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Stealth Whimsy Furniture Design Process: 1/4


Stealth Whimsy Side Table: Design Process

A consolidated collection of posts on the design process of the Stealth Whimsy Side Table, a one-off piece of conceptual furniture that switches between “rest” and “play” at the whim of the user. The table thereby draws attention to itself, taking a firm stance in support of a Side Table Revolution.

February 9, 2010

Remix IKEA: Reloaded & Reinterpreted

This quarter of my Master of Architecture program, I decided to explore a different realm of design and signed up for the furniture studio, rather than yet another architecture one. The term's assignment: select a piece of IKEA furniture (past or present) and use it as a place from which to leap into the design of a remixed, reloaded, and reinterpreted furniture piece, which we will then build ourselves, from scratch. These will not be your average, “nice-looking” pieces of handcrafted furniture, but instead pieces that have a greater design objective than just function and aesthetics: they will reside in the storied realm of conceptual furniture.

Below, for your reading convenience, I've consolidated what was once quite a pile of stream-of-thought furniture design process blog posts about the Stealth Whimsy Side Table into just one post, sorted within by the date of the original blog entries. Enjoy!

January 15, 2010

Picking the IKEA “Leap Piece”

Luckily (or unluckily, depending on your perspective), the library hooked us up with IKEA catalogs going back 50 years! Awesome: yes. Reason to not sleep all night: also, yes. But, saving a trek to IKEA: worth it. Anyway, finally, I have selected an IKEA piece to remix: the KVICKSUND side table and/or its partner, the KVICKSUND coffee table. The KVICKSUND line appears to be discontinued, but I found them most recently in a catalog from 1999.

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: Ikea KVICKSUND Tables from 1999 Catalog

Now discontinued, the KVICKSUND line is pictured here in the 1999 IKEA Catalog.

The catalog explains that the IKEA exclusive can “store magazines, photographs, or other interesting things below the frosted glass top.” The coffee table measures in at 48 x 100 cm, and the side table at 40 x 40 cm. Made of birch plywood and tempered glass they come in a flat-pack and require assembly. In 1999, the coffee table sold for $59, and the side table for $14.95. As of yet, I haven't found any up for resale, so the photo alone will just have to do.

Normal... Bam!

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: Concept Sketch - Normal to Bam!
Initial Concept Sketch

Just sitting here normally, until... BAM!

By tomorrow, I need to have 50 sketches to show for myself. (50!) In this sketch marathon, some ideas have been good, others, of course, terrible. All of the sketches are very quickly executed. No fine art here. Nope. For now, this “Normal to Bam!” sketch intrigues me most. Your money’s as good as mine, though, as far as where this baby ends up.

From Table Legs to Tabletop

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: Sketch of Flat Leg Question
The Flat Leg Question

Before doing, figure out why. What are the pros and cons of this move?

This is the KVICKSUND leg. It’s constructed of plywood, cut with a curve on one side, but straight on the other. I started thinking about these legs, and what implications they might have. This led to a few thoughts and sketches about the stacking and layering of plywood pieces. What if I took these legs, stacked them laterally, and the flat side became the tabletop surface? The underside of the tabletop would be then be curved, and that might be interesting. (But when would you see it?) Alright, what if you could pick up the tabletop separately from the frame and legs and flip it over? (Hmm... There might be something good there...) Generally, I was still a little underwhelmed about this, but then I wondered: What if they spin?

Table + User - Function = Art

With the idea of the spinning tabletop surface, I’ve finally found an concept I am excited about! The KVICKSUND has a functional tabletop surface, and a functional storage space underneath: a case of 2-in-1 function. The table design idea evolving in my mind still has the tabletop function (sometimes), but it also is changeable, interactive, and sculptural.

Materiality & Play

Initially, I was thinking only of plywood for the table material, but the surface doesn’t need to be uniform. My thoughts have now wandered from introducing visual variety through different colored stripes, to using entirely different materials for different pieces, which could also introduce tactile variety. Perhaps some pieces are plywood, and some are acrylic? Furthermore, perhaps they can be taken apart and rearranged? That would allow users to interact with and personalize the piece, at their whim, which would endear users to it in a more meaningful way.

January 17, 2010

The Concept

In the dark of night, all of this finally consolidated into a conceptual design concept that I am both excited by and tickled by, which seems like a nice way to go. Right? So, think about it: I've been working on a design concept for a table, but not just a regular table, a side table. I got to thinking: that would be kind of lame if you were always just a side table. (Now I feel bad for side tables...) Do I really want to build a project that is just some small thing that gets tucked away? Maybe I should do a coffee table instead? Those get to be in front of the couch, at least.

I started giggling at the idea that personified side tables would feel slighted all the time.

And, that was it! I started giggling at the idea that personified side tables would feel slighted all the time, and that eventually, enough resentment would build that they would team up to fight for their right to be seen and taken seriously. And, what's a revolution without a manifesto? Just like that, the Side Table Manifesto was born.

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: Concept Sketch of the Side Table Manifesto
A Manifesto that Leads to Revolution

What if anthropomorphized side tables really felt marginalized? Would they team up and fight for recognition?

A Side Table Manifesto

Play, interact, move!

Don’t be held back by your name and exist politely and unnoticed on the fringes: a generic accessory to a sofa!

No longer be a static object that dwells in the background, marginalized by ”more important” furniture!

Leave the sidelines; throw caution to the wind; be the center of attention!

January 19, 2010

The KVIVKSUND, Modeled

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: 3D Model of Ikea KVICKSUND Side Table
Reincarnated By SketchUp

When you can’t find the original, make a new one.

The KVICKSUND table is discontinued, and I haven't been able get my hands on a used one. I have only the fuzzy picture that I photocopied from the old IKEA catalog, and the basic dimensions of the table. So, I built a 3D model as best I could, and it will be the starting point for the remix. At least from this, you can see a little more clearly what this table really is like: the flat birch plywood legs, and the frosted glass top with the storage cubby underneath it. And, so, from here, it begins.

A Rough Design Scheme, Modeled

On the left, you see a seemingly innocent side table. Then, on the right, release the latch, and each piece making up the surface spins freely: not an innocent side table. Next up: learn my way around the woodshop, and build a prototype at quarter-scale.

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: 3D Model of Rough Initial Scheme, at Rest, and at Play
A Rough Initial Scheme: At Rest & At Play

Think of it as a digital incarnation of the “Normal to BAM” process sketch: at one moment the table appears innocuous, in the next it’s gone a bit crazy.

January 28, 2010

Physical Prototype!

So after a few days of my-first-ever-woodshopping, I managed to build physical prototypes of my three schemes at quarter-scale! (Three schemes? Yes, only one of these schemes, as you may have noticed, is documented in these posts. I've edited out the other schemes for continuity and clarity.)

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: 1/4
1/4” Scale Prototype: At Rest

Prior to a Side Table Revolution, the table sits innocently.

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: 1/4
1/4” Scale Prototype: At Play

After the Side Table Revolution, the table is the center of attention.

Anyway, it turns out, except for when you mess things up, working in the woodshop a pretty zen activity! Ninety-seven pieces (for all three schemes combined) cut, sanded, put together, and voilà: mini tables!

February 1, 2010

And, the Winner Is...

Post presentation, post critiques, and post decompression/rehashing of the critiques, the choice is made: of the three schemes I presented, for this path through the woods, it's this one, dubbed The Stealth Art, that wins. But, there are all sorts of issues to work out! The technicalities alone are tricky enough: how exactly do you lock and release the spinning pieces?

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: 1/4
1/4” Scale Prototype at Play: Detail

The sinuous underside of the spinning pieces form an undulating curve when spun.

Other critique discussion concerned the overall aesthetics of the piece, and its functional nature, or lack thereof. Perhaps the strongest argument was concerning aesthetic geometries: that the spinning top has a linear direction, where as the base is concentric in nature, and that, therefore, they just don’t work with each other.

I sketched out a diagonal version, but it doesn’t seem to solve the problem either, and on top of that, aesthetically, I’m just not into the “diagonal-ness” of it. (I know, that one line will come in handy somewhere, someday. I'm just waiting for the right time: “Oh, hey, you know, I appreciate the effort, but... I'm just not that into the diagonal-ness of it, ya know?”) Some sort of thing rising out of the center of the tabletop might shift it towards the concentric, but I find it too much so: I need to find a little more of an asymmetric balance.

I am working on a concept that has four separate axes about which pieces in the four sections spin. These four would reference the concentric or centered nature of the frame, yet be asymmetrical in their total arrangement. The other benefit of this idea, is that it satisfies some of the critiques about the functional aspects of the piece. By having separate areas that spin, the user can choose to unlatch all of the sections, or only some of them. This way, there can be whimsy in one corner of the table, but still be function in another. I am going to have to model this idea to work out the details, so, stay tuned!

February 2, 2010

A New Table Top

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: 3D Model of New Table Top
Design Enhancement

This new design features four, concentrically arranged, independent spinning sections.

And, here it is! This new table top arrangement is asymmetrically balanced, but references the concentric nature of the frame. At rest, the table emphasizes the layered, planar quality of the sheet goods from which it is constructed. When built, the visual impact will be a lot less “stripe-y” than it appears in this picture, as the edges of each piece will not be outlined, but will fade around the corners. Each of the four sections will have the capability to unlock independently, so that while some sections may be whimsically “at play,” others may still be in use as flat table surfaces. Finally, the blank central square is a moment of rest: the void. It is designed to fit a standard-sized tile, and, thus, it can be exchanged on a whim, introducing an additional opportunity for play and customization by the user.

New Legs

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: 3D Model with Cut Back Legs
Coming Into Its Own

This design change removes the curve leftover from the KVICKSUND legs, and switches to an angular version more in tune with the new direction of the table.

The legs of the table have also been revised at this point. Rather than the curving arcs of the original KVICKSUND tables, these legs adopt the same general shape, but are cut orthogonally. By removing the curved lines from the legs, all curves in the table are reserved for the hidden underside of the table surface, making them more novel. At the corners, the two pieces that compose each leg will come together with finger jointing. The interlocking “fingers” create a detail that reintroduces the layering of the table surface as a visual echo in the frame below.

February 6, 2010

An Important Final Addition

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: 3D Model: Locking Mechanisms
Locking Mechanisms

Without the ability for the surface pieces to be locked in place, the table could never function in the traditional sense. Here, the small knobs on the sides are on the ends of steel rods that pass through all the spinning pieces in each section, preventing them from moving until the lock is released.

While the design in this image might not initially appear to differ greatly from the previous ones, there is a key refinement: the locking mechanisms. The knobs on the aprons of the table are on the end of steel rods that pass through all of the spinning pieces, and back into the frame on the other side. When in place, the spinning elements will remain locked in their horizontal, “tabletop” function. When removed, the “keys” are inserted into notches in the corners of the legs, where they hang vertically while the table is in action.

Graphic Analysis in Plan and Section

This is a design analysis method that Jim Givens teaches for examining a building during the design process. In the case of a building, Functional Poché shades all areas that are considered to be support spaces, rather than essential rooms. This may mean storage areas, bathrooms, and other rooms that are secondary to the main spaces. Regulating Lines trace over the plan organization, and are often linked initially to the primary structure of a building, but then become more articulated as spaces are shaped within. Lastly, Spatial Grain maps out the grain of spaces that results from that articulation.

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: Graphic Analysis in Plan and Section
Functional Poché, Regulating Lines & Spatial Grain

Good design practices function at all scales. These three analysis tools were originally developed for analyzing the design of buildings, but they are just as informative for furniture design.

Here, I have adapted this process to aid in the design of my furniture piece. When applied, these three analyses will highlight good design choices, and reveal areas where further refinement is needed.

February 9, 2010

The Design to Build: At Rest / In Action

Here is (just one) scenario of the table switching between stealth and play. Since each of the four sections of the table can be unlocked individually, the user can choose to release only one (or two, or all), while still using other sections of the table as a surface. And, of course, there is also an element of play in how the individual pieces are arranged when “in action.”

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: 3D Model: Table at Rest
Table At Rest

Prior to a Side Table Revolution, the table looks interesting, but doesn’t reveal itself as more than a typical side table.

Stealth Whimsy Design Process: 3D Model: Table in Action
Table In Action

After the Side Table Revolution, the table reveals itself to be so much more than a side table to be overlooked next to the couch.

So that's the plan, the design to build! From here on out, it's all about working in the woodshop and bringing the Stealth Whimsy from idea to reality.

Well, that's a wrap on the design process posts for the Stealth Whimsy Side Table, but aren't you curious about where it all goes next? Well, don't fret, I've also consolidated the pile of blog posts from the construction process into one post:
Stealth Whimsy Side Table: The Build.
Or, if you'd rather skip ahead and read the end of the book first, you can head straight over to the portfolio.

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