Constraints… – Rowden Atelier


Constraints: Possibly the first and most fundamental constraint that anyone involved in craftsmanship experiences lies at the heart of the arts and crafts debate. I.E. that art is utterly useless whereas craft is, at its core, useful. Switch this around and you could say that as soon as you take the usefulness out of the craft, what you have left is art… which has no real use.

That fundamental constraint means that tables tend to be more or less flat and parallel to the ground, that chairs can be sat on and doors opened. 

For any designer-maker, and particularly those in training at Rowden, there is a certain fear that comes with looking at a blank sheet of paper and having to come up with a new design. I mean, so many good designs have gone before, what chance do they have of coming up with something new and wonderful? A blank sheet of paper has, quite literally, infinite possibilities. So many, in fact, that designer’s block can easily set in.

So where do you start?

You start with your constraints, of course!

Baby Steps

But what does that really mean? And how do you do it?

If you intend to make a solid wood, functional dining table, say, you can eliminate every single thing that is essentially not a table. You can draw a horizontal line around 75cm off the ground, and you’re on your way. If it is to seat six, give everyone a space of around 60cm x 40cm. That will help with length and width. And let’s go crazy and assume four legs! Now you’re really on your way…

And so the constraints continue. The table will end up somewhere and needs to look like it was always meant to be there. That should help with wood selection. And in a style that is in keeping with its environment. Are there architectural features you could incorporate? Can you take a design feature from another piece of furniture or the chairs? 

It goes on and on, and before you know it, you have a design that is perfect for its intended space and perfect for the client. In fact, it is the only table that could ever have been drawn on what was once “just” a blank piece of paper with its infinite possibilities.

Lakshmi Bhaskaran, 2018.

Lakshmi studied at the Rowden Atelier in 2008, following on from a successful career as a design writer and author. It was at Rowden that she met her husband and business partner, Jonathan Walter. The pair set up Bark Furniture in 2010 and now run a successful furniture business, based in Cornwall, with clients all around the world. Lakshmi has written for renowned publications including Wallpaper and has authored five books in the design area.