How to Become a Furniture Designer

By TACP Staff on July 06, 2019

Furniture designers are professional artists who create furnishings to be used and enjoyed. If you’ve looked at a chair or table and thought you could design it so much better, or have a fancy for architecture, a career as a furniture designer may be a good fit.

1. Getting Started in Furniture Design

Furniture creation has been an art form for hundreds of years. Historically, many furniture designers created pieces for the aristocracy and nobility. Today, furniture makers design for the masses, creating dressers, beds, sofas, and many other pieces for modern homes, apartments, offices and more.

Furniture designers are proficient in designing and creating furnishings, taking into consideration both functionality and fashion.  They design both exterior and interior furnishings, often keeping in mind things like customer preferences, sustainability, ergonomics, and practicality.  On any given day designers will work with clients producing new and unique designs or improving existing designs, forecasting and budgeting, testing new ideas using prototypes or models, preparing detailed final designs after alterations or improvements have been made, and carrying out research to develop new ideas and drawings.

Furniture designers are creative and practical. They have excellent drawing skills, as well as a thorough knowledge of computer design software.  Designers have an eye for grids and patterns, an understanding of layout, plot drawings and plans, good communication and listening skills, and spatial design skills as they relate to dimension and structure.

Like all artists, furniture designers must possess a keen sense of aesthetic beauty and a good eye for detail. These skills enable them to take a project from inception to completion, mixing beauty with practicality to create furnishings that are both functional and comfortable.

Ability to draw and conceptualize three-dimensional objects is also very important in this field. Furniture designers must be able to work with a variety of different materials like wood, metal, fabric, and paper and pencil. Many furniture designers also find computer skills to be helpful for creating an online portfolio, applying for jobs, and working with design software.

2. Pursue a Degree in Furniture Design

Furniture makers can choose different educational paths to achieve their objectives. Most furniture designers just starting out who would like to work for large companies often earn a bachelor’s degree. In fact, most large corporations require a bachelor’s degree in furniture design, architecture, or interior design. In this case, students will choose to study interior designindustrial design, architecture, or product design. Classes in the arts can help aspiring furniture designers develop an understanding of the history of art and architecture, the significance of artistic movements, and the principals of good design.

Typical College Majors Include Furniture Design, Industrial Design or Product Design

A furniture design major typically provides a comprehensive technical background in woodworking, while also allowing students to investigate a range of creative topics, such as studio art, interior design, or drawing. Classes teach the use of woodworking and hand tools, fundamentals of construction and design, portfolio development, art history, drawing, fundamental design issues, concept development, and business practices.

Industrial topics, like product design, can help furniture designers gain practical knowledge that will help them create stronger, longer-lasting, and more functional pieces. In addition, mathematical areas of study can teach students the functional and pragmatic side of the trade. Math training can also help students think logically about potential problems and solutions as they create new designs. Any student interested in furniture design should also consider attending schools offering woodworking and metalworking programs.

There are a significant number of people who choose to work for small businesses or who choose to produce furniture as an independent contractor. In cases like this, an apprenticeship may be more a more practical path to beginning a career in this field.

Apprenticeships can teach beginning professionals the specifics of running a small business, the basics of customer service, how to track orders, produce work on a deadline, and manage multiple projects at once. This on-the-job experience also helps new professionals learn how to work with different materials and produce work according to the needs of the customer.

Typical Industries

Furniture designers work for large companies like Ikea, or for small independent businesses. Some furniture designers work on a freelance basis creating furniture pieces on demand for customers.

Those who work for large companies may do much of their work in offices, and must occasionally travel to testing facilities, exhibit sites, showrooms, and other locations. Furniture designers who work for small businesses, like independent furniture stores, may spend most of their time in a workshop.

3. Build Experience & Industry Connections

Furniture designers who work for large companies should develop industry connections in order to advance their careers and find placement with a company of their choice. Creating a website, online portfolio, and LinkedIn page may help artists to develop these connections and stay tuned-in to opportunities in this career field. Designers who work for small businesses or as independent contractors may also benefit from an online portfolio or website but may rely more heavily on face-to-face customer interactions and word of mouth.

For these artists, it’s often more important to develop strong ties in the community and strong ties with local artist’s associations. Attending shows and local events will help independent contractors spread the word about their business. Keeping an up-to-date online portfolio is important for all furniture design professionals, as this can show potential customers or employers that they are still active and creating relevant work.

Building a Portfolio

Furniture designer’s portfolios often start simple. For students, portfolios may include drawings and photographs that show a basic progression from an early method to a more mature style, and a better understanding of materials used in furniture design. Mature artists will fill their portfolio with images of completed products, showing a range of styles and materials. It’s very important for the portfolio to include quality photographs in order to capture quality and level of detail. Online portfolios are becoming more common. Students may choose to use an online portfolio service to simplify the process, while professionals may create their own website.

Professional Development

Professional development for furniture designers is offered by associations such as the International Furnishings and Design Association. Professionals who wish to continue their education and learn new skills can sign up for webinars, symposiums, and in-person classes. These associations also may post jobs online for professionals hoping to further their career.

Young people hoping to get into furniture design may have a challenging road ahead, as furniture designers occupy a small place in today’s workforce. Those who work hard to earn a degree, develop their customer service skills, networking skills and organizational skills will have more opportunities. Getting started early while still in school by taking advantage of apprenticeships or connecting with a mentor can help young professionals develop these skills.

Furniture designers are categorized under “Industrial Designers” on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics website and can include cabinetmakers, bench carpenters, and general carpenters. In 2015, the median pay for these professionals was approximately $67,100 annually. In that same year, there were approximately 66,000 bench makers and cabinet makers, and approximately 10,000 carpenters in the country. This profession has a slower than average growth rate of approximately two percent annually.

Helpful Organizations & Resources for Furniture Designers

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