This article was written by Paul Munson of Munson Furniture.
The accessibility of digital design tools and advanced manufacturing techniques is going to have an enormous effect on how we think about custom vs.production furniture. Through the use of parametric design controls, a customer facing configuration tool, and 5-axis CNC router technology, our business is able to offer a custom product in a production model.
As a long-time custom craftsman, my job has been to translate my customer’s space and functional needs into beautiful forms. They provide the parameters, and I provide the product. As I sought to design my own unique line of furniture, I found myself struggling to put boundaries on my new pieces. After so many years of offering limitless opportunities to my custom clients, I couldn’t imagine limiting my new customers to a single option for things like table height or number of shelves. Fortunately, I found that the new digital tools of design and fabrication were up to the task. I simply needed to build a system that could talk to the designer, the customer and the craftsman in a way that honors the design, the unique needs of the customer, and the process of production.
The Radius collection is a contemporary take on mid-century forms. The basic root of the design is a simple table which may be a side, coffee or console table with a change in primary dimensions. As the customer considers not only dimension but also functionality, a drawer can be added to a side table transforming it into a nightstand. Adding multiple drawers creates a dresser; adding multiple shelves creates an étagère. This line of furniture reflects the full spectrum of possibilities in terms of both dimensions and functionality without losing the underlying beauty of the Radius design.
This level of customization was previously a premium service reserved for mostly high-end clients working with interior designers who knew how to engage a designer and fabricator. These new design and fabrication tools allow us to empower the customer to become their own designer. The use of parametric controls ensure the integrity of the design aesthetic, and our user interface will provide guidance to customers on how to think about their space and functional needs.
The question often arises of how the use of this technology affects the craft of furniture making. Is it still craft if we’re using tools of digital production? My answer is absolutely. The underlying rules of good design don’t change if you’re using a pen, a pencil or CAD/CAM. The fundamentals of woodworking techniques are only enhanced through the use of CNC router technology which enables even greater precision in the process of part cutting. These tools expand the possibilities of creative expression. They make our craft better, more consistent, and more accessible to a wider audience.
We’ve already seen the idea of customer configuration of products in other industries from sneakers to automobiles. The tools are now here to make this type of customization a reality in the world of furniture.
Paul Munson has worked as a furniture maker serving design professionals for more than a decade. To meet the demands of a competitive custom furniture market, he and his team have designed a dynamic furniture collection with a unique workflow software that addresses the challenges of mass customization.