The topic of this post is the usage of wood in the furniture industry. The natural and unique properties of wood inspire designers all over the world, at any time. This conventional material combined with innovative design ideas and advanced production techniques, as a result, has interesting design solutions and products on a high level of quality. This post is one of the posts which will follow, devoted to the materials for the furniture industry. In this one, I will present a wide range of usage of wood and wood products in furniture design.
It is a long way from the initial design idea to the final product. Materials consideration play an important role during the entire process of furniture product development.
At the early phase, designers identify the material(s) with specific properties which fulfil the required functions, the purpose and aesthetic. During the process, the idea has to be confirmed and enhanced.
Besides the design requirements, the chosen material(s) have to be in line to the production process, which will enable the realization of the product (shape, joining of the parts, surface finishing).
The aim is always that innovative furniture design (Photo 1) is not only functional and manufacturable but also affordable. That is why the team engaged in the Materials selection process, includes diverse consultants: industrial designers than engineering and manufacturing specialist but also marketing and management members. Only work of interdisciplinary teams can bring an attractive, functional, ergonomic and safe piece of furniture.
The wide range of wood usage
Wood is an organic, natural material widely used for different purposes: as a construction material, for production of paper, cellophane, cellulose acetate… Wood is also one of the essential materials used in the furniture industry for centuries.
Wood is used for furniture production:
- For a variety of product types and categories
- For variety of purpose
- For different part of the furniture
- For a variety of material combination
- for a wide range of shapes
- for a variety of dimension
Wooden final furniture products are of different purpose. There is also a wide range of semi-finished wood products for furniture and furnishings. These products vary from curved or shaped semi-finished products, wood elements for chairs (seat, legs..), wood furniture components like door frames or drawer fronts…than edged solid wood panels and many others.
Wooden moulds are the tools used in the producing process for furniture and many other products.
Wood used for furniture production can be divided into two groups-solid wood products and Man-made woods.
For a variety of product types and categories
The characteristic of wood enables designers to use it for their design which fulfils different human activities. Wooden furniture serves for storage, sitting, work, eating, lying down, sleeping and relaxing… So, the product range of wooden or wood-based furniture varies from chairs (photo 12), tables (photo 4) to storage units (photo 3), chests of drawers, cupboards, TV cabinets or sun lounger …and many others.
Furniture product can satisfy only one functional role like bench (photo 2) or chairs for seating, writing desk for work. Some furniture items are multipurpose and provide more than one task like console table which extended become dining table.
Some furniture is, at first glance, with hidden possibilities it offers. One of the examples is wall-mounted, thin memo board which is, in fact, foldable desk and provides many choices for work like Flatframe design Michael Hilgers.
Designers choose wood for their furniture design whether it is an individual piece or part of the group of products. The furniture set represent a group of individual pieces, each fulfils different task and all of them are mutually combined. They are all designed with aesthetic features (material, finishing, colours…) that are compatible. Some of the examples are office furniture sets or dining room sets in the home.
Another type of group furniture is System furniture. They present a range of parts in standard, the modular dimension with the possibility to create a composition (dimension, functional solution…) in line to the needs and requirements of the user. These components have portability and can easily get assembled, disassembled and reassembled in different ways as needs change. The examples of this type are storage systems, modular systems, libraries systems (photo 6).
When group furniture is in question the designers take care of the following characteristic: type of material used, wood species, type of surface finish, colours and style of each item.
Designers also use wood for items of Built-in furniture. They are a special type of furniture opposite of free-standing furniture with different purposes. The main characteristic of built-in furniture is that allows fully incorporation of the furniture in the available space. Built-in furniture looks like a part of the space and is the best option to achieve full functionality. There are several forms of built-in furniture: closets, built-in shelving and cabinetry which take place in living rooms, bedrooms or garages…
Finally, wood is an interesting material for the contract sector as satisfy a full spectrum of requirements and look just as good in large public spaces as in smaller ambiences.
The individual pieces of furniture like wall shelve, CD rack or chair… are small items but not less interesting for furniture designers.
Wood is equally used for furniture whether the style is traditional or modern.
For Variety of purpose
Designers use wood equally for indoor and outdoor furniture (photo 7). Wood is a good choice in the case of outdoor furniture if made of certain types like teak, eucalyptus, cedar, pine, and oak. For instance, teak furniture can last for generations and requires truly little maintenance thanks to its natural oils.
We recognize outstanding use of wood furniture in residential, commercial (hotels, office, retail..) and public buildings (schools, libraries ).
For different part of the furniture
Designers use solid wood and Man-made Wood materials for the whole furniture product (like a wooden bench) or only as a part of the product ( like bed frame, tabletop) or just ornaments. The combinations of solid wood and Man-made Wood materials are numerous.
Structure or structural parts
Wood selection is a complex process, partly depend on part of the furniture where it will be applied. Thanks to the mechanical properties’ designers use wood for the structure of the furniture. This solution is especially present on the product like chairs, armchairs (photo 5). or tables. If we consider a wooden chair, designers usually choose hardwoods for pieces where abrasion and other stress will occur. Legs of chairs are one of such items and for them, it is suitable to select hard maple. They will usually choose pine or poplar for the seat, for back also hardwoods like maple, oak or ash. If the chair is with bent parts, ash or white oak will be appropriate (photo 12). Whether the designer option is to use hardwood (oak, cherry, maple..) or softwood ( pine), there is innate stability and reliability to a well-made wooden piece of furniture like chair or desk. The structure of the chair or table (photo 8) can be made of other materials for instance of metal with wooden parts applied for the seat, backrest or tabletop.
Designers use the wooden frames or only pedestals for upholstered furniture and they are visible on the first glance (photo 9). In many cases, wooden structural elements are hidden under the upholstered layers of the furniture.
Even when structural items are made of a different material (metal for instance),
the upholstered furniture can be with wooden parts like legs, feet or arms
The wooden support is present also on other product like a vertical bracket for umbrella or structure for deck chairs.
The external frame of furniture like a chest of drawers, sideboards, wardrobes, kitchen units, libraries and many others are usually made of wood. Lately, traditional wood products such as hardwood lumber, veneer, and plywood designers replaced with products such as particleboard, hardboard, and medium-density fiberboard with the final finish in line to the design. These modern composite wood products are constructed of wood fibres, or particles and save wood resources and cut down the cost.
Exterior solid parts
Some parts of the furniture can be made of solid wood like door and drawer front or door frames.
The knobs, drawer pulls, or just ornaments are sometimes the only solid wood parts on the furniture. The wood types commonly used for such parts of the furniture are walnut, beech, teak, maple, oak, ash, poplar and pine, etc,
There is also vide range of combination of solid wood and Man-made boards. One of the combinations is that solid wood doors and drawers, or solid door frames are used with veneer overlaid particleboard and MDF board for other parts of the furniture.
Certain types of wood products are used for interior parts of the furniture like drawer frames (bottoms, sides and backs), back of cabinets, internal shelves. For instance, designers can opt for wood particles panel with melamine faced cover or painted for a drawer frame.
For a variety of material combination
Wood offers a unique opportunity for combination with other materials.
This is a reason that many furniture pieces are made of wood and other materials like metal, stone, leather (photo 5), glass(photo 4)...depending on the product type and design. In this case, designers should consider the issues of the interconnections of the materials. This detail can become a crucial part of the whole product design (photo 10).
In some cases, designers create furniture items made with two or more kinds of solid wood, from different reasons (cost, aesthetic). For instance, rare (expensive) solid wood can be used where appearance is important, such as table-tops; while the more common woods are used for less displayed structural pieces, such as table or chair legs. It is assumed that in such a situation, the designer harmonizes the used solid woods types and their aesthetic appeal. The joining details of woods can be enhanced by manual production (photo 11). The real value and quality of the furniture will be achieved with the combination of the contemporary production technique and manually production.
For a wide range of shapes
Although most furniture projects involve the use of wood straight boards, some design solution requires the realization of the curved lines. The possibilities of wood processing offer to the designers a wide range of shaped and curved elements.
Designers use curved bentwood or curved plywood to achieve needed furniture design solution with different shapes (photo 1).
Bentwood items are made by wetting wood then bending it and letting it harden into curved shapes and patterns. Parts made by this method are used in the production of different type of chairs, tables or other light furniture. Such items can also be used for parts of upholstered furniture like armrest on the armchair.
Moulded plywood parts of furniture can be two- or three-dimensionally shaped from multiple veneer layers that are glued together so they do not return to their original flat state when removed from the mould, after heating and pressuring. The three-dimensionally shaped moulded plywood items designers use for chair frames and components (photo12) like seats, shells and backrests. Designers also use moulded plywood parts for door. or drawer front on the sideboard or other types of furniture. The wood types mainly used for the construction of curved and shaped elements are the following: Ash, Oak and Beech.
Several different methods that can be used for moulded plywood parts and each of them is with its advantages and disadvantages.
For a variety of dimension
The variety of wooden furniture is obvious not only in typologies but in dimensions of items from high and long ones like storage units, cabinets, to the very small ones like wood accessories as hangers (photo 13).
Although wood products used in furniture production are with the defined dimension of boards and elements, this does not represent an obstacle in the dimension of the final furniture. The designers should pay attention to the dimension of boards and their joint where necessary.
The presented examples
My idea is to present how wood, in fact, its properties, as well as its forming, joining and finishing technologies all together contribute to the success of a product.
This is possible to achieve only with the knowledge of wood and its properties (the type, colour, grain, and production method ), which enable determination of the specific kind of wood or woods for the certain design. In that case, it is possible to take advantage of potentials and eve the limits of wood.
I tried to choose examples which show how the innovative ideas of a furniture design can be underlined by the chosen material, in this case, wood.