Developing Designs for the House

Give me an empty space, a blank sheet of paper, a pencil and such and before a few minutes have passed lines seem to appear from nowhere. When I go into a home, an office a business I am ‘space aware’ and as we all know, ‘nature abhors a vacuum‘. Of course there is no such thing as true emptiness per se because life constantly expands in one form or another and each replacement consumes what existed there before its demise or diminishment.

Walking into the house now on a regular basis, emptiness confronts me. I stand in a doorway and stare into the space and wait for an idea to materialise. I’m anxious for the questionnaire answers to come in to see what pieces people feel would be essential for them in their living area. Visiting two homes recently it was obvious the residents did not have a coffee table when the host brought in a tray of coffees, teas and biscuits and had to bend to put the tray on the floor in the middle of the room. Magazines and books too lay on the floor next to armchairs because there was no other place for them. Was it minimalism or that they had not got to purchasing a coffee table yet? Perhaps…could it be minimalism? maybe too it could have been cost. These were unasked and unanswered questions that I had. Personally I like coffee tables. Then the question came to me ‘Should my coffee table design be a flatpack style?’ Many millennials moving house might do so in a taxi or even on a bus here in the UK. My mind is racing now. Am I building just for me or am I building for a world of people in search of establishing that something yet to be defined?

39 thoughts on “Developing Designs for the House”

  1. I am with you on the coffee table. They are very nice to have.

    They also collect all the things that flat spaces do. So they kind of appeal to my nature (collecting things).

  2. Without being completely “flat-pack” some piece of furniture can be of the “knock-down” variety.
    A wardrobe for instance used to be made of a base with a drawer, a top, two sides (frame and panel) fixed to the top and base by “bed-bolts”, one or two doors and a back. By adding ratchet boards (what is the correct term?) in each corner, shelves can be installed converting it to a seamstress or bookcase.
    Beds are generally of the knock-down variety.
    Now to make something more complicated than a side table, a living-room table with extensions might be an interesting project. And there are various ways to make variable length tables.
    I have a table (bought) which varies between 0.76 m when the two half-circle drop leaf at the ends are dropped to 2.40 m with the addition of 3 intermediate extension leaves. It works with sliding dovetail rails. There is an additional removable two feet frame to be placed in the middle to prevent sagging when fully extended.
    Although making sliding dovetail rails by hand would be a real challenge for the rest of us. (But one can buy them).
    There are the draw-leaf tables/Dutch pull-outs tables.
    Google: draw-leaf-tables-dutch-pull-outs .

    And of course there are different form of drop-leaf tables and unfolding card player tables

    All form of tables which can be smaller if not flat-pack, when moving.

  3. Those who move often are probably not quite ready for the permanence of a custom made piece of furniture optimised for a particular space. I spent a couple of decades doing that myself until life and career allowed me be picky about the places I’d live.

    Once I’d reached the point where I could make a space my own, for any longer duration of time, the order of priority was pretty clear to me as I sought to fill an empty home and start putting nice pieces in as time and budget allowed:

    Bed – A strong and silent frame, secure, a place to relax, rest and recuperate after the days work. To me, the single most important piece of furniture we rarely give much thought. With a solid bed frame, a mattress to suit budget, body and preference can be purchased, changed or upgraded as need be. But the bed is that familiar, comfortable, restful place. Top priority.

    Kitchen table – My families dining table, where meals are shared, laughter and joy, the serious talk and ‘real’ communication happens, where homework is done, games are played, art is created and where work can continue once others are safe in their own beds if needed. The dining table takes the burden of so much of the day to day in raising a family. Chairs can follow, but a great table that will age and bear witness to a family growing up and older together is a wonderful thing to have, own, to build.

    I’d start with these two. The rest will follow!

    1. Ronald R Kowalewski

      I’m sorry I didn’t reply to questionare.

      How about a beautiful couch?

    2. Wonderful Post! I really like the approach starting with what is a house for and working from there.

      For me the kitchen is the heart of most homes. and a table is the heart of the kitchen. Shelves are another important piece to surround the table with nice soft features of food, dishes and cookware.

      Someone above suggested a drop leaf table. I’d love to see Paul make the drop leaves

  4. I’m just getting started in doing serious woodworking projects, and coffee/end tables are on my short-list. For us, it’s been mainly a life stage thing—our youngest kid is 1.5yo, so having tables reachable by her isn’t ideal. Now that we’re done having kids, we’ll finally be moving out of this stage, so coffee tables and the like will be more useful.

  5. I find it hard to understand how this is going to work. I take it you won’t be posting videos of all the extensive renovations you mention in the video, and building an entire house of furniture one piece at a time and filming it is likely to take years. Are these the only projects you’ll be doing henceforth, or will you build things that won’t be filmed and only a select few will be featured as videos? Are all the videos going to be free or will they be part of the Masterclass series?

    Since you plan on living in the house, will you be living there while the renovations are done and the furniture projects are released?

    Thanks for any info on this.

    1. David,

      I find it hard to understand why you think paying for Masterclass membership and making CONSTANT reference to it somehow means it’s acceptable for you to be unendingly dismissive, negative and needlessly critical.

      Honestly, nobody cares. You’re not clever. Your input on how people actually do the things you’ve chosen to pay to consume has not been solicited here. Find something positive, helpful, motivated by joy/gratitude/selflessness to inspire your contributions, or do the rest of us who visit here for some inspiration a favour and just pipe down.

      Go chew on a piece of plywood.

    2. The changes to the overall structure of the house will be done by engineers and builders and will take place while I live in over the next two years or so. I like renovation work but this is not so much renovation but structural changes and alterations. The roof space is the footprint of the house as one large floor area so I think we will add dormers and make the additional space into living space. More builder work.

      I think designing and building the furniture together with other woodworking projects for a whole house and trying to include styles and types for diverse family needs makes it a five year project. The plan is to film each the pieces, walking through the design processes, decision making, things that will help people become their own family designers and makers. I will be moving into the house shortly so yes, prior to the building work.

      1. Thanks Paul. Five years is a long time. It will be interesting to see how your plans evolve during that time and what results from this project. I do hope you include projects that are geared toward those of more advanced skills as well as those for beginners. Over the last six or seven years you have trained hundreds, if not thousands of woodworkers who are now fairly competent hand-tool woodworkers and are eager to push the boundaries of the the skills you enabled them to acquire.

        It must be a challenge to decide what mix of skill levels a given project should demand of your very large audience.

        1. Re: the vids. It seems to me that the free vids make up an excellent course of work, progressing the student through various techniques and approaches and cover the essentials.
          Better yet they seem designed to build confidence. I started with the clock, it’s hanging in my shop. Every time I see it, I feel proud and see details where I need to improve. But the pride powers the confidence so I know that if I work I will improve. The books help too again leading students through ascending steps.
          There is also Common Woodworking, all free vids to focus on individual skills often outside of the distraction of a project that wants finishing.

          Thanks for the extremely well thought through training!!!

          1. That’s kind of where I am, finishing up the courses in Common Woodworking, building up my tool kit, and starting some of the woodworking masterclasses courses. I recently finished the serving tray(which reminds me I need to submit it). I would agree that the projects for the house shouldn’t be arbitrarily limited by skill level, and should reflect what he thinks should go there. But maybe he could say some pre-reqs, for example, before attempting this you should have xyz tools, and have completed x project from woodworking masterclass, or feel comfortable making xyz joints. etc.

  6. As far as I know, if you have money problems, here in Belgium, what the bailiff can not take are: beds, one table, chair(s?).
    What I would add to Paul G list is: simple sitting benches (no backrest) if no chairs.

  7. Peter Akhurst

    Hi Paul,

    I have just had a thought for a combination coffee table and side tables. We got rid of our coffee table for side tables, once we had kids as we found the size of our lounge was tight for space with it, however it is missed.

    Perhaps a combination of the two could be helpful for those who like us currently struggle for space for everything. The coffee table top could be stowed away behind or under the sofa while the side tables are used, the parts coming together when needed.

    Safe storage is must, so a drawer with some form of turnbutton to ‘lock’ would be great.

    I would also vote for a livingroom chair/sofa.

    Sorry, I have started designing furniture already.

    I look forward to what comes next.

    Kind regards

  8. I see a rectangular table made from mahogony that fits in the space in front of the windows. A style that matches the door in some way I think would be neat. For transportation purposes, maybe it could be designed to slide together. Each side would have the legs already attached.

  9. I focused on drop leaf end tables and hanging lamps with punched tin shades.

    The leaves stay down unless I’m having company in which case I need the horizontal space.

    The punched tin shades put dazzling patterns on the ceiling.

    Coffee table is a must, in my opinion.

  10. Jean-Luc Coulon

    The coffee table is very useful BUT if we don’t care, it gets rapidly cluttered with magazines, things we put there because we have no other place to put them. So we have to be very careful of its usage and it should be associated with storage to avoid that.


  11. We used to have a big coffee table but since getting a labrador a coffee table in the middle of the room at waggy tail height is a recipe for disaster (and also takes up quite a lot of floor space). We now use a nest of 3 side tables (G-plan, I think from the 1970s, passed down from my grandmother – not particularly attractive but they do the job) and get them out as and when we need them.

  12. May I suggest you take a survey of critical dimensions people have in their homes and apartments that might guide your design choices?

    One reason I didn’t build your big dining room table was that it would have been difficult to get through doors in my house, maybe even impossible. My entry is only 33″, passage to the dining room is only 30″, and there are some turns to make. Knock-down doesn’t need to mean cheap nor does it need to mean instantly portable, so I hope you’ll consider limits many may have in moving furniture around the house as part of your design. Not every piece needs to be constrain; maybe none of them, but discussing this aspect of design over the course would be educational, especially for dining tables and big case work.

    You have a hard decision to make: Do you choose one unifying style to use throughout a room or even the house, or do you mix various styles? I hope you choose a mixture of styles, maybe even some that might not be your favorite, just for the selfish reason that we’ll learn more! (You can always sell the pieces you don’t like… 🙂

    1. Some like classical, some like more modern. Why not examples of different styles for different rooms?

      1. Another option is maybe towards the end, to have “changing” style room. Perhaps a 2nd bedroom that gets built out in one style, then once complete change to a new style, rinse repeat.

  13. Well, its funny to me that you mention coffee table, because the first table I actually made, I made somewhat out of necessity. You see, we purchased a new sofa, one of those sectionals that has a chaise lounge on one end, and the other side makes an “L” shape to a shorter sofa. So when we were looking at coffee tables to buy, we realized that it seems like 99% of the coffee tables in furniture shops are a somewhat standard sized rectangle. Yet these new sectional sofas only have a square shape in between the chaise and the other side. I found some round table that would fit in the space, but round shape would nearly touch 3parts of the sofa, but be too far for someone sitting near the corners. So I opted for making a square coffee table sized to fit well into the square but leaving enough room for people to pass without whacking their shins.

    I still aim to fill out the survey though

  14. Hey Paul,

    While on the topic of the title of this blog, do you think you could spend more time giving us tips on how to start sketching projects? My prototype drawings are crude 2d drawings with measurements, but my wife can never visualize what I have in my head, since my drawing of it is so bad. I know you went into this a bit on a recent vlog, but would be nice to get more insight on how to start and improve. Bob Ross isn’t on TV anymore, but you have the similar calm demeanor and soothing voice which helps us learn. Perhaps for the first projects, how to design and sketch a bit, then get to building it.

  15. I’d love to see an EXTENDABLE dining table, ie one that normally seats 4 or 6, but can be extended to seat 10 or 12 for Christmas or such times.


  16. A kitchen island?
    Have you seen Greg Merritt one?
    Google “Hillbilly Daiku honey do kitchen island” 😉
    Recycled, practical and well finished.

      1. Fantastic. That changes my view of the project a bit. Initially I thought it was a project, but knowing it is personal will make is a much more enjoyable journey to share.

        I bought an older brick home here in the US two years ago and have starting building furniture for each room. I have finished the master bedroom furniture and am moving on to the Den. It is a small two bedroom place, perfectly sized for me. My shop is in the basement (common in the US to have a full “second” floor as a basement). Everything needs to be done. I have finished the electric and plumbing and am on a furniture building break as I use the good weather to work on the deck I am adding to the back.

        The doors in your home would make an amazing kitchen and it looks like there is enough wood there.

        Good luck with your project.

  17. Dan DeGennaro

    An old friend bought land near the Pacific Ocean in Northern California. The first thing he built was a two story garage/workshop. He and his wife lived upstairs while he built a beautiful home nearby, selling off the trees he cut to make room for his home in the forest. He stored all his tools and materials in the large garage while building his home.
    I too have built most of the cabinets, and almost all of the furniture im my own small home. With no more room for furniture, I build projects for friends and family, and more than a few high quality wooden toys to sell or give away. I also make picture frames for the many photographs I and my friends make. Photography is as much fun as woodworking.

  18. Definitely a coffee table in the living room; next to my favorite chair. It’s where I keep my latest woodworking journal to read, the latest novel, my crossword puzzle book, and space for my afternoon coffee or tea! Indespensible!

  19. A critical point is that everything must be able to fit in a modern new build. The rooms and doorways are small and access is tight.

    1. Nit really, Dave. All of the doorways are standard sizes for UK and USA. The rooms are generally smaller than say US homes, that goes without saying, as most US homes are bigger than in the rest of the world.

  20. I’m very glad you mentioned “stand alones” in your intro video. We have removed most of the built-in cupboards in our old farm house and hope to replace them with shaker style free standing cupboards. In the US anyway, cup boards tend to be too high, or too low, or too deep to be really useful. And they are all difficult to keep clean. Free standing everything in the kitchen will be very welcome.

  21. My favourite Fantasy Site is the Leggett –French houses for sale. .Now, if you want to fill up the rooms this is not for you . I want to see large rooms , high ceilings , a few hectares of “garden” . Maybe a “play vineyard ” .Not so keen on vast swimming pools as they might become a health hazard . Heating with log stoves is popular and with your own forest why not ? Spare oak beamed warehouse sized sheds for any woodwork ? Step this way Monsieur . How about a castle down near Lourdes where the Cathars hung out in the 12 th century . A good chance to improve your carving skills . Mind those granite spiral staircases though .
    Paul Sellers tackles a Monster Hay Barn reaching so high even sunlight cannot reach the roof . Forget your medieval cathedrals . I would love that combination .
    Sorry . Getting carried away there .

  22. Or a few birdhouses for in the garden. Provides pleasure building and endless pleasure watching. Mine were built out of plywood, screwed-and-glued, then painted and with homemade stainless steel hardware, but I’m sure you could come up with a pretty nifty design. I know a birdhouse is the ubiquitous beginner’s project (along with a tool tote), but I’m sure a Paul Sellers birdhouse would find many builders. Ideal project to do with the (grand) children as well.

    I’ve retrofitted mine with an USB webcam and some IR LEDs, but haven’t hooked up the USB cable to the PC yet, don’t want to disturb them. It appears the Great Tits in mine have hatched today and the parent-birds are constantly bringing insects. Can spend hours watching them.

    (and amazing how they manage to fly through that tiny hole at full flying speed, yet seem to be able to come to a full stop without hitting the rear wall that’s only 10 cm behind the hole….).

  23. That is a good idea. I can see the necessity for practical furniture, but I would love to build some furniture in the old way, like baroque commodes, tables, wardrobes with a beautiful veneer finish. Something, that will last for longer terms, because of its beauty.

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