Furnishings as a Functional Fine Art

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Functional art has always intrigued me in a way that most forms of art can’t. I think it’s easier for me to understand artistic expression when the piece also serves a physical purpose. One of the forms of functional art that I notice the most is furniture, which I chose because I could talk for days about cars. It might seem silly, but there was a time when furnishings beyond the most mundane were reserved for the elite, and every piece was hand-crafted by an artisan. Finding a well made and beautifully designed piece of furniture to remind us of that is refreshing, especially in this day and age of mega-stores selling cheap modular furniture by the ton.

Modern ways of thinking have somewhat cheapened furniture to the point that it’s easy to forget that a chair is more than just the thing we sit in; furnishings create out environment. Our environment affects us in untold ways. Studies have even concluded that your surroundings’ paint color can affect your emotions. Surrounding yourself with aesthetically pleasing furnishings is the same thing as hanging paintings on your walls. You do it to satisfy an inner need to see what you find beautiful.

In thinking about the aesthetic properties of furniture, I can’t help but think of interior design. When furnishings are brought together in a certain way, the results can be pretty drastic. If you’ve ever been to a high end restaurant or hotel, it’s easy to realize the effects that even just the style of furniture can have on the feel of a space. Think of those spaces with furnishings picked out by your grandparents.

I think a lot of people can relate to a love of wood furnishings. If you watch Parks and Recreation, the character Ron Swanson often speaks of his fondness for wood. If I were Ron, I could articulate my feelings for wood eloquently and succinctly, but Ron Swanson I am not. To put it briefly, wood is life. It’s one of our most abundant natural resources and it grows from the ground in a vast amount of varieties whose properties can be almost awe inspiring. When these amazing pieces of earth are made into something that you can use and look at every day, it’s not simply furniture and or art, it’s a collaboration between man and nature.

Wood is the medium that may first come to mind for when you think of artisan furniture, but of course there’s much more. Bamboo, metals, woven fibers, plastics, stone, earth; anything can be made into furniture, and has been.  Even living trees are made into chairs.

There are countless different “styles” of furniture, some of whose names you’ve likely heard in passing. Art deco, Art Nouveau, Chippendale, Victorian, Pennsylvanian Dutch, and post modern are just a few of the styles that we’ve seen over the past couple hundred years. If you’ve ever noticed the very deliberately chosen furniture on the show Mad Men, that’s mid-century modern, a style well regarded for the past seventy plus years.

I’m not saying that every piece of furniture is art, or that something needs to be extremely ornate or complex in order to be art, but the items that are artistic deserve appreciation. I think it also behooves someone to choose an artful piece of furniture for overall quality. Anyone who has spent several hours assembling something made of low density fiberboard knows what I mean.

  •  Have you ever come across a particularly stunning piece of furniture?
  •  Would you say that all furniture is art, or what draws the line between an artistic piece of furniture and just a plain old piece of furniture? Does it make a difference if it’s mass-produced like something from Ikea?
  •  Would you ever think of an interior designer as an artist?

 Other places to see cool furniture:

http://www.onlinedesignteacher.com/furniture_design/furniture_design%20history.html#.VEhHGPnF-ww

http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/category/47

 Sam Pruyn

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8 thoughts on “Furnishings as a Functional Fine Art

  1. Honestly great blog, just by reading this I can tell your a pretty skilled writer :). I have come across a few pieces that just left me jaw dropped in love and with the sense that I must have it, no matter how much my wallet cries LOL. For example I once went to an old antique store located in Michigan and I spotted a beautiful white vanity table with an installed mirror and a matching white cushioned bench. The ones that I had seen so often in my favorite 40s films, Where stars like Mae West and Jean Harlow would use to delicately apply their makeup. It was so beautiful that I knew it I had to have it. Currently I am redecorating my room to make sure the piece/furniture fits in well. Although there is nothing really extraordinary about the table and bench except it’s beautiful white/pearl looking color, I think i was just drawn to it because it reminded me of the glamor.
    Since I don’t have a picture of my table, here’s a picture the very closely resembles my furniture set (Aside that this one is neatly decorated with fabric.)

    Again great job on the blog 🙂

    • Thanks very much! I can picture a bunch of scenes from movies exactly as you describe. I love those types of connections the brain makes, just a piece of furniture can remind us of our favorite movies, or even the entire era.

  2. I know that furniture is used a lot in photography to make the background more intresting. It is also a way of telling people about them as well. Furniture is seen a lot in family photos, and photos of only one person as well, it has a style to it as well, it can even look fashionable if that is the desire of the person and ads comfort to the place, like someones room.

  3. Great blog. I love seeing the craftsmanship that goes into some pieces, especially antiques. It took almost 3 years of searching estate sales to find my mother an affordable, working victrola. I wish I had a picture of the cabinet it is housed in to share with you – it is gorgeous! Sadly, I think sometimes mass-produced furniture is all many people can afford; particularly in this economy. I also think the choice of cheaper pieces has something to do with how often people move, especially compared to many years ago. This assembly-line type of furniture is generally lighter and easier to move and you’re not “heart broken” if it gets damaged. Your pictures are beautiful and I really enjoyed looking at them, thank-you.

  4. I really the the furniture pieces you picked out to show us how beautiful these pieces can be. I am the kind of person that would love to furnish my home with any of those pieces. They are so totally unique in all of their own ways. I do think an interior designer could be an artist. Everything they do with designing a room you have to have a creative sense for. I wish I could be better at decorating but if I had pieces like these in my house it would sure have people talking about them.

  5. I have come across a nice piece of furniture here and there but nothing like what I see in these pictures. These pictures are phenomenal!! I’m really a big fan of the antic furniture. I remember watching the antic shows on channel 11 when I was younger and seeing how much people were bidding for these items. It was really quite interesting. I consider everything a form of art. Why wouldn’t furniture be considered an art? It definitely shows a true craftsmanship that can build furniture. You have a creative mind to build these types of things!! Interior designing is definitely considered art. As a interior designer you have to knowledge about colors and placement of objects which definitely takes some artistic background.

  6. Good furmiture making takes skill, and so in return, I do feel furniture is art. It’s neat to watch the different styles of each decade and how the creativness takes on different dynamics. Also the amount of time one puts into making just on piece of furniture is amazing to me. I can truly appreciate the small details and carvings that some add to their pieces. You must have true talent and patients for this art skill!!! Love the pieces you chose to show us. Thank you!

  7. Hello Sam, Sorry about the late response, but I would like to start my comment by mentioning that you did a very good job on your blogpost, I really enjoyed reading it and I was able to learn something new. I totally agree with your on everything you said, art should be appreciated for its overall quality and not for the complexity of the work or the time spent to create such piece of art. To answer your questions, I always come across beautiful furniture. Furniture is one of the things that I really enjoy looking at because I like to appreciate the material that it is made out of and the design that it has. I am very picky with everything I buy specially furniture. To answer your second question, I would say that not all furniture is and should be consider a piece of art. Nowadays a lot of furniture is manufactured by factories that use machines to create multiples of this art. Unless the original design was made or created by a particular artist or designer, then it should be consider a work or art. But we are always going to find these small places where they really dedicate the time to create and elaborate beautiful masterpieces that we can buy. Finally, to answer your last questions, I definitely will consider an interior designer an artist for the only reason that this person creates and elaborate art based on different concepts of color, textures, and objects to be place on a particular place. Thank you for your blog, you did great job! 👍

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