Furniture Designer

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Furniture Designer


Think about moving into a new apartment. The kitchen is big, the windows look out over mountains, the balcony is huge and the bathroom newly renovated. You're thrilled! But until you fill that apartment with furniture, that apartment won't feel like home. Beds, tables, chairs. All over the world, people have been using various types of furniture for thousands of years. Furniture defines a home, and can represent the status, style, and even the philosophy of its owners.

Furniture designers experiment with color, shape, and size. They use different types of wood, metal, and plastics, creating functional art. Their pieces must be durable and sturdy, as well as beautiful.

They often work on commission, creating custom-ordered pieces for clients looking for original masterpieces for their homes. They may specialize in a custom-design "niche market". One may work only with wood, another may produce only dining room tables, another may only make wrought-iron garden furniture. These designers have a harder time making a living, unless they are willing to work long hard hours on both the designs and self-promotion.

Furniture designers may work with a small team of designers in a firm, on contract for companies who commission a design for a new sofa or table, which they will mass-produce. Often, furniture designers will be on staff at a large furniture company. These designers tend to make a more steady income, but it can prevent the designer from creating artistic or personalized designs.

Regardless of whether or not the piece is going to be mass-produced or sold as a one-of-a-kind item, designers all begin their work with a consultation meeting with the client or design supervisor, to learn about the piece required. The designer then produces sketches, drawings and computer models of the item which are shown to the client. If the client likes the ideas, the product can be made, or if the client doesn't, the designer is back to the drawing board, quite literally. If the piece is a one-of-a-kind, the designer may create the piece by hand, but if it is a mass-production piece, the design is made by technicians and machines.

Designers work in all styles, genres, and materials. They can make functional, anonymous chairs for doctors' offices, and beautiful, avant-garde living room chairs. They bring comfort, art and style into our houses, which without furniture designers, would never really feel like home.
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  Interests and Skills  
Furniture designers need to have good communication skills, meaning they are able to explain complex ideas in simple-to-understand ways. They are creative thinkers, who follow through on ideas, no matter how many obstacles come up in the way. Furniture designers should have some business sense, and be practical, as well as imaginative. They are interested in experimenting with different materials, textures, and forms. Furniture designers must like drawing and be able to use computers. They should also be interested in science and technology.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Consult with clients or manufacturers about products and markets
  • Make sketches on paper and using computers
  • Construct models if necessary
  • Determine cost, materials, and manufacturing challenges
  • Make presentations for clients and other designers
  • Document processes in written reports
  • Produce the piece in a workshop using various tools
  • A typical day for a designer will be a long one, especially if the project is interesting, pressing, or fun to work on. A designer will divide each day between meetings with clients and practical work. The furniture designer will spend time in an office, working on sketches, developing computer and actual models, and preparing and giving presentations to clients, as well as spend time in dusty workshops, producing pieces. This job will allow for some travel, to client offices and factories, and potentially to other cities, depending on the needs of the client.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Furniture designers can be self-employed, either working independently or running a small design business alongside fellow designers. They may work as freelancers, and have another full-time job as well. Self-employed designers make pieces on commission, meaning they make custom-order furniture for individual clients, or they may be hired on contract to design something for a major furniture company, designing something to be mass produced. These designers may also make pieces and sell them in a gallery space, much like artists who display their work in galleries. Often, furniture designers find work with large furniture companies, designing furniture in a team environment for one single company.
  • They will work in offices and in workrooms. This involves working with heavy, dangerous equipment. The hours can be long, especially if trying to meet a deadline.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Furniture designers can advance to senior design positions within a firm or furniture company. They can advance by either choosing to specialize in one area of design, or open a firm of their own which designs many types of furniture. They may use their training and become architects, industrial designers, design instructors, or interior designers. They may choose to take their talent to journalism, graphic design, or animation, or work for historical societies and museums, recreating artifacts for display and public programs.

  Educational Paths  
What does it take to become a furniture designer? First they will need a background in art, science, and technology. Furniture designers need to be able to draw, make models, have an eye for beauty and style, and be deft with computer programs. This means designers can come from a number of educational programs.

They may complete bachelor's degrees in design, fine arts, engineering, architecture, math, business, commerce, graphic design or computer programming. There are also college courses in most of these areas, including interior design, woodworking, and metalwork, to supplement the degree. There are also some masters' programs in design available for those who are interested in advancing their careers, skills and knowledge.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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