It is interesting to plan an odd piece of furniture for some special location or to serve some particular purpose, and, in the case of built-in units, it is nearly always necessary to plan or lay out the parts or units for the best effect. The aim should be to secure results that combine good workmanship with nice proportion and beauty of line. The essentials of good workmanship are sound construction and first-class finish, to professional standards.
Nice proportion demands a careful balancing of masses so that the piece does not look top-heavy or lopsided, or awkward. In some modern pieces, however, top-heaviness may be excused, as when a case piece is mounted on spidery legs simply because those legs are of iron and therefore recognizably strong in proportion to the weight of the wooden section.
Such design usually are best left to the professional designer, but in all respects well-designed furniture must appear, as well as be, wholly adapted to the purpose it is to serve. Appearance is important, and second only to utility. The degree to which the two can be combined is a measure of the designer's taste and skill. But it should be remembered that any well-designed piece looks like what it is and not like something else.
Don't make a piece till you have drawn it to a fairly large scale. This will give you an idea of its final appearance, perhaps from the front and one side. Pay special attention to the joints - the potential weak spots - in deciding upon the principal dimensions. There should be no great or sudden change in sectional area, and top-heavy effects are to be avoided.
Woods such as mahogany and birch are stronger than white pine or whitewood and therefore can be used in pieces of more delicate proportions. Oak, in particular, looks best in pieces of sturdy design, while tough stock such as ash is more logically used for spindles and parts that may be expected to "give" than is a brittle wood like mahogany.
These characteristics of the various woods also need to be taken into consideration in decorating them. Simple pieces need but simple embellishments; you want no fancy curves or curlicues on pine pieces - simple chamfers, dentils, comparatively coarse mouldings, and no sharp arrises, and only simple designs in chisel and gouge work should be attempted. The finer and denser the wood the more complicated and delicate the decoration can be.
In designing special pieces it is usually simplest to copy or adapt existing pieces that are of accepted good design, either of classical or modern styles.
Furniture that is to be lived with should not be extreme or freakish either in design or decoration. If you decide to copy existing pieces be sure that they are worth reproducing both from a design and appearance standpoint, and are in good taste. As a rule, you will need to copy them exactly as to size as well as proportion. Some pieces that look well in their original size are much less admirable when built to a larger or smaller scale.
Taste is a prime factor in determining the merit of a piece of furniture. To be in good taste, a piece should be of nice proportions and design, suited to its purpose, not over-decorated or flamboyant in style, nor flashy in finish. The material should also be suited to the design. A highly decorative wood, for example, is not particularly suited to kitchen furniture, and a design that calls for surface decoration may look far better executed in a plain, straight-grained wood than a fancy one.
These guidelines should set you off on the right foot to designing your own beautiful pieces of furniture.
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