What Makes It?

We often refer to an article of furniture that we like or that catches our eye as a "designer" piece of furniture but what really constitutes an item that can claim this most reverent of titles?


We automatically judge and assess furniture, works of art or even items of clothing with one, often thoughtless glance. What I have been wondering is what qualities make something stick in our mind so that we say to ourselves, "Mmm I like that!" So much so, that we stop to give these seemingly arbitrary objects a second thought and possibly even commit them to our wish list.

Obviously this is going to be slightly different for everyone as we all have individual tastes and concepts of what makes something a "designer" piece. My grandmother has always said, "There is no accounting for taste my darling" and would give a sad look when someone's ensemble did not meet with her discerning eye. I do however believe that there are a certain set of principles that most of us (if not all of us!) have built in. These principles allow us to look at an object and unconsciously decide if it is appealing to the eye and warrants our conscious attention or should be disregarded.

As this train of thought could easily be measured as completely vague and abstract (a bit like the theory of relativity for some of us mere mortals) I am going to try and think it through and find some conclusions myself.

When I am judging art or furniture a big thing for me is composition. I know myself that my preference is normally for symmetry. I like paintings that are balanced and this could very well be why I steer clear of very modern, abstract art. I like the backs of chairs to be equally spaced and arm chairs to mirror each other. To my detriment this cancels out the classic chaise lounge - unless of course we are talking about designer Eileen Gray's Pirogue Chaise Lounge or Le Corbusiers' famous version of the chaise.

I think that balance and composition are inextricably linked due simply to the fact that if it is even on both sides we perceive it as being balanced. The exception proves the rule however. There are some wonderful pieces of furniture such as Eileen Gray's Non Conformist chair which has one curved arm and one straight arm! "Shock , horror!" But...."No!" It works and so does her "Stool", c.1934.

The boundaries of furniture design were thought to be stretched during the Art Nouveau and later Art Deco periods with designers such as Eileen Gray, Le Corbusier, Mies van de Rohe, Arne Jacobson and Marcel Breuer questioning the principles set out over two thousand years before. Our modern designers are further stretching and questioning are minds and sensibilities with even more "outrageous" designs that make me smile and feel all warm and fuzzy inside! I recently came across some wonderful Irish designers Tom Raffield, John Lee and Joseph Walsh although this is only the tip of the ice berg.

I haven't even begun to think about form, line, texture and colour and how these concepts influence our inner, sub conscious, decision making mind. I suppose if I had actually worked out what makes something appeal to the masses I would have made millions already and would be sunning myself on a beach drinking a cool cocktail. Instead I am sitting at my kitchen table, surrounded by books, the house falling down around me and gazing out the window marvelling at some of the amazing designs I have been considering!

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Written by: Ciarda Barrett (Senior Tutor)

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