There have been many threads on Design but I've not seen one
that defines the term. Maybe a discussion of design should
start with a definition of the term. I found this one while
going through book reviews on WoodCentral
Steven Aimon, in his book "Design!" provides a useful definition
"Simply put, design is the arrangement of visual elements in space"
We know what a desk, table, chest of drawers or a chair
generally looks like and what each is supposed to do. We have
a general idea of basic shapes, sizes and components dictated
by the piece's function - function being important if we're
talking about furniture that can actually be used - and lived
with (as opposed to some "studio furniture makers'"
"inrerpretation" of a table, chair etc.).
But, given each is about the same size and with the same number
of drawers, it's the things that make one chest of drawers more
attractive than another that we search for.
Let's start with the "visual elements"
There's a big box with a top, bottom, two sides - and a back
you'll seldom see (unless your spouse is one who likes to
re-arrange the furniture on a bi-annual or annual basis).
From the front we see only the front outline of the box, the
edges of the top, bottom and sides. Inside the big box are a
series of smaller boxes typically arranged in horizontal
layers stacked on top of each other. There may or may not
be visual elements separating the drawer boxes. There's
likely drawer pulls and something to hold the big outside
box off the floor.
Aside from the wood, a big "aside" I'll admit, all we have
to work with are a bunch of boxes, with actual thicknesses
in the 1/2" to 3/4" thickness range, maybe even 1" thick.
Going with a "face frame" the big box visual element can be
added to in order to increase the apparentt thickness, and the
mass it implies. If that doesn't do it there's always molding
and trim. If you want to lighten up the look of the big box
then you can chamfer some edges or round them over to
make them look thinner/lighter or to make the outline of the
big box a bit ambiguous - maybe to make one or more of the
smaller boxes more noticable.
Now we've got the little boxes to work with. They can be
emphasized or blended together. Drawer dividers can
act as visual frames for the drawers. Or, you can go with
overlay drawers and chamfer or shape their edges or even
add cock beading to make each a visual element. To further
distinguish each drawer, you can vary their size or better
yet, graduate them, shortest on top and widest on the bottom,
or visa versa - but that falls under "arrangement" so
let's skip that for now.
Drawer pulls can also be used to either draw attention to
the drawers or act as another visual element. Where
on each drawer you put them falls under "arrangement".
Edge treatment was touched on earlier, but how they
work to change the look of the piece wasn't. Edge treat-
ments add new surfaces for light to play with - either
to create another plane or two OR to cast a shadow.
Shadows can also be visual elements. A plane inset
drawer doesn't cast a shadow. An overlay drawer does.
But a flush drawer with chamfered edges will have
One more thing to keep in mind when you're thinking
about visual elements - shadows. You don't normally
think about shadows - but they can be an important
visual element - defining edges and outlines - or not.
Got you thinking yet?
On to "arrangement".
Assuming that there needs to be smaller boxes inside
the bigger box, their arrangement is important.
For the chest of drawers "box", lets assume you
need six drawers, or better yet five. You could
stack them on top of each other, and maybe graduate
them. Or you could put two side by side - twice
and a long one on the bottom. If you go with the
side by side thing, what about the left one narrower
than the other on the top row, reverse that for the
second row and the one long one on the bottom.
OR - two narrow ones flanking a wider one
on the top and two the same width below. Or ...
You can also use an arrangement that surprises.
Sam Maloof does a chair with arms, but the arms
are too low to actually rest your arms on when
seated. He used the "arms" as structural elements
of his chair. The chair seat acts as one leg stretcher
- and the "arms" as another. That re-arrangement
of parts makes his chair interesting, even if you
don't know why. Structurally it's just as strong
as the traditional stretcher arrangement.
This can go on and on. Hell, there are four
or five types of graduated drawers.
So on to "in space"
The one most often overlooked part of "design"
is the "in space" part of design. When "space"
IS considered it's usually because the "space"
is limited. "Can't be any wider than ... in order
to fit in that space."
But "in space" should also be thought of in
terms of the context of the space the piece
will occupy. A big, overpowering piece
in a small room can be a disaster, no matter
how good the woodworking, the proportions,
and even the wood. By the same token, a small
delicate piece in a room full of Greene & Greene
pieces just won'tfit in.
"In space" should not only be thought of as the
volume the piece will fill, nor just when space
is tight. "In space" should also be thought of in
terms of context. What space will it live in , and
with what other pieces.
just something to think about when designing
your next project - or not.