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What is it about furniture and makers?

Many of the makers I know have a strange attraction to building furniture. Nate Matteson (TSW Ep 11) and I talked about his fascination with furniture making a few months back. Hayne Bayless, who was on the podcast (Episode 8), also had a great number of furniture artifacts around his house that he’d made. And recently I spoke with Aaron Hoover (@amhoov) who helps run the Higher Education Makerspace Initiative about his fascination with furniture (you can find more about that here and here).

Of course, there are many “ur” making activities. Pottery and weaving to name just two, but also metalworking, glasswork, etc. Furniture making, though, seems not to require one single craft skill, but a confluence of skills and ways of thinking through making. Perhaps wood (and wood joinery), perhaps metal, perhaps working with textiles and fabrics, and so on. The first pieces of furniture were made of stone, and fittingly, are thought to be dressers and cupboards. Things to hold things! This, I think, is one appeal: furniture making allows for multiple points of entry based on the materials-working knowledge you have.

There’s something delightful about creating a useful object that facilitates human experiences. Furniture certainly does that. It influences an environment, the people in the environment, and how they behave. Most of the times this is a positive influence: a comfortable chair, a table to eat at, a lamp to give you light. Sometimes, as Ingold writes about in Making, perhaps not so positive (Ingold uses the example of the spoon, which is not furniture, as an example of an object that makes things more difficult. After all, one could simply lift the bowl to their mouth. Something about this seems truthy to me, and also applicable to furniture).

So, why furniture? Where’s the pattern?

I suspect, in addition to materials-working, that it’s because furniture is a dynamic means of expression. Furniture can be both art and an evocation of formal skill mastery. Furniture can be playful and fluid, purely functional, or somewhere in between. And, importantly, its fluidity gives the maker an ability to surround themselves with self-designed contours. In a sense, it is both architecture and object design.

Even with IKEA furniture.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

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