Friday, November 28, 2008

Adam King's post on studio furniture

Warning: rant ahead!

This is a great post by Adam King on a topic I love to discuss. (Look forward to a Furniture I Love post on Adam's work soon.) I'm amazed at how many people don't realize that there are people actually making furniture by hand. It seems like they think it magically shows up at Target or Crate & Barrel and that's all that is available. Part of what furniture makers need to do is educate consumers that handmade furniture exists in the first place and that it is worth purchasing. That's part of what I'm trying to do with Furnitude.

It always annoys me when I hear in advertisements for Room & Board that their furniture is "hand-crafted." Really? That's impossible. Yes, people make the parts of the furniture and people assemble the furniture. But that's different than someone making pieces of furniture one at a time (or in small batches). I'm not passing judgement on Room & Board's furniture and certainly not on the people that make it. I actually think they have some cool stuff. I just wish they wouldn't say it's hand-crafted.

Adam addresses the topic far more eloquently than I do, so have a look at his post and his other articles. You can find him at

Ok, rant over.


jbov said...

I work in the design comunity and don't come across the promotion of studio furniture nearly enough. Walk into a interior design studio and you will see shelves full of furniture catalogs; mostly factory made. The good news is that theres room for growth through education.

Alison said...

VERY interesting post. I work for a company that makes furniture in Northern Virginia (Hardwood Artisans). We build furniture in small batches (of perhaps one to ten pieces at a time). Our craftsmen have benches--mostly they don't make little pieces to hand off to someone else (except novices who do things like make drawer runners). We do use machines--it's not like tabletops are hand-planed. But drawers are fit by hand and wood is grain-matched by an actual person. Would you consider that to be hand-crafted? What's the cut-off?

Furnitude said...

Alison, I would definitely consider that hand-crafted. Establishing a cut-off is hard if not impossible. It's very subjective. Maybe the more engaged a person is with the process and the materials, the more hand-crafted the object is.

It makes me think of my days studying political science, reading Marx and thinking about the concept of the "alienated worker." If memory serves, a worker is alienated when there is no connection or meaning to the work, when the worker becomes a machine and loses his or her humanity. Maybe I'm too far afield here, but there has to be something in it for the worker -- at the very least, satisfaction in a job done well.

Regarding machines, I don't think that really matters. Not to me anyway. Handplanes are machines too, if you think about it. A person uses the machine to do work and that takes skill, attention and artistry. By artistry, I'm not even talking about some grand carving or something. There is art in a board made perfectly flat and square.

I love talking about this stuff!

Furnitude said...

jbov, it's fascinating to hear the perspective of someone in the design world. I'm not sure what needs to happen, but there is so much great furniture out there and so little interest in it. It baffles me. I just think that there would be more interest if more people knew about handmade furniture. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

jbov said...

Alison at Hardwood Artisans should also be commended for employing craftsman(as should larger furniture factories in the USA.) Her furniture looks to be of high quality and fair priced, which should be a win-win for Hardwood Artisans. I suspect that she also is fighting the education battle because the consumer has now been weened on imported disposable furnishings. I have commented on this topic on my blog at under craftsman plane as political symbol. The studio furniture topic relates to many crafts. Micro Brewers have survived and in many cases thrived by building their brands on a largely grass roots level. In most major cities on any given night you will see them personally promoting their products. In a perfect world, we would make beautiful things by hand and they would just sell themselves. Unfortunately, studio furnituremaking is also a business that needs to be promoted. One easy way would be to get involved in your local ASID or IFDA chapter. In my experience the people in these cummunities are extremely friendly, accepting, and usually not intimidating. Keep in mind that designers are business people too, and they will also need to make money. Just think, somewhere out there is the next Sam Maloof.

Ted Wong said...

This sounds a lot like a discussion on the writings of David Pye or E.F. Schmacher.
I think some of the posters here would be surprised to know much of the "mass-produced" or "machine made" stuff seen in catalogs or at the local Target store was actually "handmade" albeit by some person in a third world country that might not necessarily call themselves a woodworker or an artisan and with little time for pretentious discussions such as this.

Alison said...


Interesting point. How much of the "other" furniture out there would be considered to be handmade? I think the distinction we've drawn here is that it's not an "assembly line" process. Our guys and, I assume, the other craftsmen participating here aren't pulling the first piece of lumber off the top of a stack and machining it into a part to be passed on down the line and screwed together, the wood to be covered up by a dark coat of lacquer.

I'm sure there is furniture out there in the market that is of similar craftsmanship and quality that is made overseas. I know there are several in Thailand, for example. But it tends not to be the sort of furniture one sees in Target. I don't mean to imply that it's not possible, only that I haven't seen it.

That's the distinction I've drawn anyway. If someone has a different definition, I'd definitely be interested in hearing it.

I love talking about this stuff too!