• Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

designing furniture

Renowned furniture designer Wendell Castle, in a wonderful 2008 interview by the late Neil Lamens, covered many aspects of the design process including the need to do a lot of sketchbook drawing and the importance of challenging yourself. He reminded us that mistakes can be evidence of having challenged oneself and their complete absence suggests one should “move the target back.”

Unfortunately, the videos of the interview do not seem to be available on Neil’s Furnitology site and blog, which are still online, so we cannot see his infectious enthusiasm as he spoke with Castle. Neil was a force of inspiration from which many woodworkers were fortunate to benefit. His kind and generous spirit left me encouraged and uplifted after every chat or email exchange.

There are two points I recall from the interview that particularly struck me.

First, Castle held that, far from dwelling on a design too much, there generally is not enough time spent on designing. Yes, we woodworkers like to git’r done and put a finished piece into a room. But good design takes work, sweat, revisions, and, at least for me, a degree of angst.

So I remind myself often of this sage advice from one of the great designers of our time. Furthermore, I forgive myself when struggling for seemingly too long with proportions, edge details, or whatever.

Second, in discussing how design is such an endeavor unto itself, Castle remarked, “You almost don’t have to build it.” Now, of course, he said “almost,” and keep in mind, he is a phenomenally prolific producer of furniture, but the remark prompted me to say, “Oh yes I do!”

In other words, juxtaposed to the first idea is the imperative to get to the point where all of the design hangs together and feels right. Maybe it will be refined on the next round but now it is time to build – time to make it real.

It’s important to recognize that time, neither arriving too soon nor deferred too long. I try to remember both.

Category: Ideas
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4 Responses

  1. 1

    I remember the first time I saw Wendell Castle’s work in a show back in the sixties when he was in Rochester. I had never realized that the case goods purveyed in the family business could be stretched and twisted and made to look so different. It was a watershed moment for me.

  2. Re: the second point…

    I sometimes feel that way, as well. You sketch and draw and THINK about a design challenge or problem so much and FINALLY you get it figured out. A part of you says, “Wow, that was awesome. And I’m done!”

    But, as you say, of course you still need to make it. For one thing, you have to test your design! Because when it works, then you get to celebrate the success all over again! But also because it was something you needed to build, anyway.

    I most often come across these problems when I’m in the middle of a project. And there is usually some sort of deadline involved. It’s funny – for someone who doesn’t like stress, I seem to work better when I’m under it.

  3. 3

    Very good pieces of advice here. I need to take them to heart. I get sucked up in the thrill of a new project sometimes without taking the time to think it through for the sake of beauty. It is a patience that I haven’t yet learned. I am trying, though.

  4. 4

    Avery, yea, what a fertile imagination the guy has.

    Bailey, I’m trying too.

    And Ethan, I leave it to the late Marvin and Tammy to make the point:

    Rob (yea, I still love the Motown sound)