“It takes wisdom to build a house,
and understanding to set it on a firm foundation;
It takes knowledge to furnish its rooms
with fine furniture and beautiful draperies.”
Proverbs 24:3-4 from “The Message”
It has often been said that furniture is just architecture expressed on a smaller scale. The wisdom, understanding, and knowledge that makes a building come alive, is the same that is required to make a piece of furniture come alive in a way that gives long-term satisfaction and usefulness.
Sometimes it seems like this kind of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge is available to only a few experts – the best architects, the finest designers of furniture. I would like to suggest that this kind of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge is available to anyone who is willing to take the time and make the effort required to find it. It is, in reality, “hidden in plain sight” in the natural world that surrounds us. As we have increasingly exchanged the real world for a virtual world, we’ve forgotten how to see the points, lines, volumes, proportions, and relationships that are around us in faces, bodies, the trees and flowers, flowing water, clouds, hills, ravines, and mountains to name a few. Every day, they display to us the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding necessary to create anything – from a house to the furnishings that complete it.
If we want to design good furniture, we must wake up to the world around us and develop what one architect Jonathan Hale has described as “The Old Way of Seeing” in his book by the same title.
A number of books, including Jonathan Hale’s, have influenced my thinking about design and the creative process. I’m listing most of them below in no particular order except for the last two which, to my thinking, provide the most accessible pathway to the “Old Way of Seeing.” If you pick just two books from the list, make sure to choose the last two. They are sure to lead you in the right direction.
“The Old Way of Seeing” by Jonathan Hale, 1994
“The Timeless Way of Building” by Christopher Alexander, 1979
“A Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander, 1977
“The Nature of Order” 4 volume set by Christopher Alexander, 1980-2001
“The Nature and Aesthetics of Design” by David Pye, 1978
“Nature and the Idea of A Man-Made World” by Norman Crowe, 1995
“The Architecture of the Classical Interior” by Steven Semes, 2004
“The Power of Limits” by Gyorgy Doczi, 1994
“Art Forms in Nature” by Ernst Haeckel, 1998
“Art for God’s Sake, A Call to Recover the Arts” by Philip Graham Ryken, 2006
“Imagine, A Vision for Christians in the Arts” by Steve Turner, 2001
“Drawn In, A Creative Process for Artists, Activists, and Jesus Followers”
by Troy Bronsink, 2013
“By Hand and Eye” by Geo. R. Walker & Jim Tolpin, 2013
“By Hound and Eye” by Geo. R. Walker & Jim Tolpin, 2015
The last book will be available in September of this year, but can be pre-ordered from Lost Art Press with immediate access to a pdf copy. “By Hand and Eye” sets the stage; “By Hound and Eye” takes you (along with Journeyman and his dog Snidley) through a hands-on, practical process that will forever change how you see and create things.