Starting to build your own furniture

Marcel Bachran
Jan 17, 2016 · 6 min read

As being an interface designer working in an agency, I wrote this article from my very own perspective but I bet there are a lot of similarities to other jobs. So, in my case, I spend most of my time designing digital products. Of course I’m always looking forward to see them online and utilized by different users. But unfortunately, I noticed that I might miss something throughout this situation — the very special feeling of creating something tangible; something that I can hold in my hand at the end of the day. In order to find my own balance, I started building furniture a few years ago. I’d like to share some thoughts about why I think you should also try to do so.

Recovering control

We live in an era where a lot of things get more complex. The surface of everyday products may get simpler but just because of that functional aspects evolve even more abstract. Most of the time it is impossible to repair something by yourself, like our parents used to, which is unsatisfying and a little scary, as well. While loosing our independence step by step, we develop a recollection to handmade products and manufactures that arrive on the scene, again. Because we are aware of what it takes to really create products with our own hands, it retrieves our respect for the thing itself. Part of this movement is the DIY trend which expresses our need for recovering control. Building a piece of furniture is an appropriate example because basically everyone could do it. If you own a cordless screwdriver and a saw, then you might already own everything you need. The rest is a tiny dose of mathematics and a basic understanding for three-dimensionality. There is a vast spectrum of difficulty: From simple shelfs to complex multifunctional furniture systems. The learning curve is steep and the sky is the limit, as always.

An instruction that I did for the ›Berliner Hocker‹ a few years ago.

Corresponding furniture

Due to the general lack of housing in urban enviroments, the price for renting an apartment increases dramatically. Affordable, but not for everyone and with restrictions. We have to deal with smaller flats and changes of residence. While one of my parent’s (born around 1950) furniture ›classic‹ was the wall unit, today’s furnishings need to adapt to different environments, simply because they need to fit into your next apartment.

»We need furniture that corresponds to our lives. And our lives have become global and mobile. Our whole biography doesn’t really follow a straight line: education, job, marrying, starting a family, dying. It’s all intertwined, and that’s why furniture also has to cooperate.« — Van Bo Le-Mentzel

Finding individuality

Thanks to Ikea, contemporary furniture is affordable to nearly everyone. And because every individual can setup their apartments after the in-house catalogue, the desire for uniqueness is conspicuous. In addition, we all have special requirements, which can be better realized with its own piece of furniture, because we have control over the design and production. You are able to take advantage of the peculiarities of your apartment to find custom solutions, that were’nt convertible elsewhere.

Expanding your skill set

In the beginning it might be hard to acquire ideas for your first piece of furniture. To avoid frustration, there is the possibility to get inspired through the huge supply of tutorials by the DIY community. This will also offer you a first glimpse of what could be implemented. Since I started, one of my biggest inspiration has been the book ›Build more, buy less!‹ by the german architect Van Bo Le-Mentzel.

»Constructing instead of consuming. Build more, buy less.« —Van Bo Le-Mentzel

It features illustrated instructions for all kind of DIY furniture. Basically it holds every piece you’ll need for your flat and supplementary the majority is multifunctional. The hand-drawn instructions played a big role for me because they gave me a feeling of visualizing all my very own ideas, too.

Build more, buy less! by Van Bo Le-Mentzel

His point of view inspired me to start with my own designs. I did a lot of research on pinterest and created a collection with everything I thought that could be helpful. I had to solve a couple of inconsistencies in my apartment, which annoyed me a lot. For example, I wished for a coffee table, hiding smaller objects, so the table itself would always look neat. I also needed a couch, which should be comfortable to sit and sleep on. This meant it would need a slatted frame. So far I’ve also built many pieces like a desk, two sideboards, various shelves and a wardrobe. With each object my skills have been enhanced and I avoided the mistakes, that I made in the beginning.

Some pieces of furniture, that I built in the past years.

A nice side effect: All the furniture will obtain an uniformed look, if you use similar materials and techniques.
I’ve noticed, the biggest problem within the building process is, that your space is unfortunately limited. So be aware of this!

Changing your point of view

The longer you deal with that topic, the more ideas occur. It’ll change, how you look at things and how you think. As an interface designer I feel refreshed by thinking and working in three dimensions. I’m looking forward to that one special moment when all flat parts come together and create a three dimensional object that takes its place in space.

Testing your own expectations

When you actually built your piece of furniture, you’re proud of what you just did, so congrats! You did a good job! But now you’re entering the most interesting stage: Testing and verifying. It will turn out, whether your design meets your expectations or not. As designers we always design for a specific user group and it’s not always the case, that we receive useful feedback on the decisions we’ve made. But because you’re the user in this case, you get the most honest feedback you could ever gain. It’s just that simple: Either you like it or you don’t.

So this is why you should try to build your own furniture

  1. You’re going to create a unique artifact which is designed for your needs.
  2. You will bring an idea to life using your own hands.
  3. You will learn something about materials, production and inevitable about yourself.
  4. You will see the world through different eyes and spot inspiration at every turn.
  5. And of course you can save a lot of money, too!

I’d be really happy if this article motivated you to build something by yourself. If this is the case, please let me know!

Marcel Bachran is an interface designer, illustrator and writer. He’s currently working at think moto in Berlin. Feel free to check professional work on and private creations and thoughts on

Marcel Bachran

Written by

Interface Designer, Illustrator, Blogger. Currently working at @edenspiekermann

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