Furniture designer

 13 March 2013

Furniture designers make furniture for homes, offices and other commercial spaces.

Simon Hasan's furniture designs were featured in the Design Museum's Designs of the Year exhibition in 2012. Image: The Design Museum
Simon Hasan's furniture designs were featured in the Design Museum's Designs of the Year exhibition in 2012. Image: The Design Museum

What is the job like?

Furniture designers make all kinds of furniture for the home and commercial environment. Some work as highly skilled craftspeople, designing, making and selling their own work, perhaps through a shop, gallery or website.

Most furniture sold in the UK is mass-produced, either in the UK or increasingly overseas. Some manufacturers make small batches of high-quality products.

Your work can vary according to the setting, but would often involve:

  • meeting with the client or senior managers to discuss the initial concept and design brief
  • preparing technical drawings using specialist computer assisted design (CAD) software
  • developing a model or prototype which can then be used to progress the furniture to small or large-scale manufacture
  • using a variety of materials including polymers, wood, metals, leather and textiles and understanding their properties
  • using traditional skills and/or modern manufacturing technologies
  • liaising with production staff in the UK or overseas and sometimes skilled trades’ people such as French polishers
  • having a good knowledge of market trends
  • managing budgets and preparing costings.

If you are craftsperson or designer/maker you will also use a variety of tools to make your furniture. You will also liaise with suppliers to obtain raw materials, and will often be involved in all aspects of running your own business. 

Visit galleries, museums, historic houses and retail outlets to find out about the different kinds of furniture.

Some jobs combine design work with project management duties, including schedules of work and buying materials.

Some furniture designers work in consultancy design or for design studios. There are also opportunities within the furniture manufacturing industry, especially for office furniture.

How do I become a furniture designer?

Furniture design is a highly competitive career, and you will need:

  • to be highly creative with strong practical ability and attention to detail
  • well-developed drawing skills and willingness to learn CAD and other technologies
  • the ability to work well in a team with other people and to communicate your ideas 
  • an understanding of manufacturing processes
  • a good understanding of business practice
  • financial awareness and ability.

Relevant school subjects include art and design, design and technology, graphic design and maths. A strong interest in the furniture design is essential – visit galleries, museums, historic houses as well as retail outlets to find out about the many different kinds of furniture.

What training and qualifications do I need?

Courses in furniture are available at all levels within further and higher education.

Some of the courses in further education are practical craft courses and prepare you for a career as a furniture maker rather than as a designer, at least to start with.

Some of the further education qualifications can also provide the entry requirements for university.

Further education courses include:

  • City and Guilds 5610 Certificate in Making and Installing Furniture Level 2
  • Level 2 Diploma in Furniture Making
  • City and Guilds 5780 Level 3 Diploma in Furniture Design and Making
  • Level 3 Diploma in Furniture Design and Making
  • Furniture Studies Diploma Level 3
  • BTEC National Diploma in Art and Design 3D Design, Level 3
  • BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Architecture, Interior and Product Design

BTECs

The BTEC level 3 courses last for two years full-time and are an alternative to A levels. You will need a minimum of four GCSE A-C passes or equivalent level 2 qualifications, and GCSE A-C English or equivalent and sometimes maths. Check the course content to ensure that it includes 3D design, of which furniture is a part.

The BTEC level 3 courses can lead onto higher education courses, such as HND, foundation degree or degree courses.

It is also possible to progress onto a level 3 qualification from a level 2 qualification, such as a BTEC First Diploma in art and design.

Contact individual colleges to check entry requirements which may vary. It is usually possible for successful students to progress from level 2 to level 3 courses. A proven interest in furniture making is important.

Degree courses

Degree courses in interiors are listed on the UCAS website. 

Courses vary in their emphasis – some focus entirely on furniture design, while other courses offer the opportunity for broader study in the 3D context. Visit the university open day before applying.

Entry requirements

The entry requirements for a degree are a minimum of two A levels or equivalent, such as a Level 3 Diploma plus a portfolio. You will also need English GCSE A-C or equivalent, and sometimes GCSE A-C Maths. Some universities may ask for three A levels, often at specified grades.

The portfolio is a vital part of the selection process for Furniture Design degrees and you need to think carefully about what to include. You will be asked to discuss your portfolio during the interview.

Be prepared to answer questions about your work, your ideas and the processes you have used. A strong interest in the subject is really important.

Another route to degree courses in Furniture Design is via a one-year foundation course in Art and Design. You will need a good portfolio of work and a minimum of one or two A levels including Art and Design or equivalent.

Two-year HND courses in Furniture/Product Design are also available. Entry is with one-to-two A levels to include Art and Design and GCSE A-C English or equivalent, and sometimes GCSE A-C Maths.

There also various short courses in furniture making and design, which can be a useful preparation for further study or training.

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships in furniture design and making are sometimes available.

You could also send a CV and covering letter to furniture companies to see if they might be willing to take on an apprentice. Apprenticeships are likely to be in furniture making rather than design, although this experience will be highly valued should you decide to progress into a furniture design career. Further training with higher level study is usually needed.

What will I earn?

Salaries usually vary according to where you work, and earnings are generally higher in London.

Junior furniture designers can expect to earn around £16,000 to £22,000.

Experienced furniture designers may earn between £22,000 and £30,000. Very experienced furniture designers can earn up to £35,000 and sometimes more.


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