Blood, Sweat, and Sawdust

Going against the grain

Tag: proportion

The Fundamentals of Furniture Design: Proportion Part 2

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

 

The Fundamentals of Furniture Design: Proportion Part 1

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, furniture design and creation were intimately connected.  Furniture makers used whole number proportions to create harmony between their work, nature, and the human form.  Like a symphony, proportion created balance between the micro and the macro.  Unfortunately, the Industrial Revolution shifted priorities.  As machines replaced our hands and eyes, measurements and tolerances replaced proportion and harmony.

Proportion starts with the square and ends with the double square

Proportion starts with the square and ends with the double square

Traditional designers strove for connectedness.  Simple shapes with whole number proportions combine to create complex forms.  Details echo proportions found in the larger form.  This creates a sense of balance between scales.  In the image above, the square proceeds to the double-square, much like a musical octave.  The middle transition creates a 2 to 3 ratio.  With nothing more than a compass and a straightedge, I am able to create any proportion or shape my heart desires; no tape measure or ruler necessary.

You don’t have to stick to traditional in order to create harmony in your designs.

The golden ratio (phi) is found throughout nature.

The golden ratio (phi) is found throughout nature.

The shape above represents the golden rectangle (phi).  While, technically not a whole number ratio, phi (1.61803…) can also be represented by the Fibonacci sequence.  As you progress higher in the sequence, the closer the ratios approach phi (i.e., 89:144 = .61805).  This golden ratio is found everywhere from the spiral of sea shells to the pyramids of Giza.  Designers often turn to golden ratio because it pleasing to the eye.

The Doric classic order

The Doric classic order

The traditional designer spent large amounts of time studying the classical orders.  Above, the Doric order epitomizes the height of classic Greek design.  Often seen without a base, the column height varied from 4 to 8 column diameters.   In this example, the capitals are 1/2 diameter high and 1 1/2 diameters wide.  The classical orders are similar to the keys of classical music.  Each speaks a slightly different language, but each strives to harmonize its elements.  Studying the classical orders can go a long ways in teaching a designer which proportions create balance and harmony.

Take a minute and study a piece of furniture that you find attractive.  What relationships can you find between its height and width?  Do the details echo elements found in the larger form?  What shapes can you find hidden in the overall form?  Repeat the same process with a piece of furniture that you find clumsy or clunky.

Fundamentals of Design: Series Index