The Fundamentals of Furniture Design: Proportion Part 2

by Patrick Harper - Blood, Sweat, and Sawdust

Understanding that the traditional builder focused on proportional design instead of measurement isn’t helpful to the modern designer if we can’t see how he did it.  In this post, we will do just that.

Proportion has three primary objectives: to create symmetry, contrast, and punctuation.  Designers create symmetry in the horizontal: right-to-left.   Symmetry’s purpose is to lead the eye.  Contrast gives life to our designs.  Major and minor elements create harmony instead of competition.  Punctuation gives our designs a distinct beginning and end.  It creates transitions which connect the various elements of our design.

Proportional design creates harmony

Proportion creates harmony


The design above shows that we can use the knowledge the traditional designer provides even for the simple modern designs.  Despite the absence of ornamentation, the design borrows some ques from the classical orders.  A vertical 2:3 rectangle composes the basic form.  The vertical elements transition on a 1:7 scale.  The large scale on the right, dictates the size of the drawer.  The small scale to the left divides the leg into seven sections.  The bottommost section is where the leg taper begins.  The thickness of the other elements, as well as the overhang of the top, are all drawn from scales.  For example, the thickness of the legs is 1/3rd of one module on the right scale.  The drawer-pull placement is 1/3rd the height of the drawer.  The pull placement provides symmetry between right and left.  It drawers the eye to the drawer.  The overhand of the top and the taper of the leg both give contrast and punctuation.

More drama could be created by using contrasting materials.  More complex moldings could be used for the top.  Bands of inlay could be place around the legs at the transition lines.  The possibilities are great.

The important thing to consider is that this very simple design creates harmony between all its elements.  I created it in a very short amount of time with nothing more than a compass and straight edge.  However, it wasn’t my first effort…that was a complete failure.  Get out there and get started.  Don’t be afraid to fail.  Keep at it.  Study the proportions of successful designs.

Fundamentals of Design: Series Index