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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Furniture Design

Furniture of the future? Colorful, comfortable, sculptural, works of art.

The Furniture Maker, 1900, Ludwig Deutsch

Over the course of the past several years I've written extensively on the type of art that we all come in contact with most often--utilitarian design. Whether it be the cities in which we live, or their houses, the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, even the keyboard upon which I'm typing at the moment were all the creative output of a designer. Beneath my computer keyboard is a slender adjustable table similar to (perhaps identical to) the type hospitals use which are cantilevered out over a bed allowing patients eat their meals comfortably. Inasmuch as I project my computer images onto a wall, and my keyboard and mouse are wireless, it's ideally mobile for my purpose. I can even adjust it to work standing up if I like. In fact, the furniture people have given this kind of thing a name--"repurposed" furniture. As with my typing desk, most repurposed furniture is designed by its user. However, most furniture, even that handmade in a user's woodshop, is the product of a designer's ingenuity. What's surprising is, very little of it is in any way original. Inside secret: furniture designers copy...a lot.
Ark of the Battle of Anghiari, Italian, 1450-1500, named for the painting on its side.
The Classical-styled box was often more valuable than the contents.
Furniture styles, now and then are often
differentiated by their carved legs.
Because of this fact, I'm not going to spend a lot of time delving into the history of furniture, famous designers, or their famous designs. Likewise this little discourse is not about interior decorating (or design). Besides, I've already covered that. Furniture design usually happens long before interiors are conceived, thus architects and interior designers are usually at the mercy of whatever furniture designers have come up with. A few architects and interior design artist have taken it upon themselves to design pieces of furniture specific to their rooms and houses, (such as Frank Lloyd Wright). But they tend to be the exception. Most interior designers spend hours upon hours pouring over catalogs (or Websites) picking and choosing, adapting, shopping, and haggling (with clients and suppliers both) rather than extend their design skills to the components of their rooms.
A dresser with shelves from a Neolithic era house in Orkney, Scotland,
dating from 3100-2500 BC. Notice how the designer has carried the textural
elements of the wall surfaceover into that of the furniture.
I call this the King Tut
Uncommon Table
Furniture is simply the broad category of objects which make architecture comfortable and practical. We sit on it, sleep on it, eat from it, work from it, store our stuff in it, and display our stuff on it. Archaeologists have found (above) stacked stone furniture dating back around five-thousand years to the Neolithic period (in areas where wood was scarce). The stepfather of Jesus likely was a furniture designer/builder, a craft the nomadic Israelites no doubt learned from the Egyptians. Because the Egyptians tried to "take it with them" when they died, we probably have more knowledge and examples of Egyptian-designed furniture than that of any other ancient culture. Moreover, it is quite sophisticated and beautiful for its time (as far back as 1,000 BC). It remains a style still admired (and copied) today (right).

Here's a piece adapted in line with client demand. We might call it Baroquecoco.
Using the chart (above, left) what name would you give the legs?
A Moorish Revival daybed.
If you were to talk to a furniture designer about his or her profession's tendency to copy styles of the past, not to mention each other, you'd hear the word "adapt" and the phrase "client tastes" a lot. The King Tut Uncommon (pretty much how the name is pronounced) table, (above, right) is an "adapted" piece. Tut's furniture designers would have gotten a quick one-way ticket to the underworld had they come up with such a design. "Client demand" involves the fact that buyers often prefer the safety of referencing the past (above) as opposed to embracing the futuristic (top). Yet, even when the furniture style is clearly "modern" (below) very often the design has been copied and/or adapted for nearly a hundred years by now.

An elegant, Modern, exciting, sophisticated, subtle, warm, inviting, and safe contemporary interior in line with client tastes and expectations, but not cutting edge furniture design.
Oval Sofa, Scott Gore
If we're to study furniture design from a truly creative point of view, emphasizing relatively original designs, we must begin to look at pieces that usually boarder on Postmodern sculpture. Warning, everything from here on down is going to look...weird. Scott Gore's Oval Sofa (right) is museum quality sculpture to the point I'd be torn between stretching out and roping it off. If ovals are not your thing, try the "in the round" user-purposed, red and white "womb" (below) which can open up into two adjoining settees or close up into an ergonomic lounge, even, so it would appear, a bed.

I gotta get me one of these.

The Rolls Royce Bar
Postmodern art has a sense of humor. The same is true of its furniture. A bar resembling the front end of a British Rolls Royce (above) would, I'm sure, allow the serving of much better drinks than one resembling a resembling an equally British Morris Mini. The Morris motorcar does, however, make for a pretty clever desk (below).

The British Morris Mini desk, for those with a "mini" workload, no doubt.
The Brits would, probably also enjoy the "bloody red" table (below) while we Yanks would be more favorable to Ron Arad's U.S. Map Bookshelf (bottom).

Furniture ideal for a careless Postmodern painter.

A shelving unit designed solely for American literature, by Ron Arad.


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