Versatile Furniture

By Carlos Noguera, December 7, 2009

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Furniture Design

Subject Area

  • Arts

Lesson Time

360 minutes for classroom activities and 120 minutes for homework


For this lesson, students will be asked to design simple pieces of furniture that have at least more than one use. For example, a chair that can be put sideways on the floor and be used as a bookshelf or a small table.

National Standards

Visual Arts
Standard 2.  Using knowledge of structures and functions. Standard 3.  Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas. Standard 5.  Reflecting upon and assessing the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others.

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening: 

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will:

  • think about alternative uses or possibilities to alter “mundane” furniture
  • think about how anything that is placed inside a room takes up space and could be used for something else



  • sketch-pad
  • colored pencils
  • cardboard
  • box cutters
  • tape


  • convertible furniture: furniture with more than one fuction
  • ergonomics: an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely — called also biotechnology, human engineering, human factors; the design characteristics of an object resulting especially from the application of the science of ergonomics
  • versatile: changing or fluctuating readily; variable; embracing a variety of subjects, fields, or skills; turning with ease from one thing to another


Lesson Outline:
  • Define the Problem: Create a piece of furniture that has more than one function.
  • Research the Problem: Examine the subject: break it down, classify it.
  • Develop Possible Solutions: Think, fantasize, produce ideas. Generate options towards a creative solution. Relate, rearrange, reconstruct.
  • Choose the Best Solution: Choose your best option.
  • Implement: Put your ideas into action. Realize it. Transform imagination and fantasy into tangible forms.
  • Test and Evaluate: Judge the result. Think about new options and possibilities that have emerged. Revisit your process.
  • Communicate
  • Redesign


Day 1: Consider the Design Challenge

1.Define the Problem (30 minutes): Review the design brief by having students look at examples of convertible furniture and the Ellen Lupton presentation about the design process.

2.Research the Problem (30 minutes): The design problem is: too many things too little space; reconcile.  Ask the students, “How can we combine or re-adapt the furniture so that we can maximize the use of a small space.”  Give students time to think and brainstorm and discuss.

Day 2: Model-making

1.Develop Possible Solutions (30 minutes): Students should start drawing! Tell them to think about combining pieces of furniture that they already know (chairs, tables, shelves, couches, beds, etc.) and to see if they can come up with anything new.

2. Tell students to consider how their piece of furniture opens, closes, re-adapts.  Students should draw the various stages of transformation.

3. Each student should choose his or her Best Solution to concentrate on the following day.

Day 3: Final Model

1. Students should create a final cardboard model.  Tell students, “Keep in mind that cardboard when used with the ridges perpendicular to the ground will have the most strength. If your model will not be to scale, then create several small models showing the steps of the transformation.”

2. Test and Evaluate (during the group/ class critique). Students should ask another student to sit in or otherwise use your structure. Students should give each other feedback.  Student designers should keep mental track of comfort, functionality, stability, and other ergonomic characteristics.

Day 4: Assess

1. Communicate: In their sketchbooks, students should record/answer the following:

  • Compare your piece to others in the class.
  • Constructively criticize your design or those in the class.
  • Identify strong points of your design.

2. Each student (or group, if you have broken the class down this way) will present their projects and explain their thought process for creating their structures.

3. The moment of truth: have them try it out!

4. Group critique:

  • What worked for you?
  • What can you improve next time?
  • What was the most challenging aspect of this project?
  • How did you overcome these difficulties?


5. Redesign: In their sketchbooks, students should draw a sketch of an improved design.  They should consider what they would do differently next time.  Students should be able to support their design changes or lack of changes with examples from their class experience.


Does the structure show evidence of the “eight design steps”?

Did the student create a solid concept piece of furniture that adapts into something else?

What evidence can the student show about generating options towards a creative solution?

Did the student’s project meet the following criteria:

  • Can the structure serve more than one function?
  • Is it practical?
  • Is the structure able to function?
  • Does the structure combine at least more than one traditional piece of furniture?
  1. I really like the dual purpose design aspect of this project. Many times in theatre productions, one thing has to double or be slightly changed to be another thing, or be turned another way to be another thing. I think this project would be great for my tech I design class. I can see using this to solve design problems for a production with cardboard prototypes, then building them with wood.
    Cheryl Hanson, San Antonio

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