So you want to be an Industrial Furniture designer?

By August 20, 2012 about me, furniture 11 Comments

So you want to be a Furniture designer? I get so many calls and email from new, or aspiring designers, I decided to write this. I even saw this in the movie Magic Mike with Tatum Channing, the stripper with aspirations of designing.

Ellis Media Console

Here’s a couple paths that come to mind. The first is the one they teach you in school (at least I think so). I can’t tell you how many people have asked me what design school I went to, or what tradeshow I’ll be at. The fact is I never went to design school. School was never my thing. I’m more of a self-taught kind of guy. I thrive on research/inspiration, can’t stand reading books (unless they are audio-books, or have lots of pictures). My thought is if somebody is teaching it, well then do the opposite to be successful because everybody else is doing that, and why compete? And I don’t do tradeshows. We’re growing by word of mouth, and our internet success. Create something special that you love, show it to the world, and maybe they’ll come knocking at your door.


So here is path number one for the designer:


Go to art school, the more prestigious, the better.

Sit down, get a blank piece of paper, start designing. (gogogo)

Think of logistics, customer needs, packaging, fulfillment, options, etc.

Design with market needs in mind.

Keep cost down!

Create prototypes, check market reaction with focus groups.

Find factories abroad (if you don’t have one) to produce the product in the most cost effective way.

Market the product at tradeshows.


Sell sell sell!

Fulfill orders.


Or path number two (mine):


Surround yourself with like minded people.

Do research, internet, visit stores and places that interest you, feel inspired, walk around!!!! Don’t forget to look at other countries designs!

Repeat this until you get ideas that you love. I’ll have dozens of ideas before I act. Choose your best.

Don’t follow trends, MAKE THEM! Find a niche! Why bother competing with the rest of the world?

Design something that you want and love. (key word is want and love) Making something you don’t care for will bring you nothing but pain.

Make it!

Show it to lots of people. Make a blog to do that, put it on social sites.

Work at this all day, all night. Blog the shit out of this with pictures and interesting descriptions.

Wake up, repeat, go to bed. Don’t give up, this is hard work! Nothing good comes easy, the harder, the better! (I’ve beeen working 60-80 hour weeks for almost 3 years now)

Orders come in if you worked hard and smart enough. If they don’t keep making more. You will suck at first.

Find people to help that are awesome.


It’s passion that fuels creativity. If you lack passion, you’ll fail in my opinion. Make something for yourself, that you love. And others will come to love it too, if you show it to enough people. The only way you will fail is if you give up. Screw tradeshows, screw school (ya I said that), screw the normal way of doing things. It’s your attitude, not your education, that will get you places. And if your goal is to get rich and famous, then well you missed the point. A big ego will make things difficult to say the least.


I combined a 10 year search for “why I am here”, with a search for spirituality, and found I need to create something tangible, that I believe in whole-heartedly. And out comes furniture, something I didn’t know anything about 3 years ago. Yet I have architects, celebrities, designers, etc asking me for my opinion on design. I’m not trying to brag, I actually never feel content with my designs (and that’s what drives me). The more I know, the less I realize I don’t.  I’m am not an artist, I just enjoy trying to make the next thing that tops the last. What a strange last 3 years it’s been doing this. Sold my first table for $350, and last week one for $15k. At times I thought I was going insane, actually I was going nuts. Couldn’t stop working or get it out of my mind, even if I tried (vacations too). But I’ve found balance for the most part (as I finish writing this up at 8pm). Love what you do, and it’s not work, it’s play. Don’t you love what you do? Because you can, you just have to figure out how. And the tears will come if you venture down this road, but the reward is worth it…


Some of my dreams include:  Stores in NY, LA, Paris.  Opening up a non-profit organic fast food chain around the world. Handing off my company to the employees. Making a difference.  Moving to France for half the year. Flying into space.  Having a 1 on 1 with the Dalai Lama. Learning true inner peace. Realizing the 100 designs in my head which included create a Vintage Industrial car, house, and neighborhood. Building a loft and 3 story clocktower at our shop.

Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • George says:

    Love it! Well said and excellent advice.
    I would add start young, risk it all. The best time to risk everything is when you have nothing to risk but how you spend your your time.

  • Greg says:

    Thank you George. And you’re right, start young, why wait?

  • Mitch Mitton says:

    Greg is right. I have done it both ways, my education was in graphic design. However I wanted to go to ART Center School in Cal. I could taste it. So once I got that BFA in ad design I tried it and before long I said bull. I built a foundry from scratch doing research in every place I could. Next I went back to school to work on my MFA thinking maybe that was it. Then lighting struck, a company offered to set me up if I would produce woodcarving for them on an Italian machine and do some pattern work. I loved it I produce over 300 patterns from which they made thousand of different produts. We made lots of money and came up with our own line of wooden drapery hardware to use all the scrap cutoff we had. Then we really hit the big time, if someone wanted a new item I made it and added it to our line.
    Having gotten all that exposure we sold to a multinational company and I became an Industrial Designer. Big mistake! Oh my dream had come ture, and I visited Art Center School and found that my original instructor had taught us the exact same methods that were still being taught there. The BIG difference was to get a product from my desk required a business plan that would result in sales of 15 million US dollars on items made in China and landed here in retail packaging for under $2.00, an item that a consumer would pay over $20.00 for. I worked there for 3 years and had one out of the hundreds I designed go the distance. My answer to them was if I could tell in advance what would sale 15 million why would I be working for anybody.
    So, you want to design, read Steve Jobs Book and just go do it. Find something you are passionent about and just do it. Inam now doing what I want when I want and smiling everyday. And maybe learn to spell so you business plans look good!

  • Greg says:

    Awesome story Mitch. I’ll have to get that book, hope it’s available on audiobook!

  • Rebecca says:

    Well said, amazing perspective, no wonder your pieces are so cool! All the best. R

  • Mitch Mitton says:

    Yes Greg it is avaiable on Audible were I go through books by the dozen. We did not know that we were walking in his steps and he is not always a nice guy but he had focus. Not Talent but knew what good design was and would not stop until it was had.

  • Greg says:

    Funny, I started listening to it through Audible today…

  • Troy K says:

    great post, thank you! I found your site today and spent the last hour looking through it and your FB page. I was ready to click off your site and move on when I read this last post and I’m so glad I found it. You really should link this post on your home page because it says a lot about you and is very inspirational to new furniture designers and builders like myself.
    I have been working as a carpenter for the last 15 years and have been building furniture in my basement as a way to escape into another mind set. I totally relate to your “why am I here” search”. I’m ready to make a go at it full time so thanks again for the inspiring post.

  • Greg says:

    Glad to hear it helped you Troy.

  • Jim says:

    I have retired three times as a soccer coach and teacher and now work 7-days a week at a totally new business. I totally agree with the time, effort and dedication you emphasized. It sounded like me teaching and coaching and making my students expand their effort and dreams. You don’t like school but this is where I was a different teacher who put emphasis on making things happen by helping students help students as much as possible (except on tests). You would have been a good teacher (and still can). Get a few interns and let them teach each other and you will be surprised how they can help each other even when you are too busy to help.

    I work in wood the way you work in metal. Now I want to build things in metal (combined with wood). Unfortunately I am over 60 and have trouble keeping up the pace I could do in my 20’s thru 50’s. Keep up the good work. Jim

  • Greg says:

    Thanks Jim