Learn Furniture Design – Rowden Atelier

Learn Furniture Design

The design curriculum completes the puzzle in combination with the practical experience at the bench and in our business classes. It enables students to understand and scrutinise their creative voice, building a vocabulary, a professional portfolio of work and ultimately, be the calibre of maker associated with our atelier.


Good design is half art, half science. The balance between these forces is nuanced, yet each individual is capable of getting there. 

We address the artistic and technical design principles in the full 12-month course at Rowden and cover some of the fundamental principles in our 6-month course. A background in design is not necessary, nor is a creative flair. Our courses help each student uncover their unique individual design expression. It’s not about qualifications or prior experience but about attitude and application.

artistic drawing

We cannot overstate the importance of committing time to drawing and sketching as a cabinetmaker. One of the few common threads amongst incoming students has been their belief that they couldn’t draw or be creative. Our artistic drawing classes have shown that this has not yet been true of anyone, each just needed to look at their subject differently. As is the case in attending any course at Rowden, we have set out our tuition to enable each student to push them to create the best work they are capable of. The skills of drawing can be taught as any other and is a critical aspect in connecting your eyes, hands and mind. Unsurprisingly, bringing these elements into alignment is also fundamental in becoming a proficient woodworker. Quoting our late founder David Savage:
artwork from the Rowden art syllabus on a fine furniture making course

“All drawing is, is looking at something very, very hard. The quality of the drawing doesn’t matter so much and will come with practice. What matters is the process of looking, building a visual vocabulary of shapes. Suddenly you will start to see … unless you have something in your seen, felt or visual memory, when it comes to design you have little unique inspiration to draw upon.”

David Savage, Founder of Rowden Atelier
a drawing of a piece of furniture on the Rowden Atelier woodwork course

Technical drawing

Technical drawing skills are necessary for cabinetmaking both to convey information and to understand the drawings associated with building a piece of furniture. Students start to hone their craft in this area during the making curriculum, and we communicate principles related to this in the dedicated technical drawing syllabus.

Students will learn how to complete a 1:1 rendering of a piece of furniture and express form in space, either for detail interrogation or presentation. We cover in detail how one addresses scale, shape, composition and detail to enable you to better record and convey ideas.


Design is a complex subject, personal to each of us. Yet, there are guiding foundations – classical proportion, geometry, architecture, and celebrated and revered furniture throughout history. Our design syllabus explores all of the above and the common threads between them. We help identify the rules, where they can be flexed or even broken. Design is present every day at Rowden, but we give it conscious attention through our design syllabus, where we explore interpreting briefs, expressing our designs with clients and how one can best convey their work.

An award winning, student made desk from a woodworking course at Rowden Atelier

Computer aided design

At Rowden, we teach RhinoCAD. Its balance of a shallow learning curve with simple licensing makes it an excellent choice for the fine furniture maker. Its use in cutting-edge design is also well established with the likes of Waywood FurnitureJoseph Walsh FurnitureFoster + Partners and McLaren, all prominent users. We intensively explore the opportunities and pitfalls in designing on a screen with students and, as always, assume no prior experience in the medium. The Rhino interface shares close similarities to other software such as AutoCAD and SolidWorks for those that have used other programs.

Being adept in CAD is another valuable tool for designer/makers. Therefore it should not be an afterthought, and if you are to approach it, it should be with a professional software package and professional, furniture-focused tuition.

Visit our woodworking courses pages to start your furniture making journey today