, though, I too failed to sell myself when I was hired. Of course, I was right out of school and desperate for a job, so I took the first thing that came along. Interning, I made $10 per hour. I started out on salary at 29k, which from the coroflot salary survey seems to be pretty average for the area, but I’ve not increased that much in three years (3-4% raise each year). This is the south, however, and all jobs seem to pay less, especially outside of major urban areas. I’ve also failed to push for larger raises, but in the corporate world you’ve got to tiptoe a lot if you don’t have the stomach to stab your peers in the back.
I agree with your comment about getting outside the specialized field you are studying for. It can only help you. Knowing more about anything and everything will only help you better understand the world and help you to design better products for it. I’ve found that most old-school furniture companies make use of 2D AutoCAD, but have little use for 3D (even though most Asian manufacturers do everything in 3D CAD).
I’ve found that most furniture programs teach you how to make traditional furniture with old technology. Some schools do expose students to state of the art production techniques, but its not very common. That would probably be called ‘production engineering’ or something. Most production furniture in the US (not much left…) is done with as little human involvement as possible, lots of CNC work, but few schools can afford to let students run amok with multi-million-dollar machines.
While my current job in the furniture industry has nearly sucked my soul dry, I’ve made friends with the manufacturing side and had the opportunity to play with making prototypes of my own designs (which I could never afford to do on my own) as well as play with different designs on their dime (within reason, however).
I suspect that if you were living in an area that has a lot of furniture companies (High Point and Hickory, NC for example), a junior designer should expect at least $36K. I was making 60K before I left, but I alsohad some experience under my belt.
Having escaped the world of furniture design, I have to ask are you SURE that’s what you want to do? Many of the designers I’ve met were basically AutoCAD jockeys. There is very little room for creativity. RTA companies like Bush have some neat products. But I’m guessing that’s not exactly what you want to do. If you’re thinking of the products that you’d find in Topdeq and DWR, then that’s not what you’ll find in North carolina. Human Scale and Hermann Miller are the only companies that I can think of that really appreciate innovation from industrial designers.
I would advise NOT going specifically into furniture design. Stick with Industrial Design because you will not be pigeon-holed into doing only furniture.
i was in west michigan when i started, 8 years later, i’m in california. i don’t want to discuss my current salary publicly, but i will say it is very, very good for this market. i am not a cad jockey, though it is a large portion of my job. it’s still fun and challenging.
i’m very jealous of you all! i live in istanbul, turkey, and employers here seem to think we graduate from schools to be their slaves. yes, i have friends who are working as interns, not being paid because they dont have any actual experience other than internships. therefore adding another internship to their resumes!