Students build skills in adaptable furniture design

Last week, second-year Furniture Design, Construction and Technologies students exhibited their finished work—three innovative, multi-function benches, created from a sequence of individually designed, multi-functional pieces.

wooden bench with backrest and woven black fabric seat at front of exhibition of wooden furniture

The brief for each student was simple: to create an individual piece of furniture which has the primary purpose of being seating, but also combines secondary functions. Adaptable furniture systems currently represent a large and growing share of the furniture market, so planning for multiple uses or flat-pack at the design stage prepares students for the demands of professional life. It’s also a great way to think sustainably about product design—by having multiple uses as well as the ability to attach other pieces, the life of furniture can be extended.

To add another element to the design challenge, the pieces all had to meet a set height and minimum width and feature a cam/dowel connector, one of the most common fixtures in commercial furniture, which allows the pieces to be connected to each other in a variety of ways.

“This project was a great introduction to the concepts and techniques involved in furniture design,” says second-year Architecture student Hannah Parker.

“I really responded well to the amount of one-on-one time we were able to have with both the lecturer and the tutors, it was incredibly helpful in refining and simplifying my design. I began with a concept that was completely different to my final design. The make was really fun. It was my favourite part of the course and I learnt so much. It was helpful to understand the materials I was working with and this knowledge will be useful in all aspects of my architecture degree. I have plans to continue to take Furniture Design throughout my degree.”

The final installation combines the pieces into three assembled benches for the School of Architecture and Design’s atrium, a place where staff and students can rest, work, eat, and socialise, and visitors are invited to interact with and explore the furniture. The pieces can all function in a variety of ways other than simple seating, and be set up in different combinations to suit the space they’re in.

“This is an inter-disciplinary design-and-build-course, which means students design and prototype a piece of furniture. Rather than one after another, they experience these as concurrent activities, informing each other within an iterative process,” explains course coordinator Hans Christian Wilhelm.

“Many problems associated with design and fabrication exist in furniture and buildings alike. So, the transition from design to build remains a challenge with huge potential for learning. It is rewarding to enable students to master this challenge, and to involve students, technical workshop staff and tutors in a collaborative process, the result of which can be seen in our exhibition.”