was leading a workshop on SketchUp at the Alabama Woodworkers Guild and talking about a model I created from a photo. One of the guys spoke up and said, “You did that just from a photo?” This lead to a few questions about how to actually design in SketchUp with minimal initial information. Recently, I received a request from a woodworker to design a dining room sideboard, again with only a little information and I thought I’d document my process.
This design started as a conversation over dinner. I met with a woodworker from Huntsville, Alabama and he surprised me with a request to design a sideboard. He had seen a design I had developed and posted at my Instagram account. Then, there was a photo he and his wife liked. The two images…
Matt’s Shaker Sideboard was what they liked the most, but they liked the middle drawer arrangement of my Telluride Dresser design possibly flanked by a door on each side. Right away, I began putting together a design which had short legs and a broad curve along the front base. At the same time, I began searching for some ideas online. I first wanted to see what came up in a Google image search for sideboards mainly to see what had already been created (so I could do something different). And I looked at an article from Fine Woodworking which is basically a guide on how to combine colors from various woods in a pleasing way. I also had the basic dimensions of what size the sideboard needed to be. With some ideas floating around in my head, I fired up SketchUp.
I did take time to confirm a few ideas with the client especially the height of the sideboard. When starting a design I’ll look at furniture store websites to see what appears to be standard sizes for furniture. For sideboards, the height can vary a lot; like 34-36″ or sometimes much taller approaching 50″ tall. The client chose 36″ tall but gave me some design flexibility.
With the basic shape worked out, I always develop a box to give me the maximum dimensions (shown above). I could then begin working out the leg size (not too bulky, but not too skinny). I also immediately wanted to add a contrasting wood as an accent. This is what I quickly came up with…
As I design, I’ll have a ruler and tape measure with me and I’ll look at potential dimensions in real life to see what looks good. The legs ended up being 2-1/8″ square and have an accent just above the point where the taper begins. The side panel layout is similar to one I used on a bench style bookcase I made for my daughter. I added the same accent wood to the side panels, which meant I would also need to add the accent to the panelled doors. I normally use graduated drawers in my designs, but since this sideboard needed to have a Shaker feel, I went with three drawers of the same size. The door and drawer knobs are shaker, but they are colored the same as the accent wood.
In an effort to make the visual easy to pull off, I used the standard SketchUp cherry material. At present, none of the interior structure has been drawn.
Changes and the Final Design
fter I presented images of this design to the client, I thought to ask: “What wood will you be using?” The reply: “Walnut and poplar.” This would have been a good question early on because being the perfectionist that I am, I had to apply a walnut material to all the components covering up the cherry. The clients were loving this design, but I still needed to work out the interior parts like drawer structure and the cabinet space and shelf location behind the drawers.
Usually, I’ll draw a design full size, but I didn’t do the full size illustration with this sideboard because I now had set overall dimensions with the client. After I got the design worked out (with all the interior structure drawn), I decided the front lower rail was too thick, so I raised the arch slightly, and in a major change I made the tapered legs longer and moved the lower rail up one inch. The sideboard looked too much like this; a lot of mass, but with short legs. This change gave the sideboard a much-needed lift, but just about every component had to be modified in some way. A royal pain in the *@#$. And, this new size meant that the available space for the stack of drawers did not divide easily by three. The resulting drawer height would end in some odd and tiny fraction. So, I had to then raise the height of the sideboard slightly to accommodate the drawer shape. Another slight change: I added a subtle curve to the ends of the table top (pulled this idea from my Modern Kitchen Cabinet).
All of this together adds up to a modern take on Shaker furniture, and I see just a little Stickley in the design. In the end, I think the design is good and the clients were very happy with the result which looks like this…
Once you have a basic structure to work from, designing furniture in SketchUp provides a way to accurately visualize what the project will ultimately look like. Joinery options can be discussed as well as fully detailed in the model. And the image output from SketchUp allows for easy documentation to share in a presentation.
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