Home Furnishing Career Field Structure
The home furnishings industry is divided into three main areas: interior design, furniture, and silverware and other craftware items. Within these divisions are the various stages or elements that go into either creating an atmosphere, in the case of interior design, or an object, in the cases of furniture and silverware. In addition to the three major areas, home furnishings includes such accessories as textiles and fabrics used by professionals in the field.
Interior design is a creative process, with each new job requiring the implementation of fresh and unique ideas. Therefore, the specific steps involved are not always cut-and-dried. The process usually begins, however, when interior designers meet with clients: homeowners, contractors, architects, hospital executives, restaurant and lodging owners, school administrators, and decisionmakers at other nonresidential buildings. At the initial meeting, the designer learns about the client’s requirements, determines the timetable for the project, and gets a general sense of the budget available.
Once they understand what their clients want, interior designers go to work, independently or with other design professionals, conducting research, assembling fabric swatches, planning the arrangement of furniture, and selecting draperies, floor coverings, wallpaper, paint, and other decorations. Designers make their creative decisions based on a variety of factors, including general style, scale of furnishings, traffic patterns, flow, lighting, safety, and building codes.
After all designs have been formulated, interior professionals usually make a formal presentation to their clients. Such presentations often include sketches, floorplans, models, photographs, and/or samples of materials. Designers also provide clients with cost estimates of furnishings, materials, labor, and other items needed to complete the project.
Upon the client’s approval, the implementation phase begins. This stage involves ensuring that each aspect of the design is carried out properly. In addition to actually performing the work themselves, interior designers often supervise others. They should, therefore, have familiarity with a variety of craft areas, including painting, carpet laying, and carpentry.
While interior professionals may sometimes design furniture, pieces are usually designed and made or manufactured by specialists in the field. Furniture making versus furniture manufacturing is the difference between a handmade piece and a machined item. The major difference between the two in terms of process is that a machined piece of furniture passes through a series of steps performed by various workers, while a handmade item is created by a single skilled craftsperson. For the sake of simplicity, the process is described below in terms of machined furniture.
Furniture manufacturing is the mass production of furniture from wood, metal, plastic, fabric, and other materials. The wood furniture manufacturing process, in particular, includes four main operations: woodworking, assembling, finishing, and upholstering. The jobs required in the manufacturing process vary with the size of the plant, as well as the kind of furniture that is being made. There are two basic types of wood furniture: case goods and upholstered furniture. Case goods are not upholstered and include such items as tables, bookcases, cabinets, and dressers. Upholstered furniture is padded and covered with fabric.
The manufacturing process generally begins with furniture designers, who translate their ideas into blueprints, shop drawings, or similar plans from which the pieces of furniture will be created. Once the designs have been approved, pattern makers use the blueprints to create the patterns for the various parts needed to build the furniture. They trace the outline of the patterns onto the building materials and then cut the pieces out of the wood, using hand and power tools.
Highly skilled model builders then make the prototypes of the furniture to test the practicality of the new designs. They cut and form the parts using lathes, power saws, and hand tools and then join the parts using screwdrivers, wrenches, glue, and welding torches. As specifications and measurements are revised, model makers may alter the design of the finished model. The model is then approved for production, and engineers plan for its mass production.
After the design process is completed and production is planned, mass-produced furniture begins in the woodworking area. Factories receive lumber in the form of rough planks that must be seasoned (dried) for months to prevent warping. When the seasoning is complete, machine operators cut the wood into different sizes and shapes using planers, crosscut saws, ripsaws, and other machines. The wood is then brought to the planing and jointing shops where woodworkers route, dowel, carve, and shape it. Some wood is treated with veneer, a very thin layer of fine wood glued and pressed onto a less expensive wood. The wood pieces are then ready for assembly.
The assembly line usually consists of a series of loose rollers over which assemblers push the work as they finish their part of the assembly. Workers assemble the frames and fit the doors and drawers using screwdrivers and other tools. To glue and press small parts together, they operate special machines that use radio-frequency heating to set the glue in less than a minute.
After all the pieces of wood are assembled, the furniture pieces move on to the finishing department. Furniture finishers sand, stain, varnish, and paint the furniture, applying many separate finishing coats to color and seal the wood.
The final operation that some pieces of furniture require is upholstering. Upholsterers install padding, springs, and fabric or leather on wood frames to create soft coverings on furniture. The first step in transforming a bare, wood frame into a finished piece of upholstered furniture is to stretch strips of strong webbing material onto the frame to form a tight mat for supporting metal springs. Workers firmly attach the springs to both the mat and the frame and smooth and cover them with burlap cloth. Then upholsterers put padding and stuffing made of synthetic fibers, foam, and other materials over the springs and frame, tack, staple, and glue on the cover fabric.
After all pieces of furniture have been assembled and finished, inspectors examine them to ensure that they meet manufacturing standards. They reject items with serious flaws and indicate what needs to be repaired. Once all furniture pieces have been checked to the inspectors’ satisfaction, they are shipped out of the factory.
Like furniture manufacturing, the production of silverware requires contributions from many different types of artisans and production workers. The process starts with flatware designers, who make sketches or plans for new lines of tableware. Once the designs are approved, model makers create full-size models from plastic, clay, or plaster.
Tool makers and die makers (increasingly referred to as precision metalworkers) then construct dies, which are tools that can stamp, shape, or cut metal. These dies are used to produce spoons, forks, knives, and other utensils, which begin as flat sheets of metal. Flatware press operators feed the sheets into presses, which die-cut the metal into flat blanks that are approximately the same size and shape as the finished utensils. The blanks are then put into a drop press, which shapes each blank to form the specified piece.
Next, flatware makers, or annealers, heat, or anneal, the metal, softening it to reduce the possibility of warping. Finally, the annealed flatware is immersed in a chemical solution to cool and clean it, and then each piece is trimmed, smoothed, and polished.
The manufacturing process for hollowware, which includes such items as sugar bowls and teapots, calls for workers with specialized skills because these pieces are often ornate. Most hollowware is made from a base metal, such as brass, which comes in rolled sheets. Workers cut the sheets into sections, and then press operators mold the brass into various shapes. Next, profile-saw operators and profile trimmers trim away excess metal. Finally, handles, legs, and border trim are created separately and attached by silverware assemblers using screws, bolts, pins, or adhesives. Items like candlesticks and goblets are stretched and shaped by workers called spinners, who use hand tools and bench-lathes.
Silversmiths and hammersmiths also create hollowware. These skilled specialists anneal metal, shape it, add embossed designs, and solder on parts. They also repair damaged pieces using hammers, tongs, pliers, and other tools.
The last step often required in the manufacture of flatware and hollowware is electroplating, a process that uses electric current to coat a metal with one or more thin layers of another more expensive metal, such as silver, gold, or platinum. Electroplaters clean unplated items and then suspend them, along with pieces of plating metal, in a tank containing a chemical solution. When electricity is applied, the plating metal is deposited on the pieces, creating items that look as if they were made entirely of the precious metal.