Furniture Design: A Sixth Sense

Furniture has been part of our lives for as long as we can remember. Longer in fact. And particularly for those of us who have pursued careers in interior design and the furniture industry, our tastes and opinions on furniture design continue to grow and evolve. Similar to the way our tastebuds develop. Some foods that we couldn’t stomach as children, we now devour with pleasure and frequency.


I’d like to put it to you that furniture design is akin to food for us interior geeks. Let me delve deeper with my comparison. Classic dishes adorn menus worldwide such as fillet steak and pommes frites, spaghetti bolognese, even traditional fish n chips. As we grow, travel and explore, our taste buds develop. We discover Paella, Sushi and (maybe if you’re lucky) even Bibim Bab. It doesn’t mean you fall out of love with the classics (I’d kill for a decent chippy in Zürich), but your culinary knowledge becomes wider and your horizons expand. In the same way that good design is subjective, good food is a matter of opinion. You can’t always explain why something works, sometimes you just know.


There will always be a strong appetite (ahem) for the classics and rightly so. But our thirst (or hunger) for new designs keeps the furniture world turning. We want to experience new colours and trends to excite our design tastebuds. At each design fair we are overloaded with new visual information, which often pushes other perfectly good (even great) designs to the back of our minds. We can be fickle in this regard. In response designers and makers spruce up their classic ‘a la carte’ menu to regain our attention; restyling classics in new colours, finishes and upholstery.

Bertoia side chair (outdoor)

At the same time, when taking in at a new piece of furniture, we are often reminded of designs we have seen previously: consciously or sub-consciously. In the way smells and tastes conjure memories of earlier food experiences, furniture can stir memories or feelings, which can be positive or negative. I love the shape and silhouette of the Bertoia chairs for example, but I am always reminded of having cold legs whilst sitting on them as a nipper in my shorts. Funnily enough, at the dinner table.

Bouroullec’s Alcove Sofa (2006) for Vitra

The Bouroullecs might have been eating Goulash around the time they designed the frame for their Alcove sofa. The French design duo managed to subtly capture a classic feel; doffing their Berets to one of the greats – Hungarian born Marcel Breuer – whilst presenting a completely new design concept that would revolutionise modern office breakout space and send competitors rushing to their drawing boards.

Marcel Breuer: Wassily chair and Laccio tables

In the same way food can provide warmth and comfort, certain materials and furniture styles can make a scene feel cosy and relaxed. Scandinavian style handcrafted wooden frames can be as homely as cottage pie. Add a fine quality leather upholstery and you have the perfect petit-fours. Anyone seen my slippers?

Finn Juhl 45 chair (1945)

So where I am headed with this? Bear with me…

Furniture design, alongside music and other art forms, is constantly evolving. It will never reach ‘the end’, but some ideas are remixed, remastered and re-interpreted. Fusion cuisine. Using our senses, we consider the look (vision) and feel (touch) of new furniture – and use our ‘design senses’ to decide if we like it. Often this decision is made in nanoseconds, but as with music and food, opinions can be formed and changed over time. We educate and expand our design senses and are capable of appreciating several styles simultaneously. Deal with that AI.

MVS-LC95 02b
MVS LC95 by Maarten Van Severen (1993)

MVS LC95 by Maarten Van Severen (1993)

In the same way professional chefs dine out at other restaurants, musicians attend concerts and fashionistas swan around at fashion shows; in order to further develop our design senses we must expose ourselves to as much quality furniture design as possible. Experiencing new design ideas is essential to our continuing personal development and in turn the progression of the industry. We need to encourage and support the current and next generation of designers in order to continue our collective growth. But let’s not forget the classics either: always relevant, always modern. And who’s legacy lives on, re-interpreted in today’s new furniture designs by the celebrity chefs of the future.

Marcel Wanders Charles chair (coming soon)

All this food talk has made me hungry… As with my cooking, it is recommended you take a pinch of salt when reading my blog…

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