Friday, October 23, 2009

Electronics Fashion Pushing Furniture Design

Everyone who makes furniture has at one time or another been asked to make something that holds electronic equipment. When I was growing up in the sixties, electronics came with their own very cool cabinets -- like the MagnaVox stereo system in my parents' house: a record player and speakers housed in a dark, ornate case the size of a minivan.

But sometime in the eighties people decided that they wanted to hide their electronics in furniture that didn't look like it had any electronics in it. So in that decade I designed and built a lot of pieces that held electronics, including the relatively small TV's then in fashion. Here's a television hiding in Shaker garb:

But as we Americans grew larger, so too our televisions. In the nineties large picture-tube TV's became the electronic rage, so we furniture makers responded with armoires that were big enough to shoehorn in these increasingly massive units. Here's an armoire I made in 1996, with a 250-pound television hiding demurely behind the center doors:

But as furniture people like to say, the tables have turned. With the advent of sleek flat screen TV's, people are no longer ashamed to have their televisions in plain sight with its tacit admission that you actually watch it. But you can't just plop these elegant glass and plastic sculptures on the floor -- you need something to support them at the proper elevation. And thus we have the birth of a new kind of low console, that not only puts your TV at a comfortable height for viewing, but holds all the associated paraphernalia: cable boxes, DVD players, remote controls, discs, etc. Here's one I made last month:

So I suppose we'll be building these for twenty years or so until people think having a flat screen in open view is declasse. I foresee the advent of very wide, and very thin, cabinets.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Designing a Companion Piece

A few blogs back I described a buffet I built for my second cousin Kathy and her family ("History Repeating"), and how meaningful that work was. Here's that piece:

A year later -- this fall -- she asked if I would build a matching mirror to hang above it "because the wall looks lonely." Designing a companion piece is not an unusual request, since most of my customers have had me build something for them already. I thought this might be a good way to show how a simple piece of furniture goes from concept to completion.

After Kathy's email, I sat with my sketch pad and, unsurprisingly, did some sketching. The only specific Kathy requested was that the mirror be about two feet by three feet, so my drawing focused on translating the buffet's design metaphors to a smaller and basically two dimensional object. Here's an example of one of those early sketches:

I liked the basic concept so I drew a more polished concept and emailed it to Kathy. Here's what she saw:

Kathy liked the design so I sent her a proposal; that lists all the important parts of of project, like price, completion schedule, materials, finish, and construction techniques. After Kathy signed off on the proposal, work began -- and lasted about two days. This is a pretty simple piece. Here it is, hanging on the wall off my showroom, about to be crated and delivered to North Carolina:

The wall above Kathy's buffet shouldn't be quite as lonely now.