Furniture Design Precedents


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Im sure this thread is going to leave me feeling a bit foolish, but im asking anyways! Before I had the sense to transfer to development, I was once an architecture student. Perhaps it was just my university, but every project started with a week or two dedicated to finding inspiration/precedents. This could be as abstract as a macro shot of a segmented insect's body influencing the compartmental house you were designing, or a bit more specific in the form of paraphrasing an element from some other building. Im not really looking to be in the MOMA, so I dont need oddball abstract inspiration, but I would like some resources to lean on for contemporary/modern furniture. Books? Websites? Im positive these resources exist, but my feeble google searches havent returned anything worthwhile. I either find a gallery of traditional china closets etc. or ultra modern white eggs.  I dont wear a straw hat and navy overalls, nor do I live in a space ship, which makes both resources useless to me. 

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Each issue of FineWoodworking has four "Gallery" pages with photos of works by current talented woodworkers.   Take a look at the current issue to see if that is the kind of information/inspiration you are looking for.  If so buy the CD's of all previous issues and start going through them.  40 Years of issues should give you a lot to contemplate. 

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I tend to lean heavily on Danish/mid-century design, and I get good results from google images for inspiration.  If you are googling "modern furniture" you are going to get a lot of white eggs.  If you are googling "contemporary furniture," you're going to get crap, because the term "contemporary" is meaningless.  "Contemporary" furniture is whatever they are selling at Crap & Barrel, et al. at the time, and is designed to offend the least number of people so there is a broad base of potential buyers.  I suppose right now anything made from pallet wood would be considered "contemporary."  (sorry for the rant).

Searching for something a little more specific, like Danish-modern, helps to narrow the results.  Also, if you don't mind sifting through a bunch of crap, Pintrest can be a good resource.  One other thought is to find a designer you like and seeing if there is anything published about them.  For example, there are a ton of resources out there about Maloof and Nakashima, which can serve as inspiration.  

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Actually, this is a very interesting topic to me.  When designing something I first think about the application/use, then ergonomics (if they apply). Then I do a google image search to see what's out there.  I agree with dknapp34 - narrowing it in a number of ways gets you better results (though maybe not what you were thinking). I've slogged through pintrest and houzz but google image seems to give me more bang for the buck - I can scan through that a lot faster and pivots/tangents are a lot easier. I've pretty much given up on houzz because it's just too much work to narrow down. Pintrest isn't that far behind.

For example "contemporary table" google search, click on images and you get hundreds of images that you can scan through quickly. Related images will give you more in that vein. What I like is it's very quick to scan through. To me it's all about quickly sifting though volumes of ideas to get one or two that I can examine in more detail.

Then, of course, I find something that looks really neat and come up with a design based on it that all sorts of fun build possibilities. Draw with Sketchup, get all the joinery figured out and my wife says "oh no, I just want something really simple".

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Yeah, you two sorta nailed what I am experiencing. One, I am not knowledgeable enough about furniture styles for me to specify my search. That is one tip, bone up on styles. I guess im looking for a resource that doesn't require a lot of legwork on my end. Hopefully that didn't sound lazy--it is, but its also about efficiency--but multiple other fields have content(free and paid) where someone knowledgeable/tasteful has already done the legwork and curated a gallery. For example, my other interest is bonsai. I have a dozen resources at my finger tips to look at the absolute finest trees across all available styles of the art. Some are from the top annual exhibits publishing volumes, or from major establishments posting online galleries. Despite no two trees being the same, it is effective to peruse these resources and train your eye. Eventually you begin to recognize your own aesthetic and what essential elements constitute that aesthetic. Perhaps not the most accurate analogy to draw here, but I believe a similar exercise would be effective for woodworking. Heck, possibly MORE effective, because woodworking is much more duplicative. Generally, I want to begin cataloguing mental inspiration for when I am doing my own pieces a few years down the road. For right now, I am progressing steadily through the 7-8 guild projects I have.



Specifically, I have a simple bedroom armoire/built-in/open closet thing on the agenda. My fiancé and I have exhausted our closet space, and we are in desperate need of additional organized storage. Other than drawing it up and posing it to the forum here, there isn't much design homework I feel like I can effectively do to prep for the build.

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Here is a link the the College of the Redwoods Fine Woodworking School which was started by James Krenov back in the 80's.  If you click on the gallery link you will see some photos of student's work from several decades.  if you click on a particular photo, it will give you information and some of the past students now have websites that have their own galleries.

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+1 to the Dwell magazine recommendation - their website is good to.

Other things worth checking:

  • Design within Reach catalog (or any other "modern" furniture catalog/website that you like the looks of)
  • Visit your local thrift store's book section - lots of old furniture, architecture, design, decoration books etc - I love these old books - of course lots of garbage too, but some really cool inspirational ones to be found
  • If you are talking Danish Modern/mid-century type stuff, another poster already pointed out some good ideas - google image search has loads and loads.  I also check out ebay listings - often some great photos and aditional info like dimensions, etc.  
  • With the internet photos, I download and organize all pics that catch my eye into folder like "storage", "seating", "tables" etc, so slowly building my own image library.
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23 hours ago, Dknapp34 said:

If you are googling "contemporary furniture," you're going to get crap, because the term "contemporary" is meaningless.

I just caught an article yesterday talking about "contemporary" in the form of dance.  The jist of the article was that people don't really know what contemporary means any more.  While that's nice and confusing, the short end of what that means for anybody outside the design house is "contemporary" is a marketing term that's slapped onto anything to get people to buy it.


As for places for inspiration, you could go through museums or art galleries, or check out funeral homes (they usually have some form of furniture in a display area like the lobby or the director's office, not the gathering chambers - you can sneak a peak if you make an appointment to discuss prepaid plans for a family member.  I've had a couple recent tragedies hit the family, so my views have skewed that direction temporarily.)  Get a couple of catalogues online; Sharper Image, LL Bean, and Land's End tend to put some display pieces out under their products that are in a variety of styles.


Go (semi)pro, and take a look at retailers' websites, like Ashley Furniture or Arhaus.  Or, just do a random Google search for "comfy chair" and see what comes up.  Checking the background of those photos also helps.

Sure, there's a lot of padded stuff on the furniture, but you're not looking to buy: you're looking for inspiration.  And that can come from anywhere.

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