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How To Design Furniture

Updated on August 8, 2012

Have you ever wondered what goes into the design of the sofa in your living room? Do have any idea how it was built? Probably not often, if ever. It's a lot like the cars we drive or the televisions we watch, we really have little or no idea how they're made as long as they work. But a lot goes into quality furniture. It's really more than just something to sit on or set a cup on.

A truly unique and beautifully crafted piece can become the focal point for a room. Fine quality furniture sets a mood and gives a home character and personality. It sets the style whether it's Traditional, Modern or Old World. Each style is designed differently, uniquely, with it's own inherit qualities, colors, textures, and other design elements.

What goes into furniture designs?

Since furniture is one of our most expensive purchases, it's important to know how to judge good furniture design from bad. The essentials in the design of fine furniture is the initial design, respect for the environment and solid construction. Fine furniture usually reflects the shapes, textures and colors of nature. This stands to reason because the wood itself comes from nature.

A truly gifted furniture craftsman is about to design pieces of furniture that are functional, beautiful and comfortable while keeping to the elements of a particular style. A truly unique and beautifully crafted piece can become the focal point for a room.

Very popular today is the concept of building furniture that already has a “past.”Reclaimed materials from old buildings, fallen trees, logs, etc. is good for the environment and creates furniture that is very much like a brand new antique. Historic wood glows with the wisdom of age, the color, texture and “feel” of wood with a past story. Much of today's inexpensive poor quality furniture, in a relatively short time, ends up in a land fill. Quality furniture ends up gracing the rooms of home after home, generation after generation.

One sign of fine quality, well designed and durable furniture is the joinery method. Poor quality furniture is stapled, time-honored joinery uses dowels and screws that enhance the appearance and provides exceptional strength. Glue can be used at times, but it should never show. When a wood worker uses mortise and tenon joinery he makes a 90-degree joint of two pieces held together with a fastener. In dovetails the woodworker makes a series of cuts that fit together perfectly. When shopping for fine quality furniture look for drawers with dovetail construction.

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Furniture Styles

All furniture is designed with a certain style in mind. It might be Traditional, Modern, Cottage, Old World, Shaker, Federal, Contemporary just to name a few. Each style has it's own design elements.

Traditional Furniture Design

Traditional furniture features dark woods such as walnut, oak and mahogany. Upholstery is often brocades, velvets, silk, wool, and chintz, rich in texture and luxurious. These fabrics compliment the curves and carvings of the wood in Traditional styles. More contemporary Traditional styles can also feature leather and suede. Popular Traditional fabric patterns are floral designs, striped, paisley, checks, small designs and plaids. Colors are often earthy—neutral shades of brown, green, rust, gold, and sometimes blue. Traditional chairs and sofas sometimes have nail head trim, tassels, or fringe. Cushions are usually seen with piping or welting for classic detail.

Traditional furniture doesn't have the elaborate ornamentation of Victorian but it is the most ornate of today's styles with carvings, curves, and bun, ball and claw feet and cabroile or spider legs on chairs. Curved chair backs and rolled arms are also hallmarks of the Traditional style.

Traditional furniture can be large with china cabinets and armoires up to six feet high. Sofas can also be quite large although they tend to range from about 76 inches to a little more then 100. They can also be pretty tall with camelback style common.

Traditional style furniture designs feature dark woods such as walnut, oak and mahogany.
Traditional style furniture designs feature dark woods such as walnut, oak and mahogany.

Contemporary Furniture Design

Contemporary is not as modern as Modern but it is much less ornate than Traditional. Contemporary is a much loved, popular style.

Materials and Features

Fabrics are usually solid and flat—no brocades or tapestry. Glass, metal and chrome is commonly seen in contemporary furniture pieces and these elements are often mixed together in the same piece such as a glass table with metal legs.

Any materials that are smooth, sleek, textures with sharp crisp edges and straight lines. Color, unlike most other styles, actually help define the Contemporary style. Neutrals are very common such as black, white and beiges with bright accessories—red, yellow, gold, or bright green and blue.

Black is usually used for wood furniture with white upholstered pieces.

Beige and other neutral colors are common in contemporary furniture design.
Beige and other neutral colors are common in contemporary furniture design.

French Country Furniture Design

French country furniture is usually on the rustic side, although it is becoming more elegant in recent years.

Materials and Features

Upholstered furniture is a mix of patterns with checks and stripes in the lead. Colors are often earthy or blue and white. Prints often depict life on the farm with chicken or rooster prints very popular now. Chairs and sofas can be quite ornate with heavy upholstery when elegant. Casual styles are often checks. White-washed wood is commonly seen and wood finishes other than paint are usually pine or oak.

Dark reds and big white walls are commonly found in french country style furniture.
Dark reds and big white walls are commonly found in french country style furniture.

English and Irish Country Furniture Design

These country styles are quaint and charming.

Materials and Features

Painted wood predominates and the chairs often have rush seats. Arm chairs and sofas are large and overstuffed with floral or small print fabrics in smooth, crisp cotton. There's a mixture of historical styles that include Queen Anne and Jacobean. Sofas and arm chairs often feature ruffle skirts.

There's also a more elegant English and Irish Country style that features a great deal of rich dark wood finishes and fabrics that are heavy and dark.

Irish country furniture design often features dark, heavy wood finishes.
Irish country furniture design often features dark, heavy wood finishes.

American Country Furniture Design

American country is casual first and foremost. This style is a little bit cottage, a little colonial with some Federal sprinkled in for good measure. It's a fun style.

Materials and Features

Casual is the watch-word—cottons, tweedy upholstery fabrics—and small prints, checks and plaids. Red, white and blue and patriotic prints are always popular. Federal style wood furniture—Windsor and ladder back chairs and rocking chairs with cushioned backs and seats. Painted wood is often seen and wood finishes in pine and oak. Colors include green, blue, red, and brown.

This is a perfect example of American country furniture design.
This is a perfect example of American country furniture design.

How To Design Custom Furniture


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    • moonlake profile image


      6 years ago from America

      Enjoyed your hub really like the last three pictures. Very interesting. Voted up.

    • Scribenet profile image


      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I enjoy looking at well made furniture. I have a solid pine trestle table that I have had for years and I never tire looking at! It comes apart for moving! I bought it from a small store that made it to order in Toronto. Alas, the store is long gone!


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