“I’m drawn to furniture design as complete architecture on a minor scale.” Brad Pitt
When I first started working with wood as a teenager, I felt like I was traveling back in time. I used to roam around the shop carrying a board of lumber on my shoulder or analyze my set of carving chisels laid out before me, deciding which one to use. As I worked, I imagined the countless generations of craftsmen who found themselves immersed in the same labor, developing the art of furniture making throughout the ages.
I had my face in the history books just as much as I had my hands on the workbench. I loved to learn about all the colorful characters of furniture makings history who brought the craft to where it is today. It was a collection of diverse and brilliant leaders, from many different nations who contributed to furniture’s ongoing evolution.
I thought about the first Europeans who took their building techniques to the Americas from France, England, and Germany. How they could only take with them so many tools and furniture plans. How the best and most successful woodworkers probably stayed in Europe and didn’t have the necessity to travel to the New World to seek better opportunities.
This contributed to the European styles of the period to being more elaborate and ornate, and the American styles as being elegant, but less extravagant than the Euro styles, and more focused on function and practicality.
Though the Herter Brothers(working from 1864-1906) of Germany, did cross the Atlantic and set up shop in NYC. They eventually became the premier producers of luxurious furniture and decorative elements of the time, selling their wares to the most affluent and powerful people in the country. The Vanderbilts and the politicians of the White House were two of their most prominent customers.
I thought of the pirates who pillaged across the Caribbean, on their huge wooden ships, depending on handcrafted vessels to accomplish their acts of thievery and terror. Imagining all the precious booty they stole from the rich nobles of the day. Gold, silver, jewels and anything of value, including fine furniture.
The captain of a successful pirate ship didn’t sit on a rotten wooden stool as he ordered his crew around with an iron whip. No, he sat on the best and most elaborate throne he could steal. He was a man of greed and pride. He sat and waited stylishly, crossing the seas and plotting his next strategic attack.
I thought of Genghis Khan and his Golden Horde.
When he was done conquering and uniting the savage tribes of the Mongolian steppe, he then set out to attack and plunder China. The Chinese at the time had already developed the arts to a very advanced level. The exquisite pieces the Mongols encountered must have seemed like objects from another planet. The tribesman had never seen silks embroidered with golden and silver threads, slippers embellished with pearls, precious jewels, perfumes, lacquered wooden furniture and innumerable objects of luxury.
After conquering the city of Zhongdu(modern day Beijing), Genghis sent back vast quantities of Chinese goods to Mongolia.
When they finally reached the steppe just imagine the ones that stayed home, their expressions of seeing these incredible treasures. I pictured these rugged warriors lounging on the finest Chinese furniture draped in silk, in their wooden yurts. Comfortably preparing for Khan’s next campaign of war to commence.
I thought of how a finely crafted piece of furniture can last longer than its creator. When I studied with some of the best furniture makers in the United States they taught me to build furniture that is both pleasing to the eye and of solid construction.
As long as your furniture is built well and isn’t destroyed in a fire or crushed in some freak accident, it will last the test of time. I have seen ancient wooden Egyptian furniture in museums, more than 6000 years old. Those Egyptian craftsmen must have been thinking of building with good quality and design over just building for quick profits, wouldn’t you say?
Furniture has always been an intricate part of our history, a reflection of our current architectural styles, of society as a whole, and of each individual.
You can tell a lot about a person just by looking at the furniture he uses on a daily basis.
Does he eat upon a dining table worth 6000 dollars, 500 or 50?
Is his bed good and solid, or does it rock and creak as soon as he starts moving around on it?
Is the coffee table in the center of his living room merely a support used to rest magazines and tired feet on?
Or is it a finely crafted piece of furniture of a modern style, with wooden inlays, perfectly turned legs, and a secret built-in compartment?
Furniture can be used for many things. Practicality and function yes, but also to show others how rich or sophisticated you are as an individual.
My Favorite Furniture Styles Include:
Oriental – Chinese and Japanese Design
I love the simple and elegant forms, the delicate and subtle lines, the minimalistic ornamentation of the Oriental makers. Their designs are not loud and bold, they have a perfect balance that actually creates a sense of relaxation upon viewing. Lacquered woods, red, dark brown or black in color, metal hardware, perfectly fitting and visible joinery are characteristics of this style, which developed over the course of the passing millennia.
The French Empire Style(1800-1815), was one of my favorite periods for the craft. It was originally inspired by ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian architecture. When the French traveled to those parts of the ancient world during their campaigns, they brought back with them the old designs and gave it a new powerful twist. They used the same type of ornate column that would have supported giant stone temples, they crafted them out of wood and placed them onto the fronts of dressers or commodes. Who would think to place a column that would normally support the rooves of various sacred structures, and place them onto the front of a cabinet? The French, that’s who. With Sphinx, dolphins, winged figures and many gilded motifs found throughout their work, it was a very striking style.
Bold and powerful – built to impress and awe. To boast of one’s status and place in society, there’s nothing subtle about the style of the French Empire.
White marble tops, mahogany veneers imported from distant colonies, and gilded ornamentation can be seen on the finest French Empire furniture.
A notable builder of this style is Charles-Honore Lannuier, a French cabinetmaker who emigrated to New York City in 1803 and became one of the premier craftsmen of the French Empire.
Art Nouveau(1890-1910) is another European style which is totally unique. It was inspired by nature itself, trees, flowers, and butterflies with flowing organic lines. Some of it is too feminine for my taste but the amount of skill involved in making these sculptural pieces is incredible.
The type of furniture I like to make…
I like to combine wood, stone, metal, and upholstery when needed for chairs. When possible, I like to work with recycled, found, and sustainable materials.
My furniture is loud, bold, and artistic. It doesn’t just sit in the corner of the house with an old boring book on it, no, it has life and a voice. First, it catches your attention from far away, from more than 40 feet you can see it in a room, whether it’s a table or a cabinet. Its contrasting colors/materials and its unique/odd form will draw your eye. So you’ll start walking towards it. As you get closer you’ll see that it’s not like any other piece you’ve seen before.
Some furniture looks good when you’re standing 10 feet away from it, but upon closer examination, it quickly reveals itself as being a piece of faux (false) beauty. On the other hand, a well-made piece will look better the closer you analyze it, like a finely crafted jewel. You’ll admire its curious form and beautiful materials.
The first thing you will want to do when you see it is to reach out and touch the top, whether its made of wood or marble, doesn’t matter. You want to feel how smooth it is, or if it’s a rustic piece you want to feel its texture. I work in rustic styles as well. I have burned and weathered wood to the point that it looked like it was struck by lightning, which was quite a dramatic effect. Especially when finely polished afterwards.
After you touch the top you’ll touch the legs.
You’ll open the drawers. You will engage with the piece. Like a dance. Like when you meet someone of the opposite sex who fascinates and attracts you, and your first getting to know them. You want to know everything about them. The piece will fill you with curiosity and mystique…
Who made you?
What are you made of?
Where are you from?
Who – What – Where – When – Why – How – ?
Many questions will rush to your head.
This is part of the plan.
This is the effect a well-made piece can have.
If it doesn’t raise questions, then it will not be preserved or remembered.
I look at the past forms, proven forms that are well proportioned, I may use them as the basic design structure for my furniture. I do not cover my furniture with ornamentation like Andre Charles Boulle used to do. That’s too excessive for my taste, though his work was absolutely marvelous and of the finest quality ever produced.
I believe that ornamentation is good, but it could also take away from the form itself. Ornamentation should highlight your piece, not be the center of your piece. The natural figures in wood and stone create their own embellishment.
On the contrary, some of the elaborate marquetry designs of Boule would be gorgeous as stand-alone framed art to decorate the walls of any home or palace.
Maybe that’s where art and furniture design should separate. When art begins to overpower the form and practicality of the furniture then it’s time to minimize the art.
My furniture has inlays of metals and wood veneers, minimal carving, turnings, and other decorative elements. It is visually attractive, strong, and dynamic. I always seek perfect balance in my work in whichever material or style I work in. Its modern, but it has been inspired by historical styles from around the world and continues to evolve with each new piece.
How to become a successful furniture maker?
There are two paths one must take in order to achieve success as a furniture maker. Do heed my words with a grain of salt, because I have not yet taken these paths to the full extent. I worked in several different shops as an employee and made many pieces but I haven’t worked independently in my own full-time furniture business. Though I personally know many craftsmen who work in the field today, and I believe all businesses essentially follow the same principles.
If you want to pursue it as a business, think about quality and quantity, like any other business venture.
You can sell 12 pieces of furniture that are worth 10.000 dollars each, earning 120 thousand per year, that would be a decent enough living. Or you can sell a 1000 pieces of furniture for 120 dollars each per year and earn the same 120.000.
Do you want to mass produce hundreds or thousands of inferior quality pieces or sell fewer pieces of furniture to the richest people of the world?
There will always be rich people who can afford expensive products of luxury. They should be your target customers.
Bringing your skills to the highest level will take years of dedication. You will have to learn marketing and self-promotion. You´ll have to learn how to “act” and catch people’s attention, building your reputation as the premier furniture maker of the contemporary world, claiming that yours is the best and finest. This is all required to achieve success as a furniture maker and in any type of business.
Consider where you are living
People in Switzerland and Japan appreciate finely made objects more than in countries like Honduras or Sudan.
Look at where the economy is currently booming and where there’s lots of growth going on.
I can think of a few places. China is the manufacturing center of the world with many new millionaires looking to spend their money on luxury goods. Seattle is the headquarters of Amazon.com and one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Dubai is one of the richest cities in the Middle East and known the world over for its impressive feet’s of architecture and unparalleled extravagance. These places come to mind along with many others. Where you live and who your target customers are will greatly affect your success in the field.
I am not currently toiling my days away in the woodshop, breathing in sawdust and making precision woodcuts but my mind can’t stop thinking about furniture. This has been my blessing and curse for as long as I remember. My brain is like a furniture designing machine with new concepts and ideas, flowing and filtering in and out at all times.
I know my designs are good, but they need to be physically created, evolving and improving after each piece is made. I need a serious amount of capital to realize this fantasy, along with an iron will to reach my goals.
The mansions and palaces of the world should be filled with my bold, impressive works.
How much determination do I have to make this dream a reality? That is the question.
What’s your creative obsession?
Included below are some examples of furniture I made back in the day. You’ll see French Empire, Modern, and Rustic designs.
I hope you find inspiration in this article and enjoy the pics!!