With furniture design becoming an increasingly popular career option, Careers Adviser spoke to two young people to find out what the profession involves.
Nick Waldron, 22, has just graduated with a degree in furniture design and craftsmanship from Buckingham University
"I've always been good at practical things, which was why I chose design oriented A-levels. When it came to doing a degree, I opted for furniture design because I liked the idea of seeing a design through to a finished product. I also liked the idea of developing a sketch into something that is both useful and can potentially last for hundreds of years.
I went to various design exhibitions to see what students at different educational institutions had achieved, and I was particularly impressed with what the students had made at Buckinghamshire University. So I attended their open day and did a bit of research into the course's reputation and became even more convinced it was the right place for me.
The first year of the course was about bringing everyone up to the same level. In the second year, we had to design a whole room - including the chairs, tables and so on - and actually make one of the individual pieces of furniture. In the third year, we had to complete a small project for the first 10 weeks and then spend the rest of the time making three pieces of furniture (pictured below).
The third year was the best time for experimenting. I chose to try my hand at steam bending - bending wood in fairly extreme ways. Other people experimented with things like wood carving and making concrete furniture. We all really enjoyed it.
A furniture design course is not for people who can't get up in the mornings. We were taught 40 hours a week in the first year and by the third year, I was spending 50 or 60 hours in the workshop every week. So you have to be seriously committed. You also need to have some cash behind you because you're expected to buy all your tools and materials. The basic kit in the first year alone is £500 and most of my classmates now have ones worth £2,000 or more, which they've gradually built up.
I finished the course in June and got a 2.1. Since then, I have been exhibiting my work at various exhibitions - including one in Milan. It's a good way of selling some of our work and many people get job offers as a direct result of being at the exhibitions.
My ultimate aim is to set up my own workshop, designing and making bespoke furniture. But because of the extreme costs of the products - which can be thousands of pounds - you need to get established first. So at the moment, I'm designing low cost products that I can take multiple orders for. For example, one of the pieces I'm currently exhibiting is a stool, which I can produce for £120 because I can make 20 at a time.
When I sought out careers advice in school, nobody suggested that I learn a trade at university, despite my passion for design and making things. I think it is probably because careers advisers didn't know that such courses exist, which is a shame."
Caroline Hoyle, 28, works for Halo, an award-winning furniture design company based in Altrincham near Manchester
"I studied three dimensional design at Manchester Metropolitan University, where we got to learn things like metal work, wood work, furniture design and product design. I became increasingly attracted to furniture design because of my interest in the ergonomics of the body. I wound up designing a rocking chair that got into a few magazines and I was awarded a first class honours degree.
Another area I was interested in at university was shoe design and in fact, my first job wound up being as a shoe designer in Spain for the company Camper. Later, when I returned to England, I decided to move into furniture design and got a job with a company I'd done work experience for while at university.
Since January, I've worked for Halo, a forward-thinking company that is doing well in the industry in terms of developing interesting materials. Halo has a specific furnishings part of the company and I design products for them. At the moment, I'm looking at how we can follow the trend of making something traditional with a twist - for example, modern florals. We sell the furniture on to independent retailers, as well as national companies like House of Fraser, Dreams and John Lewis.
The job here appealed to me because it gave me the chance to come and work with Halo on the gaps in the market. Also, the Halo range fits with my style and I liked the fact that they do a range of products - living room furniture, upholstery, bedroom furniture and even a number of items for home offices.
A particularly exciting area of my work has recently been in an area of the business called Halo Express Yourself. Through this charitable arm of the business, I got the chance this summer to design three chairs for the Live Earth concert in the style of Madonna, Corinne Bailey Rae (pictured above) and Red Hot Chili Peppers. They were recently sold on Ebay for £655, which went to the World Wildlife Federation. I really enjoyed it because it was a change from designing for commercial use. It was just about designing one-off chairs where I could go a bit crazy with the designs.
The biggest reward of furniture design for me is about taking a sketch, putting together a brief and turning it into something tangible that people are willing to pay money for. It's a lovely feeling when people really like what you have created. I also like the fact that the job pays well and the hours are nine to five. The only downside is that I never seem to have enough time in the day to do everything I want.
Eventually, I'd like to become a design director. But in the meantime, I am enjoying the challenges that my current job brings."Reuse content