Putting the creative process to bed

If you can, you should


After months of sleeping with my mattress on the floor (for reasons I won’t go into) I decided it was time to add a little bit of luxury to my life and get myself a bed frame.

Of course it’s always been a mantra of mine that if you can, you should. Basically, don’t just go out and buy everything you want/need—put your skills to use and challenge yourself. It’s often less expensive and always much more rewarding.

I thought it might be fun to document the creative process and share it with you. Heck, I might even learn something about how I work and what I can do better in the future.

Authors note: I have no formal education or training in furniture design or construction methods, so if the process seems a little bit like trial an error, well, that’s because it is —# YOLO.


Step 1: Exploration

So I’ve decided I’m going to make myself a bed. The first thing I always do is start to sketch some general concepts, usually quite basic and nothing too detailed. I try to explore some themes and things I’d like to achieve, rather than specific plans with full measurements. In this stage I tend to ignore limitations — I just draw what I want and worry about the rest later.

Initial sketches — main features include built-in alarm clock stand and opportunities for storage

In this case, I was fairly satisfied with the general direction of my sketches and what I was hoping to achieve so I moved on to some more direct research.


Step 2: Research

At this stage I start looking at what others have done, and try to deconstruct concepts that I like. Having a fairly strong affinity for the simplicity of Japanese design, I went over to muji.com for and had a look at some of their bed frames and the general construction as well as some of the proportions.

Ash Bed — Double Bed & Ash Chair. Product design of MUJI by Naoto Fukasawa. P.89
Large Veranda and Moon-viewing Platform, Katsura Imperial Villa, Kyoto, 17th century, photograph by Matsumura Yoshiharu. Japan Style, Gain Carlo Calza. P.164

During this phase, I pay a lot of attention to how things are put together and try to envision whether or not I could easily achieve some of the same pieces with the tools and knowledge I have. If there is something I don’t quite understand but really want to try and replicate, I reach out to a more experienced builder for advice.

So at this point I’ve decided that I really like the modest proportions and subtle stylistic features of the Japanese designed units and despite having a queen-sized mattress, I really want to try and keep the bed feeling like a double, giving the room a bigger feel.

In addition to specific design research I like to look at more general aspects of design to see if there is something that I can use to make this more of a signature piece.

This bamboo platform in Kyoto is a great example of something that really caught my eye. I definitely want to incorporate some aspect of this theme into the bed.

My first idea was to have spaced-out rods in the headboard that would allow for the alarm clock stand to slide in and be able to be moved as needed. Bamboo would have been great, but it’s not native to British Columbia and finding anything that would resemble this with other trees would be next to impossible in my region.


Step 3: General planning

Now that I have a more defined direction with my design, it’s time to do some measurements and see what is feasible within the space I have and how some of the proportions will affect the room once the bed is built.

Using these measurements I do a secondary sketch with the core functions in mind. I try to incorporate how the bed will sit in the room, how I will sit on the bed, how much clearance is necessary and whether or not all of my features need to be included in order to achieve the best overall solution.

One key measurement that came into play with the overall scaling and proportions of the bed frame was the height of a ledge in my room that leads to the balcony. I wanted the bed, when assembled and dressed, to sit flush with the ledge to make it less awkward coming in and out.

Secondary sketch for my trip to the lumber yard

Step 4: Sourcing materials

With sketch in hand, I head over to the local lumber yard and start looking at the shapes, grains, colours, weight and availability of the wood I want to use. I also use this opportunity to correct some of my measurements after measuring the actual dimensions of the lumber.

For the main frame pieces I’ve decided to use Douglas Fir and for all support components I will be using Yellow Cedar. I’ve also made the decision to use flat narrow pieces instead of rounded rods for the headboard feature.


Step 5: Detailed planning

Now that I have an idea of all of the pieces and what types of wood I want to use, I go back to my sketch book and work out more precise plans.

First draft of detailed construction plans

As detailed above, I’ve finalized some of my core design decisions including how the new headboard is going to work, a general idea of how many pieces might be required and how it’s all going to fit together.

These drawings help immensely when visualizing the construction process and how exactly I’m going to put it together. It also gives me a lot of confidence that I have taken into account all that I’m going to need so there will be fewer trips back to the shop.

To make the planning and design more manageable, I break the form into three main components: the platform, the base and the head board. This allows me to break things down piece by piece much easier and put into scope all of the measurements for each component and really see how things will fit together and how much spacing will be required to balance things out.

From there I can create an accurate shopping list with every single piece that I will need cut so when I get home, it will just be a matter of assembly.


Step 6: Gather assets

Detailed list of requirements in hand, I head down to the lumber yard and discuss the cuts, explain the construction, ask any questions about the wood based on what I’m trying to achieve and use his feedback to make any last minute adjustments. From there I trust in my plan and purchase the lumber, head home and start the pre-assembly process.

At this point I’m pretty confident in my design direction so I don’t spend too much time deliberating or wavering on small decisions.


Step 7: Construction

Once I get home, I start sorting the materials and cleaning up any slivers, marks or dings if possible. Then I separate everything into its sections, and start putting things together.

Much like any other form of design, you start with the framework, then the support system, followed by additional features. (base>platform>headboard)

The construction is slow-moving as I’m not well practiced or trained in carpentry or furniture building, and at this stage mistakes could be potentially costly (lumber is expensive, so I’d probably have to live with extra holes or things being slightly off if I’m not careful).


Step 8: Testing

2 meal breaks, 2 dead drill batteries, 3 posts screwed in by hand and one big sliver in my toe later I’ve got everything pieced together. All sections are assembled and ready to put the mattress on and go to sleep…

fuuuuuuu…

Yea, that happened. Design flaw, clear and simple. I had spent so much time and energy making sure that the frame was going to be perfect that I didn’t put enough thought into the platform support. I carelessly set it up so that the stress points all lined up with the grain, making the beams way weaker than necessary. Not only that, I neglected to take into account the need for support columns down the centre of the structure.

Needless to say, I was sleeping on the floor again that night…

As I mentioned before, this was a bit of a trial and error process, but I feel that lessons learned through exploration tend to teach you more than following a manual.


Step 9: Iteration

With some testing done and serious flaws exposed, I sleep on it (again, pun intended) and head back to the shop the next morning with a very clear direction.

My solution was to forgo the ability to easily disassemble the bed in any future moves for simplicity and added stability. There was a significant cost savings, there were fewer pieces, fewer stress points and overall a much stronger bed. Which really is the point, isn’t it.

I also repurposed some of the wood from the broken support platform to create the columns I was lacking as well as extend some of the support sections that were designed to be too short for maximum stability.

With the mattress finally on, I decided to take a nap. #noMoreFloorLife

At this stage, I’m still waiting for the yard to get enough of the pieces I want to use in the headboard design. I will update this post with the final results once those pieces are in place.


Conclusion

The process of building something like a bed always seems intuitive while you’re doing it, that is until you start documenting it and realising that there is a method — and it’s not so different from any other physical or digital product. It brings to light the need for research, iteration and testing and how important those are in order to achieve a successful result.

Of course, were I a more experienced furniture designer with access to better tools and my own shop, the results would likely be very different and have a more polished feel. Perhaps it would be more elaborate with proper joints and complex angles. But the challenge was to use what I had available to make something that I needed and hopefully learn along the way. In those terms this project was a complete success and I look forward to the next one.

Update: 27 July, 2016

After a very busy spring I finally had the time and some extra money to try my hand at the headboard. Again, I have no access to tools, so I was reliant on the lumber yard to make the cuts for me. Unfortunately each piece was a different length and less than half of them were usable, but I made do and the results were pretty good.

I was able to grab a couple of scraps for the shelves and all in all it worked out pretty good. I’m probably going to try a different lumber yard with better a better set up and more consistent cuts and quality wood and rebuild the headboard from scratch. In the end, better tools and more experience will make this a successful design. I’m very confident I can make it happen.

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