Considerations for Guidance in setting out Work - Miniature Designs - Working Drawings.
WHEN working from a small sketch or when attempting to design furniture, the amateur is often at a loss to adjust the main proportions and sizes of the different parts, as well as to determine the thickness of stuff for them. To say that there are no general rules which are adopted, often, no doubt, unconsciously or in accordance with custom, by designers of furniture would be hardly correct; but they are so vague that I do not think any attempt has been made to formulate them. They are more general principles than rules, and the chief of these is unquestionably fashion or custom, though underlying this will often be found considerations of convenience.
These two principles, then, may be looked on as being the keynotes in designing, or, perhaps I should say, setting out furniture, for designing rather indicates devising or arranging details, while reference is being made now more to the size of the whole thing or of parts. If the novice asks which consideration, that of convenience or of fashion, should be the first, I say, unhesitatingly, the former, for the latter is more or less evanescent. Important, no doubt, if we wish to give the furniture a familiar, homelike appearance, but in no way affecting its utility.
Thus we find an ordinary dining-room chair is always about one height, whoever made it. That height has been established by custom as being generally convenient. To set out a chair, therefore, as a dining chair, two or three inches higher or lower than usual, would, however beautiful the design otherwise, be unsatisfactory. The thing would not be adapted to its ostensible purpose. Of course, I have nothing to do with those peculiar individuals - perky Lilliputians, or long-legged giants - who, without having given a moment's serious thought to the subject, think all furniture would be much better if adapted to their special sizes. Easy chairs, on the same lines, are naturally lower than ordinary chairs.
In the same way, we find that the dining-table is made by all to the same height, or very closely. It is recognised as being best, or, what is much the same thing, we have grown accustomed to it, so that any other would be awkward and strange.
Writing-tables, in the same way, are made to a fairly uniform height, and the same with tables which are sat at in ordinary chairs. On the other hand, 'five o'clock tea-tables,' whether Sutherlands or distinctly 'fancy,' ladies' work-tables, etc, used in conjunction with low drawing-room chairs, are lower and of very variable height. They are the occasional things. Ordinary table height may be considered as 2ft. 6 ins., sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. Three inches one way or the other would make the table either high or low; specially useful, perhaps, to a tall or a short person, but to most of us inconvenient.
A few more articles of furniture may be named by way of example, and it will please be noted that ordinary English furniture is spoken of, not extraordinary specimens.
The bookcase is one of them - the kind with glass doors in the upper cupboard, the lower part projecting a little in front, and having wood-panelled doors. Now, the primary intention of a bookcase is to hold books. The shelves, therefore, must be wide enough for the ordinary sizes, and as comparatively few books are over 9 inches wide, a little more than that is generally sufficient width for the shelves. As the heights of books vary, there is a reason for movable shelves which can be fixed at any distance apart. The total height of the case varies, but not to any very great extent. Appearance must be considered in some degree, and extra height gives dignity, but roughly the height should not be so great that a man cannot either standing on the floor, or with the aid of a 'library step-chair,' reach the top row of books. In libraries where the wall is lined from floor to ceiling, other circumstances govern the arrangements, and these may be noted as the exceptions.
On similar lines, the music cabinet should be wide and deep enough for its drawers and shelves to hold music of the ordinary sizes. Usually, for the sake of appearance, it is made somewhat larger, for one just large enough to hold music sheets looks paltry. Wardrobes also may be, and often are, made greater in height, for appearance' sake, than there is any absolute necessity for. A very high wardrobe, be it noted, is not necessarily the most convenient for the user, for some of the hooks, shelves, or trays may be out of easy reach.
Perhaps the most unsatisfactory all-round piece of furniture is the hall-stand, with accommodation for hats, coats and umbrellas, looking-glass and drawer or box for brushes, gloves, etc. There is in it an attempt to combine too much, and a short review of some of the most noticeable defects may afford useful lessons to the novice. Many hall-stands are too narrow from back to front, so that they have little stability. This must be so if people want the orthodox piece of furniture. Then the coats are often in the way of umbrellas, etc, and the glass is not infrequently in such a position that a rail comes just about the height of a tall man's head, and if there is a box with a lifting lid, everything must be removed before the interior can be got at. A well-designed - apart from merely pretty - hall-stand should stand so firmly that it does not fall forward when full of coats; these and umbrellas should be out of each other's way, glass at such a height that it can be used without stooping, and drawer or box easily accessible. If these features are wanting, merely decorative detail cannot make a good hall-stand.
In the same way every piece of furniture should fulfil its ostensible purpose, for decoration and good workmanship are poor substitutes for convenience and utility.
Some measurements seem purely arbitrary, and to be regulated entirely by custom, which alters. Thus sideboards a century ago were much deeper from back to front than now, and the back, if any, was low. At the same time, there are sizes which are generally recognised as being customary. The lower or carcase part of a good 6-ft. sideboard will stand about 3 ft. high, though it may vary a little either way.