Designing a Chair: Inside the Fellowship

Written by Heide Martin on .

Our Fellowship Program gives emerging and established furniture makers a chance to explore new directions in their work. Fellows spend anywhere between four weeks to twelve months on campus, and receive feedback on their design progress through biweekly critique sessions with visiting instructors, other Fellows, and Center director Peter Korn. As you can imagine, fellows take various approaches to this unstructured time to work in a well-equipped facility.

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Common avenues include the study of a new tool or technique, the refinement of an existing design, or the development of a design language for a product line. Many people also choose to focus deeply on a single, challenging design, dedicating the often difficult-to-find luxury of time to the refinement of design details and the optimization of build processes. One example of this approach is exemplified by the work of a recent fellow, Peter Lutz, who spent over three months of intense design and development work on his “Signature Chair.” "Looking back at all the processes that I explored during my fellowship,” reflects Peter “it feels like I took a self-guided masterclass in chair making. There's no way I could have accomplished so much without the incredible resources and the incredible community of makers at CFC."


Peter relied on both sketches and a full-scale model for his chair prototype. The chair prototype, assembled with screws, poplar, and plywood, was easy to adjust for considerations of design and comfort. The full-scale model gave Peter a tool for discussion during biweekly design critiques.

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Full-scale drawings act as a record-keeping tool of design changes, and as a template for building components and jigs.

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 An iterative design/build process is greatly enhanced through jigs that can be adjusted on the fly for design changes. Of his tenoning jig, says Peter: “every time I made an adjustment to the splay or some dimension of the chair, the angles would change. Luckily, the jig allowed me to make those changes simply by making a different wedge rather than rebuilding the whole jig. This jig allowed me to cut compound angled live tenons.”

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Peter designed the chair with small-batch production in mind, so he focused a great deal on design processes that he could replicate in his own shop, without any major investment in tooling. This robust shaping jig allows him to build a curved seat with a hand-held router. Click the video link below to see it in action.

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In the video below, Peter demonstrates how a single table-saw jig allows him to make multiple cuts through the use of pegged reference profiles.

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The images below show a similar technique employed for cutting tenons on a horizontal mortiser.

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Peter’s design features a curved backrest with two material options: laminated wood or leather. Below, the process of setting the curve and the creation of the lamination form.

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Gluing up the laminated back – a two-person job, made easier with the expert assistance of Fellow/instructor Yuri Kobayashi.

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The leather back was built with a somewhat experimental process: two layers of leather were sandwiched over thin sheet metal, with a vacuum bag providing clamping pressure in this two-step glue-up. The sheet metal layer provides rigidity while maintaining flexibility, and creates an attachment point for the fasteners that will not stretch out over time.

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The two chairs Peter built, during final assembly.

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The students of Maine Media Workshops often visit the CFC to document the high level of craft that is displayed in our workshops. Student Elizabeth Dywan worked directly with Peter to create this short video, which features an interview with him, as well as video footage of his build process.

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The final chair, in American ash and black walnut. The leather back, seen here, is interchangeable with the laminated back that is featured in the following photos. Congratulations, Peter on what you achieved during your time in our Fellowship Program!

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The above process images were taken by Peter Lutz, and studio images by Mark Juliana. Credit for the video “Peter Lutz Furniture Maker” Elizabeth Dywan and Maine Media Workshops. For more information on our Fellowship Program, visit the Opportunities section of our website. You can also view profiles of former Fellows.

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