Furniture Design Information Sources

Recommended books and other knowledge resources for the self-educator. December 15, 2005

Can anyone recommend a good book on design? Period styles, homes, cabinetry/furniture, etc. I am a finish carpenter/cabinetmaker and want to learn more about design aspects, but want to avoid four years of school. I want to teach myself.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
Not exactly sure what you mean by learning design. There are fundamentals, such as combining different shapes, sizes, colors, etc. As far as period styles, just find books on the periods you like and see what elements make up Stickley or whatever styles you like.

You might save a lot more time by taking a few courses and getting some guidance to avoid some of the pitfalls. It's pretty exciting to be in a room of other like minded people to exchange ideas... certainly much faster than a web forum. Go to the libraries and art libraries at the local colleges. I'm near Smith College and the Art Library is as big as some regular libraries. Nothing like a mentor to go to with questions.

On the other hand, with design you can only teach so much. Some folks have a gift for it and the truly talented ones build new paths of design, taking previous ideas to new levels. Also, read the magazines like Architectural Digest, Interior Design, Period Homes and there are many more.

I'm really hesitant to recommend a particular book, but would rather tell you where to find the sources so you can pick what you like. I prefer the more contemporary stuff. First, go to the library and go through all the books you can find until you find books you can't put down.

Design is a physical act, just like making something. You need to practice at whatever method you choose to use, be it drawing with paper and pencil or CAD. Get the proper tools and start with making measured drawings of some things around your house. Then you can go on from there to your own ideas. Knowing styles, etc. is just a very small part of knowing how to design.

The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World's Most Astonishing Number, by Mario Livio. This book is all about the Golden Section, or Golden Ratio, or Golden Mean, or whatever you call it - it is what makes something look right if it is incorporated, or wrong if it is not. A fascinating read and useful and awe-inspiring. My #1 recommended read (listed under "Recreational Mathematics"?!).

Also David Pye, The Nature Of Design, and his second follow-up book. Both Pye and Livio go beyond the physical details and get into the why and how something is correctly proportioned or feels right. Why a well designed room full of proper furniture can enhance one's quality of life. These don't take the place of period design books like Wallace Nuttig, Shaker Style and the others, but will help pull out the foundation where you can understand it.

An associates degree will serve you very well in the future. It's worth some serious consideration.

You might try They have a design book section. Design is such a personal thing and always changing.

I have always recommended Architectural Graphic Standards. They provide solid, basic design principles and details for both commercial and residential casework and millwork along with classic examples of some of the more famous designs.

After you have read a significant amount of information, mentally understand a significant set of rules, etc. Nothing replaces going to look at various styles of furniture, buildings, etc. Then nothing is better than making pieces by the rules, making mistakes, and learning what it is you like about the doing as well as the using. Then talk with people about what it is they like and don't like (just as important) about furniture, rooms, houses, buildings. Then make pieces that fit people's lives, not necessarily what particular style is wanted.