Saturday, February 23, 2008

Ramblings on design...

Sometimes I spend time researching past furniture styles. I often read that much today has already been done before, and after seeing some good examples of period furniture, find some truth in this old adage. My favorite influential maker is George Hepplewhite and the associated furniture of his era. Furniture of the late 18th century has been mostly characterized by Chippendale and the cabriole leg design element. George Hepplewhite, however, is much less written about and known, and was characterized by the slight, tapered legs of his furniture and lightness and delicacy of his pieces. A considerable amount of 20th century furniture has been derived from this late 18th , early 19th century period and in particular the makers Chippendale and Hepplewhite. American Federal style furniture had its origins in the Hepplewhite style. Much of the design elements of this particular period have made their way into furniture of the past century. This can be considered a "revival" of a previous style in time, but I like to think of it as simply embracing design elements which were and continue to be pleasing to the eye..

When I flip through examples of furniture representative of previous periods and styles, it is easy to see what worked and what didn't work. The design elements which are pleasing and well-proportioned are carried into later periods, whereas the not so pleasing styles typically die off. Another trend which I notice is how previous styles of furniture are sometimes renounced and discarded only to be replaced with a radically different style of furniture. We see this very same phenomenon today in everything ranging from fashion, automobiles, and continue to see it in furniture styles. A "revival" of a previous period or style of furniture then occurs, much like what occurs in the fashion world today.

The reason I raise this is that this is something to consider for furniture makers today. We all have our favorite style as makers, but it may be important to incorporate proven design elements in our designs, the elements which have demonstrated the most success over the past few centuries. Since what we are designing is often derived from a previous style or work, it makes more sense to derive elements from the successful styles of furniture.

I'm a big fan of clean, simple lines with minimal adornment, although I like to incorporate some inlay into my work. The inlay work sparks my creativity and in a strange way provides me the impetus to complete the furniture so as to add the inlay detail. I can relate the piece of furniture to a large canvas and the inlay is the artwork. Other makers might define themselves through another feature on their work, perhaps some carving or marquetry. George Hepplewhite often distinguished his work with added inlay. A large proportion of Hepplewhite and Federal style furniture is inlaid with the exotic woods which had come into popularity by the late part of the 18th century and early 19th century.

More on this later...

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