How a Design Becomes a Standard Piece

I have a gift that I didn’t know I had as a child. I always knew I looked at things a bit differently, but I didn’t know what that meant. Well, here it is. I can close my eyes and dissect a cabinet piece by piece, and vice versa. Some people can play music, or perform surgery, or engineer bridges. I can’t do any of that, but I can visualize like these people do.
Design is a tricky thing. Changing one thing can alter the aesthetics of a piece considerably. When I draw, I don’t use dimensions aside from the component sizes. I prefer to place a fixed shelf where it looks best, not where some mathematical formula tells me to put it, like the golden rule for a perfect rectangle. I might move a shelf ten different times before I’m happy with its placement. This happens because I need to work within the confines of the component sizes. I can’t have four different thicknesses of shelves.

Back when I used to hand draw with a scale ruler and graph paper, I used a lot of white out… a whole lot. Nowadays I draw rough sketches and then AutoCAD the drawing. I end up making a lot of changes as I work through the design with the customer.
I designed the Mackintosh sofa for a customer several years ago. We liked the way it turned out, and made it a standard piece. The original drawings are below, with a variety of chicken scratch notes made by the craftsman on the sheet. There is a whole write up on how to build the piece in addition to these notes, but it all starts with the design.

I was asked to write about design a few weeks ago. All I could think was “kill me now.” Talking about design easily translates into something ethereal, like talking about color, impossible to visualize. So the attached photos are the actual design documents as they evolved over the past few years. First, my original hand drawings, now marked up with side notations. Second are my handwritten cut lists done back in the day. Third are my AutoCAD drawings in modern day, along with more cut lists. Fourth is a photo of the sofa, with craftsman markings. The final picture is the final product as seen in showrooms or on our website.

High Back Mackintosh Sofa 3

I was asked by my new marketing coordinator, Erin, to describe the details of producing a new design and getting it through the shop. Uhm, yeah. Okay. Well, it is like this: the craftsman will work the details down to some point of minutia, until I go crazy and throw my hands in the air and tell them I just as soon do it myself. So there!

It is a long, sometimes painful, process of examining every curve, every dimension, every part placement. And I actually enjoy every minute, even if it is tedious and overly scrutinizing. The process actually makes me feel like we (Hardwood Artisans) are creating something new for the consumer. I get pretty excited when we have something new to offer, especially when I had a hand in crafting it. This makes me a total geek, I know. What other person gets so excited about furniture design?

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