Pretty: An Unknown Quantity

In designing furniture — and I daresay anything else — one must first have some acquaintance with mechanical work. Without this it is Impossible to decide how the material — in this case principally wood— can be used to the best advantage, without cumbersomeness on the one hand or fragility on the other. After this, convenience must be studied. Is the design suitable for its intended purpose? To take an extreme case for the sake of illustration, in designing a chair for ordinary use would anyone raise the seat three or four feet from the ground? To do so, of course, would be absurd, for such a height would, except for special purposes, not be pleasant. One could not sit at an ordinary table in such a chair nor put it to the intended use of a chair. Fashion, further, has much to do with design, for it
must not be forgotten that those who cater for the public must do so according to popular demand. If one asks who creates fashion, what can the answer be? It is a species of evolution, but in its origin is so intangible that it cannot be grasped. It is like the fog — very undefined, but with a very unmistakable reality. Is, then, the fashion in furniture not influenced by the designer or the manufacturer? To a great extent it is, but he does little more than apply his skill in such a direction as may, in his opinion, best supply the demand. For the rest the designer must rely on his own resources and his general ideas of what constitutes a beautiful object. At the present time fashion seems to require that everything must be cheap as well as pretty, the latter being an unknown quantity.

D. Adamson, A Chat About Furniture, Work: The Illustrated Weekly Journal for Mechanics Voi. 1 No. 1. March 23, 1889