Standards have been developed for furniture over time, largely based on human ergonomics and safety considerations. For example, the height of a kitchen table and accompanying chairs should be such that most adults can comfortably sit at the table. Some standards are also based on furniture style, efficient use of common material sizes – such as 4′ x 8′ sheets of plywood, and structural constraints (don’t want book shelves too wide or they’ll sag). But, in many cases, human usability is the overriding factor in determining standard furniture dimensions.
Most standards used by commercial furniture designers are based on average-sized people. That is, they try to accomodate 90% of the population (“common wisdom” has it that tall and short people are used to adapting to under-sized/over-sized furniture…wonder if anybody ever asked them?) In the United States, furniture for women is built for the majority whose heights range from 5’2″ to 5’8″; for men, the majority range is 5’8″ to 6’2″; for unisex (men and women combined), the average used is 5’8″. For children’s furniture, design standards are also available for different age categories (see references below).
Specific Furniture Design Standards
The following pages list standard furniture dimensions and design guidelines for many common types of furniture. Keep in mind that these “standards” are starting points – if you’re building custom furniture, design it to suit the target user.
The American Institute of Architects produces the “Architectural Standards” manual which should be available for perusal in your local library. This manual contains an astounding amount of information related to human ergonomics and standards for most any type of furniture conceivable. It’s full of great diagrams and pictures too. This is what the pros consult when they build furniture.
The Woodworker’s Guide to Furniture Design: The Complete Reference for Building Furniture the Right Size, the Right Proportion and the Right Style. (Garth Graves). This book provides lots of good material on design standards including a “table of theoretical heights” to facilitate designing furniture for a target population.