New Craftsmen celebrating the art of swilling

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While working in Manchester, Lorna Singleton  yearned to return home to South Cumbria to do something practical, creative and to spend more time outdoors. WWoof-ing’ confirmed her desire to reconnect with the landscape of her childhood.  ‘WWOOF’ stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, and while on the farm, Lorna was introduced to greenwood crafts.  Today she is one of only a handful of remaining swillers in the country.

Lorna began an apprenticeship with the Bill Hogarth (MBE) Memorial Apprenticeship Trust for three years of intensive tuition in coppicing and greenwood crafts.  Bill Hogarth started working with wood in mid-1940s, aged 14, dressing and tying hazel for ships fenders.  As traditional markets for coppiced hazel dried up, Hogarth was the last coppice merchant in the Lake District by the 1980s.  He dedicated himself to sharing his skills, stories and knowledge of woodland management.  In 2000, a trust was set up to continue sharing knowledge of traditional coppice woodland management.

Coppicing, a traditional form of woodland management, is the practice of cutting young tree stems close to ground level.  New shoots emerge, and, after a few years the coppiced tree, or stool, is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again.  Opening the canopy and increasing light to the woodland floor allows plants to thrive, and as sections of woodland, or coups, are coppiced in rotation the practice creates a variety of habitats.

Lorna’s passion for weaving oak swills, traditional baskets unique to the Lakeland grew.  Willow, a more familiar basket material does not thrive in the bracing climate and rugged terrain of Cumbria, so the population had to work with the materials they had to hand, oak.  The oak is hand-coppiced when it is about twenty-five years, much later than other woods are coppiced, but early in the life of oak.

ls_4Lorna cleaves, or splits, the green wood, along its grain into strips.  The strips, or spells, are boiled overnight and soaked in water until they becomes supple (see right).  Splitting the wood along its grain, keepls_5s the fibres together retaining the strength of the tree.  Pieces of hazel are steamed over the boiling oak, and bent into the frame of the basket. Once softened, the cleft wood is riven into even thinner strips, around 2-3mm, before it is hand-woven into baskets. A single swill basket takes about a day to weave.  The strong, hard-wearing swill baskets were often used to collect potatoes and other crops, but their uses are not limited to the garden, making fine washing baskets, storage for root vegetables and carrots in a larder, logs, newspapers, or toys.
Through working with the coppiced wood, Lorna has become intimately familiar the material’s properties and limitations.  She describes how, in time, the craft becomes a familiar, almost meditative, ritual, with the tools feeling an extension of the hand, and the craftsman’s body moving unconsciously to make and mold the material.2014-09-17 17.41.02
I caught up with Lorna during the London Design Festival where she was maker-in-residence at the New Craftsmen gallery, surrounded by new pieces from a collaboration with Sebastian Cox.  The two met at a National Coppicing Federation workshop.  Sebastian’s experience of re-interpreting traditional crafts and products, and with a contemporary twist provided invaluable insights for Lorna as she grows her retail offering.  In turn, Lorna introduced Sebastian to the practice of swilling, and a collaboration was born.
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The resulting ‘Swill’ ceiling lights, made of oak swill skilfully woven into cylinders cast a cross-hatch light when illuminated.  The lights can be clustered into groups of three, five or seven, priced from £195 for the trio (9cm (w) x 9cm (d) x 12cm (h)).
The ‘Swill’ bench and stools pair silver grey swilled oak spells with a glue-less ash frame on fine, tapered legs for an elegant, strong seat.  The bench, £595, and the stool, £355 are both available from the New Craftsmen (pictured above in situ).  The seat of each bench or stool has a unique pattern reflecting the texture, colour and width of the individual spells.
swill-shelves-sebastian-cox-the-new-craftsmen-003-418x646The ‘Swill Hanging Shelves’ also combine ash and oak swill in a harmonious pair  (priced from £75 for a small shelf, 10cm (w) x 30cm (d) x 2cm (h)).  Lengths of swill are spilt, wrapped through an ash shelf and pinned with copper rivets. The shelves are exceptionally lightweight and strong and can be hung in tessellation or alone.  The shelves do equire a slight DIY intervention, as you have to soak the swill coil in water for 15 minutes, then hang the shelf on the rail with some books to weigh it down, to ensure the swill dries straight.  What better introduction to this timeless craft.
Image credits: New Craftsmen Gallery where not my own.

 

 

Tent London 2014 favourites

logoA pitstop at Nude Espresso on Hanbury Street set me buzzing for my favourite London Design Festival destination, Tent London.  The more established SuperBrands and international zones on the ground floor soon merge into the fresh, fun and less formal stands typically from younger or emerging designers.hyde  My first rendez vous was not with an exhibitor, but with potter and designer Isatu Hyde. I bought some of her medium-sized stoneware bowls, inspired by those from a monastery in Harrogate, at the New Designers show earlier in the year.  The bowls are in demand, so much so that Isatu asked to borrow mine for Design-Nation Presents at the Southbank Centre Terrace Shop.  Tickets are still available for the Meet the Maker evening on Tuesday 7th October, but you can see the work on show until 31st October. Unburdened, I was free to roam.  The understated elegance of Mater immediately caught my eye.  Founded in 2006, Mater (Latin for mother) is a high-end Danish furniture and lighting brand with a philosophy based on design, craftsmanship and ethicsTD1.  Contemporary design is combined with support for local craftsmen, their traditions and careful material selection.  A member of the UN Global Compact, and supporter of local sustainable business projects, Mater strive to minimize negative impacts, creating durable and desirable products that they home their customers will cherish. Pictured are the Luiz pendant lamp, made from natural FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) cork, suspended above the Bowl Table.  The table top is made mango wood, felled once the tree has reached the end of its productive life, and another planted.  The top is hand-turned on a lathe by craftsmen from the Kharadi community.  The top is finished with a lead-free, water-based polyurethane lacquer.  The hollow steel legs can be removed for more efficient packing and transport.  Mater products are stocked by Skandium in the UK. td3Exploring the story of the object, Second Sitters upholstery installation workshop was a chance to appreciate the skills, techniques and materials of upholstery up close, and hands-on as you could delve into boxes of horsehair, hessian and more.  Furniture Magpies revive furniture in a different way.td2  Literally deconstructing unloved pieces and reconfiguring them to more contemporary tastes while retaining their character and story.  The coffee table made of cross-sections of banister spindles was particularly striking. Upstairs were two of my favourite makers, both launching new collections. Galvin Brothers were presenting their new Cross Lap collection.  A clean and contemporary collection of tables, benches, consoles and stools in native steamed beech and American black walnut, and finished in water-based lacquers.tl5  Described as “modern rustic”, and in colours close to Carefully Curated’s own palette, how could I not be a fan?  Here is Matthew Galvin, just completing a piece to camera for Casafina’s round up of Tent London, which also features, Sebastian Cox. London Design Festival was a busy week for Sebastian Cox with the Wish List (and workshop) at the V&A, scorching and swilling pieces for the New Craftsmen, on Radio 4 with Sir Terence Conran, and the nominations for the Wood Awards, and Elle Decoration’s Best British Sustainable Designtl6 In the midst of this exciting flurry, Cox’s stand had an air of calm, matching the quiet serenity of the newly launched Underwood Collection, all made from hand-coppiced Kentish hazel and well-managed British ash.  The collection is called ‘Underwood’ as the pieces use coppiced hazel ‘in the round’, that is usually considered waste. In the foreground are pictured the ‘Hewn’ tea table (£195), bench (£300), and trestle (£170 each).  The Mop stick ladder (£210), shelves (£790) and Peg hooks (£55) are in the background.  A true celebration of British hardwoods. tl8Nearby, Daniel Heath launched his Art Deco collection.  The geometric motifs are etched onto reclaimed Welsh roof slates transforming the discarded into decorative interior surface materials.  The geometric shapes of Tracey Tubb’s wallpapers are inspired by origami.  Each sheet is hand-folded from a single roll of paper.  Tracey assures me the paper does not attract dust. The pattern’s on Seascape CuriositiesSealace wallpaper are by their nature more fluid.  Handtl9-drawn illustrations inspired by our beautiful underwater landscapes.  Using FSC approved and 100% recycled papers, Sara cuts intricate floating marine forms by hand creating three-dimensional wallpapers.  The works drew particular attention from Chinese, Japanese and Korean visitors, whose cultures have established traditions of paper-art forms. tl10Paper pulp from old newspapers is the fodder for Crea-Re’s ‘Copermicus’ lighting collection.  100% recycled, the paper mulch is mixed with ochre, or left grey, shaped, and left to dry.  The irregular, cracked shape with small holes or craters, means when the “Luna” light is turned on, the light creates a unique, mottled shadow. tl15While I missed the visual impact of the Material Council’s display of material cubes from 2013, this year, ‘Nooks, Niches and Cranniesʼ, featured Trash Glass from Diana Simpson, the first in a series of products developed using reclaimed waste as raw ingredients. tl12With my Welsh connections, I was delighted to catch up with Blodwen‘s founder Denise Lewis.  All Blodwen’s new blankets are woven at a 180 year old mill in the Teifi Valley, west Wales, not far from the National Woollen Museum.  The Heritage Blanket Collection (£345 each), inspired by a weaver’s pattern book datitl14ng from the 1700’s, are woven on the original 1930’s Dobcross looms.  The striking patterns caught the eye of recent fashion graduate, Sarah Hellen.  Inspired by the traditional skills of Welsh artisans, Hellen used some of Blodwen’s Heritage geometric ‘Hiraeth’ pattern for her menswear collection.  From baskets to traditional Welsh clogs, Blodwen is committed to the preserving and reviving the rural crafts and skills of Wales. A last word on some accessories.  The beautiful A-Z of edible flowers, A Matter of Taste, from Charlotte Day, which pique interest in some overlooked varieties and remind us of nature’s beauty tl16and bounty. I shall have to invest in one of Mary Goodman‘s Seating Spheres, a large wool covered exercise ball, described as a “sculptural addition to contemporary interiors” for use as a footrest, or seat.  I have used an exercise ball as my office chair for years.  The subtle instability stops any slump at the computer, and rolling around helps keep the blood flowing.  All the yarns are ethically sourced, with hard-wearing British wools such as Herdwick, Swalewick, Jacob and Axminster rug wool used for the spheres.  Mary Goodman will be showing her work as part of Campaign for Wool Interiors Collection at Southwark Cathedral, 5th -12th October. London Design Festival ended on a high note at Tent London!

Related link:

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2013/08/20/welsh-blankets/

The Wish List

wishlistThere was no better way to kick off my London Design Festival 2014 than The Wish List” at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  With a mentoring relationship at its heart, the project began with a conversation between Benchmark, Terence Conran and the American Hardwood Export Council.  They conceived of ten leading designers commissioning the object that they had always wanted but never found or had time to design themselves. The ten commissioners chose, or were matched with, up-and-coming designers, for whom it was the commission of a lifetime!

Each of the young designers was given a box of American hardwoods, and the design process unfolded, culminating in an intense, “Making Week”, or first furniture festival, at Benchmark working with master craftsmen skilled in traditional techniques, as well as the latest technologies.  Benchmark has embraced sustainability from its outset in 1984, after Sean Sutcliffe, co-founder with Terence Conran, was influenced by Jonathon Porritt. The commitment to sustainability, craftsmanship and expertise in timber (though they also have a specialist metal workshop and an upholstery studio), made Benchmark an ideal partner for AHEC in The Wish List. AHEC were keen not only to showcase the range and properties of American hardwood, but also share the AHEC’s work on life-cycle assessment (LCA) with the designers.

Wood has many environmental virtues: it is organic, renewable, versatile, and a carbon sink.  The area covered by American hardwood forests is equivalent to UK, France & Spain combined, and the AHEC estimate that the carbon footprint of all ten projects is less than one return flight to New York.  Wood is also probably the material that man has been working with for longer than any other.  Wood is sensual and tactile, overtime it responds our touch, changing patina, becoming smooth, or chipped, with each knock or indent becoming part of the story of the object.

RTEmagicC_Sebastian_Cox_2883_txdam9114_dfa4c8.jpgThe young designers made careful choice of their material.  Sebastian Cox asked David Venables of AHEC which were the least popular in the UK and deliberately chose to work with them, seizing the opportunity to elevate their status. Cox, who usually works with greenwood, relished the opportunity to experiment with red oak and cherrywood.  Initially Conran had wanted a rail and curtain to screen his desk, in response Sebastian suggested a curved, woven screen. The kiln-dried oak was too inflexible to weave, so Cox made use of swilling, a technique he recently learnt with Lorna Singleton to soften the timber so it was malleable enough to weave.  Swilling, or soaking, the timber in the stream at Barton Court, Terence and Vicki Conran’s 18th-century country home, connected the piece to the landscape of its future home.

wishlist2Known for his innovative use of wood, Alex de Rijke, Dean of the School of Architecture, RCA, and a founding Director of the architectural practice dRMM, pioneered the use of hardwood for cross-wishlist3laminated timber (CLT) for the Endless Stair he designed at last year’s London Design Festival, so it is unsurprising that he and Barnby & Day chose to use CLT made of American tulipwood.  But this fast-growing timber, that is is often overlooked, overpainted and “chopped through to get to the good stuff” is here given the Midas touch.  Nathalie de Leval’s shed for Paul Smith was made of thermally modified ash (pictured right, and below with Terence Conran, Paul Smith and Nathalie de Level).  Thermally modified timber (TMT) is heat-treated for three or four days in an inert atmosphere (no oxygen).  The process irreversibly changes the chemical and physical properties of the wood so that does not need additional treatment as it is more resistant to rot, fungi and moisture.

RTEmagicC_Wish_List_Hadid_Ves-el_Petr_Krejci_Photography_33_txdam9267_071dd1.jpgThe Wish List fused the craft of design and the craft of making.  A conversation with some of the designers, commissioners, and Sean Sutcliffe, chaired by Edwin Heathcote, explored the relationship between the two.  Heathcote recounted a recent visit to a design school without workshops.  Today industrial design is often separated from making with products moving from design to rapid prototyping and then manufacture overseas.  Sean Sutcliffe offered a definition of craft from Richard Sennett, author of The Craftsmenas when “the point of focus becomes the limit of the tool”.

The Ves-sel that Gareth Neal made for Zaha Hadid is a perfect example of engaging traditional process and digital manufacture.  Neal said he “provocated Sean to use the CNC router”, and Benchmark had to upgrade wishlist4its software accordingly.  Neal had been invited to Hadid’s company offices and use their modelling software to create the vessel’s design that captures the fluidity of Hadid’s designs, and functions as a water carafe.  One of the vessel’s was left unpainted, after consultation with Hadid, to reveal the natural colour.  The vessel is extruded along one axis, with a slit at the end creating what Neal describes as a ‘cathedral-like space’. If not monumental in scale, it is in complexity.  Sutcliffe described the object as an outstanding piece of craftsmanship, “the most remarkable thing we have ever made”.

Continuous involvement in the process, and evolvement of skill underpins the best craftsmanship, and several commissioners warn of the limitation of digital tools.  As Amanda Levete noted the link between intellect and hand becomes more remote with technology, an element of control is relinquished.  Something may seem perfectly resolved, but not be conceptually perfect, but without space for adjustment.  With rapid prototyping a hundred options can be quickly, and extravagantly, produced, but does this ease compensate for a lack of rigour at the design stage?  Making great objects is often an iterative process in response to the material.  For Alex de Rijke one of the constraints of digital technology is that computers do not have the same dialogue with materials or scale.  Alison Brooks, too, describes how computer design can quickly take a designer into complexity that they have to navigate out of, often through physical experimentation.

RTEmagicC_Win_Assakul_2755_txdam9130_dfa4c8.jpgThe “Making Week” brought many of these tensions to the fore.  With no experience of physical making, Win Assakul was persuaded to pick up hand tools to craft the 3m long serving dish he designed for Amanda Levete.  Hand-making is part of the story of the object, requiring considered, elegant solutions to the complex shape and presentation of the dish.

RTEmagicC_Banaby_and_Day_2425_txdam9093_dfa4c8.jpgThe “Table-Turned” Barnby & Day designed for Alex de Rijke presented the challenge of scale.  Weighing 170kg, and with a diameter of 2m, the table is quiet possibly one of the largest objects to be turned on a lathe.  Benchmark brought in specialist turner Mike Bradley to turn the table in 3 sections, with the largest section turning at 62mph on the outer edge.

wishlist6Even skilled craftsman, Sebastian Cox was presented with new challenges.  The Conran commission, “Getting Aware from it All” was, Cox said, “the most intricate and challenging thing that I had ever made, but how often will I get the chance to design for someone who is so important in the industry?”  If the screens were 1mm out at the joint, they would be 5mm our where they met. The rolling tambour is made from solid strips of wood, rather than cloth-backed and there is a secret drawer.  The compliment was repaid by Conran, “I have been making furniture for 60 years but I am still learning from Sebastian”.

RTEmagicC_Wish_List_Pawson_Room_Petr_Krejci_Photography_12_txdam9295_12e383.jpgNot all the project were conceived as one-offs. Felix de Pass’  “A Stool for the Kitchen” designed with Alison Brooks could in future grace our homes.  The series of architectural elements, “Room”, designed by Atelier Areti with John Pawson could indeed make the everyday more beautiful.  Simple, elegant forms finished with an incredible attention to detail.  For example, the grain on the dimmer knob of the light switch is aligned with that of the base plate when it is switched off.

wishlist7Wish list is about design, and beautiful materials. For the commissioners it was an unusual role reversal, a process Amanda Levete found moving as though handing the baton on to the next generation of inspiring designers.  It is also about the intensity of making, the joy of sharing collaboratively, and the richer learning that results: that was perhaps the real alchemy of the Wish List.  Sean Sutcliffe certainly hopes that seed has been sown.

The AHEC Wish List page has a playlist of short films of each of the pieces, but the installation is definitely worth a visit to the V&A!

Image credits: AHEC, or my own.

Related links:

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2014/09/14/looking-ahead-to-london-design-festival/

Come & watch Lorna Singleton demonstrating swill basketry this Wednesday

Looking ahead to London Design Festival

logo Not that you can have failed to notice, but the London Design Festival started today, an event that promises to “celebrate and promote London as the design capital of the world.”  We can be certain it won’t disappoint, though perhaps less confident of seeing all there is to offer.

I will be making a beeline for the Victoria and Albert Museum to see The Wish List.  Sir Terence Conran, Benchmark, the London Design Festival and the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) paired ten emerging talents with ten design legends to design and make something that they have always wanted, but never been able to find.  The superlative bespoke commission, or ultra-mentoring scheme, however you choose to describe it, the results promise to be wonderful.

hadid-nealMy particular picks will be Sebastian Cox’s workspace for Terence Conran  and Gareth Neal’s carafe for Zaha Hadid. 

Also at the V&A is a demonstration of the circular economy in action as Ella Doran, Galapagos Designs, and the RSA’s Great Recovery Project deconstruct and refurbish several upholstered chairs in the V&A Design Studio.  The circular economy is a different approach to design, manufacture and material recovery that avoids losing valuable materials to landfill.  It might whet newlogoyour appetite to visit the Great Recovery’s new home, the Fab Lab London, which opens its doors on Friday 19th September.  There will be a Restart party to tend to broken electronics, ‘Fixperts’ and tear-down & design-up workshops happening all day to prompt visitors to think about products in a more circular way.

features_ecodb_materiallandscapeOpening on Wednesday 17th (and running to the 20th September at Earls Court) is 100% Design, the biggest of the contemporary design shows.  This is its twentieth year so there will be a rare vintage mix of design talent as well as five zones of British and international design products on show. I will be making a bee-line for the Eco, Design & Build hub, designed and curated by Thomas Matthews in partnership with SCIN Gallery. The Materials Landscape promises to take visitors to exciting new territory.  The Makers Carousel by Mette has caught my eye, with the Maker Library Network running a workshop making useful objects out of waste products on the 17th, including how to make bricks from business cards.  By the end of LDF we will probably all have collected enough raw material to join in!

jn1Elsewhere at 100% Design, I will be checking out Jennifer Newman Studio‘s M-Bamboo Table ; Lozi for his distinctive geometric furniture; Lucy Turner for her modern marquetry on upcycled mid-century furniture;  Pinch for the gorgeous, graceful pieces that I have been coveting for sometime; and the Wood Awards to see Namon Gaston‘s Fosse Desk and Sebastian Cox’s Ten Species Tall Boy.  The session entitled “The Big Question: What impact will synthetic biology have on design?” on Saturday 20th at 1pm featuring Daan Roosegarde, who has designed glow-in the dark trees using bio-luminscent qualities of jellyfish to replace street lamps, and Rachel Armstrong who designs buildings that repair themselves, sounds like an invitation to wonderland.

hgf02-8tct_IsixKfgucsy4VO7YNsksQ5fI_rcU7Jg0After a full day planned at 100%design, the evening of the 17th September is the SustainRCA Show preview and Awards.  With 36 finalists working with the value of waste, the plight of bees, great gadgets and smarter systems (the smart shopping app, Disclosed, is pictured left), the judges have a tough call.  Perhaps Mohammed J Ali’s A New Enlightenment which imagines a sharing economy around renewable energy, shared goods, services and information will triumph?  Ali used an independent Scotland as a case study, so by the end of this week it may no longer be an imagined scenario.

product_541062b2967991410359986145940Heading east is designjunction, taking place at the Old Sorting Office, New Oxford St. London from the 18th to the 21st of September.  I’ll be dropping in to see Made in Ratio’s updated Supernova table, with a new 100% recycled aluminium finish; marvelling at master craftsmen from Waterford Crystal and Bert & May at the Flash Factories; admiring ercol‘s and Anglepoise timeless classics given a bespoke overhaul as the part of the ‘A Child’s Dream’ silent auction (Tom Dixon’s design is pictured right); checking out Anthony Dickens light for new brand Made in the ForgeHend Krichen, cherchbi, Kristjana Williams, Africa Calling and Tom Raffield.  If it didn’t clash with the climate march, I would be back to hear Kathy Shenoy, Shake the Dust, and Heath Nash, South African designer and British Council ‘Maker Librarian’ discussing the rise in interest in regional artisans, craft and design work from around the world on Sunday 21st at 1.30pm.

sc1Further east still to Tent London at the Old Truman Brewery (18th-21st September) to catch up with (in no particular order) Daniel Heath glorious decorative finishes; Galvin Brothers new Cross Lap collection; Seascape Curiousities one year after launch; Sebastian Cox (Shake Cabinet, pictured left), as I can not attend an event where he is exhibiting without coveting his products; Seven Gauge Studios new woven cotton collection; and Tracey Tubb‘s geometric, 3-dimensional, folded wallpapers.

Around the fringe, The Big Small Show, at the Hoxton Basement Gallery (15th – 19th September) promises to be a thought-provoking with a group of recent graduates from the Royal College of Art’s Design Products course engage with contemporary contradictions of global versus local, craft versus mass-manufacture and more.

Bq_-6yMCQAALj3fAnother recent RCA graduate, Diana Simpson, is now designer in residence at 19 Greek Street, an innovative interior design studio, gallery,and materials library.  Simpson’s Glass Lab turns discards glass bottles into hand-crafted architectural materials, not least of which is the bar top at London’s newest private members club, Library (pictured right).

If you missed seeing Tom Raffield at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, he will be creating a woodland workshop at at Adventures in Furniture, Islington as part of the new Islington Design District.  Elsewhere, there is the debut of the Queens Park Design District, where I hope to sneak a peak at Christoph Behling’s woven wood.

revised_tracey_neuls_dps_1Oh, and there is also home, (co-located with Top Drawer) at Olympia from 14th-16th September for all manner of design-led homewares and interior accessories brands.  It will be a whistle-stop tour at best for me with so much to pack into one week.  And then it will be Decorex!

I”ll certainly be taking advantage of the West London Design District Visa promotion to invest in a pair of Tracey Neuls‘ shoes to ease my cycling around the city!

 

Image credits:  Benchmark; designjunction/Teddy’s Wish; Diana Simpson; SustainRCA; Thomas Matthews; Tracey Neuls

Related links:

http://video.ft.com/3775193342001/London-Design-Festival-Made-in-Britain/Editors-Choice

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2014/04/10/what-a-lot-of-bottle-a-conversation-glass-lab/

https://carefullycurated.co.uk/2014/06/25/show-rca-ringing-the-changes/

 

5 of the best stools

Are you sitting comfortably?  Or may be you are on the hunt for a new three-legged seating friend?  Here is my pick of five of the best stools! Pippy_Oak_Stool_-_Galvin_Brothers_1_grandeIn celebration of the Galvin Brothers recent opening of their bricks and mortar store in Beverley, Yorkshire (11 Flemingate,  HU17 0NP), my first pick is their signature stool, the English Pippy Oak Milk stool (£170).  Pippy Oak, or Cat’s Paw Oak, is so named because of its characteristic pips or knots.  The open, light nature of English woodlands, hedgerows and parks encourages ‘epicormic growth’, the shoots or buds, on tree trunks and at their base. These tumour-like growths penetrate deep into the tree’s heart wood.  The grain moves around the knots to create beautiful patterns, revealed as ‘cat’s paws’ on the board  The stool is handmade, with peg-and-wedge leg joints.  Its clean, modern form is given distinct character by the unique pattern of the Pippy Oak.  A rustic gent with potential as a stool, side or occasional bedside table.  The stools are finished in Danish oil and the dimensions are 300 x 460 x 300mm. b9f91c7a-8a28-4556-b68b-435a22240c2e

The second stool makes good use of the things that are found as by-products, or off cuts of industrial production processes.  The top of Tom Dixon‘s Offcut Stool is made from the waney edge, edge that follows the natural curve of the tree (as in waning moon).  This irregular edge is often discarded, hence the name ‘Offcut’ stool.  Made of solid oak and finished with a natural soaped finish, the stool comes flat-packed (with efficiencies of packaging and distribution) and is easily assembled using wooden pegs rather than screws or glue.  Simple and honest.  Available from Tom Dixon or Heal’s from £140.

justwoodtableThe third entry, Pippa Murray’s Just Wood stool also makes use of the neglected, in this case our unmanaged British woodlands.  The legs of the stool are greenwood shavings that have been moulded using a process developed by Pippa as part of her final year research project studying Design Products at the Royal College of Art.  Greenwood shavings are a by-product of coppicing hardwood trees, a traditional form of woodland management.  The moulded material is strong, polymer free and bio degradable.

Dipped-Vintage-Lab-Stool-448x448Dipped vintage lab stools from Ines Cole (£125, H 61 x W 34 x D 38 cm) have been taken back to their natural wood and then given a dip dye makeover sealed with a matt finish.  A simple piece of upcycling that conjures up nostalgic images of my old school science lab, and perfect for the industrial vintage look.  If you fancy a more colourful alternative, you can find similar stools at reclamation yards or antiques fairs and try a DIY dip.

Three-StoolsIf not DIY, then what about grow your own?  Typically there is 50-80% wastage in normal process of transforming raw timber to finished products.  The Well Proven stool by Marjan van Aubel and James Shaw makes use of shavings, sawdust and chippings.  When combined the mixture of bio-resin and waste shavings create a chemical reaction that expands into a foamed structure five times its original volume.  The porridge like mixture can be coloured with dyes and moulded.  It hardens to form a strong, lightweight material, reinforced by the fibres in the hardwood shavings.  The ‘porridge’ is spread over the underside of a chair and shaped by hand around the contrastingly elegant turned legs of American ash.  The fore-runner of the stool, the Well-Proven Chair was nominated for the Design of the Year 2013 Award an developed with the support of the American Hardwood Export Council.  The stools were on display as part of Heal’s Modern Craft Market in February 2014.

 

Image credits: Galvin Bros, Ines Cole, James Shaw, Pippa Murray Design, Tom Dixon Studio,

 

Sebastian Cox Pop-up @ Heals

sc1Catch him while you can.  Tomorrow, Sunday 23rd, is the last day of Sebastian Cox’s Woodland Workshop pop-up in Heal’s Tottenham Court Road store.  Sebastian is an award-winning designer and maker, with a strong ethos of sustainability.  As you might remember from earlier posts, he is famed for his work with coppiced hazel, an ancient method of woodland management.

For the last couple of weekend’s Sebastian and his team (today, George) have been very much front of house for Heal’s ‘Made for you‘ series, hand crafting drawers in the store window.

IMG_3054The stack of drawers are for their latest Heal’s piece, a five drawer ‘Tall-boy’ in celebration of British grown hardwoods.  Each drawer is individually crafted using one of ten timbers, showing their distinctive grain, and colour, to subtle and stunning effect.  The timbers have all been sustainably sourced.  In fact, they can even tell you when the wood was milled and grown.  The Tall-boy pictured right is in oak, walnut, sycamore, London plane, and elm.  We were particularly struck by the flecking and wavy grain of the elm.  The undulating grain is what gives elm its characteristic strength.

IMG_3057Other timbers available are ash, brown oak, chestnut, hazel and birch.  The ‘brown oak’ is not a different species, but oak that has been infected with fungus, leaving it a rich tea colour.  The choice of timber and tonal scale is yours.  If you are undecided, you could order a pair and then mix and match the drawers to your heart’s content.  The Tall-boy retails at Heal’s for around £2,000, depending on your choice of timber.  Remember a thing of beauty is a joy forever!

IMG_3058Seeing Sebastian and George deftly making use of the range of hand tools was fascinating, for us, and our young daughters.  They were enchanted by this real-life Mister Maker, and thoroughly charmed when Sebastian used his hand plane to give them a couple of shavings that spiralled in their palms.  They watched, coyly, as George meticulously prepared a dovetail joint.  It was a moment for us all to appreciate the skill of hand crafting furniture, to connect the elegant piece with its humble beginnings and reflect on the beauty of Britain’s natural resources.

A conversation with Unto this Last

Unto This Last Shop 1A conversation with Olivier Geoffroy, founder of Unto this Last, was a much anticipated treat.  Unto this Last is a contemporary workshop in London that makes furniture using digitally-controlled cutting tools.

As you walk in you are struck by the manifesto suspended from the ceiling.  The name, Unto this Last, comes from a book by John Ruskin (whose picture hangs on the adjacent wall), published in 1862, in which he advocated a return to local craftsmen and workshops in reaction to the monotony and conditions of the rapidly industrialised working class of his time.  For recent generations, this would have been a nostalgic process affordable to the few. Mass produced furniture was for the many, just as today, Olivier observes, Ikea make good value furniture on a global scale.  The efficiencies of repetition, high volumes and uniform products allow low industrial prices.  The flat-pack design of the products is dictated by the need to package and transport them easily.  Unto this Last is turning this economic model on its head with local craftsmen creating products that are made to measure, and hand-finished in a workshop, but at an affordable price. “Unto This Last’s purpose is to offer the convenience of the local craftsman’s workshop at mass-production prices.”

Unto This Last WorkshopDigital technologies can change the economics of small-scale manufacturing.  The Future is Here exhibition last year at the Design Museum, of which Unto this Last was a contributor, characterised the changing boundaries between designers, manufacturers and consumers and new distributed manufacturing techniques as a new industrial revolution.  In fact, Unto this Last was launched in 2001, and CNC (computer numerical controlled) routing is not a new technology, but perhaps the wider interest in micro-manufacturing reflects a confluence of trends: revisiting making things in Britain; a focus on provenance and who is making things; a concern for materials and how things are made.

Our conversation began with Olivier’s definition of the environment.  So often we are bombarded with global definitions, but at Unto this Last, the environment is the workshop, the immediate physical surroundings and conditions in which he and his team work.  Every aspect of design, material choice, production, and delivery is examined through this lens.  Perhaps because the enterprise is so closely connected to its environment, there is an imperative to tread lightly.

boardThe workshop is characterised by 3 principles.  The first is less mass generated by using more data.  Starting from software designed to make aircrafts, it took 6 or 7 years to develop a special biometric format able to adjust to the variations of the wood, and clients’ needs.  Tools that are easy to use, and flexible reduce waste.  Nearly every square centimetre of a standard 2metre plywood board plywood is utilised (see picture).  Small areas are used to make candlesticks, utensils or toys.  The remainder is used for heating, or recycled.

The second principle is optimising logistics.  Digital technology streamlines supply chain management and scheduling.   The local, made to order production process means that there is no overproduction, warehousing or packaging costs (or materials).  Everything is delivered wrapped in blankets within the range of the big electric-van.  And when your clients are local, you take great pride in the quality of your work and care over your choice of materials.  The Latvian birch plywood is from a man-planted forest, where plantation is growing at 10% a year, and certified FSC and PEFC.   To simplify the supply chain products are made with the same material, even down to the hinges, so easily recyclable.  The only metal parts are shelf-pins.

Underpinning both of these principles is a stringent focus on improving productivity and absolute precision.  Influenced by production methods developed in the car industry, assemblies are timed and analysed to ask ‘can we do it better’.  It is an iterative process with feedback revealing a more elegant and efficient dynamic.  So the team at Unto this Last are selected not only for their skill as designers and makers but also for an enquiring mind.   This spirit of enquiry and desire to do it better has relevance and merit far beyond this Brick Lane workshop.

Unto This Last TV Stand bespoke coloursThe third principle is that the workshop is the brand.  From the street, through the shop, the workshop is visible.  Everything is on display, and this literal transparency is integral to Unto this Last’s approach to micro-manufacturing.  Clients are buying the story, and involved in tailoring their piece with a wide choice of finishes.  As the workshop, and process is open, no solvent-based paints are used anywhere in the process (pictured right is a TV stand and colour chart).  The plywoods are laminated in the workshop with impregnated paper, cold-bonded with PVA glue.  The surfaces and edges are finished with hard wax oil from OSMO, a food safe mix of sunflower, soya, linseed and thistle oil with wax.

Unto This Last Kids ChairThe aesthetic is clean, contemporary and sensual.  When I mention Unto this Last, without prompting people remark how they just wanted to touch the furniture.  Servicing a local, loyal clientele necessitates a wide catalogue of products.  The design is inspired by the production process, the environment, and Olivier’s requirement to furnish the needs of a young family (kids table and chair, pictured left).  Every detail is considered.

Unto this Last does more than make joyful products, as they hope their “workshop contributes positively to the life of the city”.  It is an enterprise with a tangible and transparent integrity.  Olivier tells the story with a combination of passion and eloquence, I hope I hear it again in other cities and enterprises.

Photo credits: Unto this Last, except for photo of plywood board, which is mine!

Chop on a new block

HAMPSONWOODS_HOMEPAGE_1I have been chopping an awful lot of root vegetables making seasonal warming winter soups and stews.  I recall Dieter Rams’ ten principles that include  ‘good design is aesthetic’ as I look for a board with form and function.  A beautiful object that we use every day can bring with it a daily dose of joy and elevate a small task from the mundane.  As such I have had a roving eye out for chopping boards.

I love the simplicity, and idiosyncrasy of the boards from Hampson Woods (pictured left).  Made from London Plane, and sourced directly from the arborists that have cleared once mighty trees from the city whose name they bear.  Every board is unique, hand carved from rough cut pieces in sympathy with the form of the wood.  Finished with olive oil, the resulting boards have a delicate beauty, perfect food platters for home, cafes, delis or restaurants.  The boards with a handle are priced from £35, there are also geometric boards (245 x 140 x 17mm) priced from £25.

SrO3BnANuIuShBAhRfqASJ-qA-MIf Hampson Woods make best use of materials on our doorsteps, Haidee Drew‘s ‘Handled’ Chopping Boards are made of bamboo sustainably manufactured far further afield.  The shape of the handles are inspired by traditional silverware from the Victoria and Albert Museum providing a decorative edge to a utilitarian product.  Bamboo is a fast-growing (some species grow up to 1m a day) and can be cultivated without pesticides, it is also extremely strong, so offers great durability as a chopping board.  The boards retail from £40 for a board 170mm x 335mm x 20mm.

6-leeborthwick-grain-and-haH1_thumb Sustainably sourced ash and beech are the canvas for Lee Borthwick‘s Grain and Hairy series of boards.  Lee strives to reveal the beauty of natural materials.  Each board has been scorched using a technique called pyrography to highlight its unique grain.  The boards are then oiled and ready for use as food platters, or simply as objects to provoke contemplation.   Prices start from £35 for a 5inch (12.7cm) board.    

EL-0613-10_thumbFor the minted version, I return to savour the work of Eleanor Lakelin, characterised by sculptural vessels and forms in wood from British trees that have been felled in the UK.  Eleanor uses traditional woodturning and carving techniques with great empathy for the natural form of the wood.  Sandblast, bleach or fire are then used to further tease out the grain creating fossil-like forms before finishing with natural oils.  The same techniques are used to make solid wood food boards either in olive ash or sycamore.  The olive ash has a deep chestnut colour with a beautiful grain. The boards (diameter 300mm or 400mm x height 50mm) are turned, lightly sandblasted and scorched around the rim before being oiled to bring out the grain.  In contrast, the sycamore boards are a light, creamy colour.  Also turned on the lathe, the sycamore boards have a distinctive hand carved rim with a dimpled effect.  Each piece has its own story, priced at £260, for 40 x 300 x 300 mms.

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Posh Salvage offer a range of chopping boards made from reclaimed teak.  Prices start at £35 for the rectangular board pictured, 37 cm x 18cm, 3cm thick.  Teak has long been used for general construction and boat building in Java, Indonesia because of its strength and durability.  Now new infrastructure built from concrete and steel is replacing the old plantation grown teak.  Long planks are salvaged to make furniture with off cuts and smaller pieces suitable for chopping boards.   Some of the pieces have some even have hand carved graffiti, if not the Posh Salvage range includes boards decorated with wholesome reminders that you are what you eat.

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By way of complete contrast, TopGourmet, supplier to the catering industry, produces very understated, functional chopping boards made of Richlite.  Richlite is a paper-based fibre composite made from FSC-certified and post-consumer waste paper content.  The boards are dishwasher safe and heat resistant to 180c and priced from £14.50 for a 150mmx200mm board.

It seems inevitable that most of the boards are made of wood.  Wood has wonderful aesthetic, tactile and renewable qualities, and with a little care it is extremely durable.  I was expecting a few surprises in terms of alternative materials, but may be they are yet to come.

Picture credits: Lee Borthwick, Haidee Drew, Eleanor Lakelin, Hampson Woods, Posh Salvage, Top Gourmet

Home/Craft London/ Top Drawer – the cc edit

woodcutIt felt like a sprint finish to get round the cavernous halls of Earls Court on the final day of the trinity that was Home, Craft London and Top Drawer 2014, but I was well rewarded for my efforts.  It was a chance to get a sneak preview of new product launches, learn more of the story behind the label, or simply a face to a name.  Here are the cc edited highlights.

On the threshold of home was Plumen, sculptural lighting that is also energy efficient.  After the look-at-me exuberance of the original Plumen 001, the new kid, Plumen 002, is a simpler, more subtle design.  With luminosity equivalent to a 30W incandescent bulb and colour warmer than the  Plumen 001, the overall lighting effect is softer, but still architectural.  The compact fluorescent bulb has a lifetime of 8000 hours, or 8 years of normal usage and is recyclable.  It is not yet dimmable, but they are working on it!

mG7ClaqvSPiOnMWcvkLdWPAJust across the way was one of my current everyday joys, the Black +Blum Eau Good water bottle complete with charcoal filter.  Then, I made a bee-line for Stuart Gardiner to admire the fun and informative prints on oven mitts, tea towels and aprons.  Stylish aide-memoires to seasonal foods to hand in the kitchen when you need them!

BOJJE - WILD FLOWER SET CUTOUTOther kitchen accessories that caught my eye were the ‘wildflower’ range of utensils fashioned from beech and stainless steel (pictured left).  They are simply beautiful to look at and to hold.  Bojje are based in Suffolk with a passion for the materials they use, particularly wood.  Combining traditional woodworking , woodland crafts and modern technologies the products have a graceful, simplicity and sensuality.

27033759_57400Hop and Peck’s set of platter boards (pictured right) are handmade from sustainable solid oak and finished in Danish oil, from £35.

I had a brief pause to admire Haidee Drew’s bamboo chopping boards. More tableware in bamboo fibre was available from Ekobo who were showing their range of traditional handmade bamboo and laquerware and also Biobu, a range colourful enough for all the family to enjoy eating from.  I love the cool simplicity of the FAT Ceramics designed by Piet Hein Eek for Fair Trade Original.   The contemporary twist provided by Piet Hein Eek’s designs still allow the traditional craftsmanship of the producers in Thailand and Vietnam to shine through.

brushes

The handiwork of veteran crafts makers from Handmade-Japan was on show at Craft London.  I have been on the hunt for a good broom (and a mop) so loved the colourful ‘Nanbu Hoki’, traditional, handmade brooms and brushes made from all natural fibres.

rugNatural fibres such as pure new wool, jute and fair trade, organic cotton are the basis of Waffle Design‘s distinctive textured cushions and throws.  New designs for 2014 also included products made from upcycled aran carpet yarn.  The yarn was rescued from an old carpet factory in Yorkshire, and hand dyed in small batches in East London.  Tweedmill had a whole (makeshift) cabinet of colourful recycled wool and fleece throws on show, pictured left.  They also produce recycled picnic rugs, draft excluders, bags, cushions and even a garden kneeler.

smileAnd on to the bigger ticket items.  Fun furniture with clean lines and contemporary shapes from Lozi Designs.    The smile shelves were generating a lot of interest, and good humour (pictured right).  Close by, Wayfarer Furniture offered another response to eco-urban living with two new collections on show, the Prima and Tempo.  The first, Prima, uses wood, the second, Tempo uses lower grade, but also low carbon materials of fibre and corrugated board, both are a discursive response to ethical living in an urban environment.

acAnother Country‘s approach to sustainability is to make furniture that has timeless appeal crafted using traditional and modern techniques from responsibly sourcing materials.  Good design has physical and emotional longevity, and every piece from Another Country has a simple elegance you can enjoy for a long time.  The new Series 3, made from oiled beech and inspired by Edwardian industrial furniture, would work, literally and metaphorically, well at home or in the office.  The new Soft Series of blankets and cushions made from 100% hand-dyed wool with UK weavers Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company in three graphic designs is a simply covetable collection.

Finally, the beautiful laser cut silhouettes of trees by Clare Cutts, pictured at the top of the page, are an elegant and evocative way to bring the outside in to any space.  The designs are based on photographs of trees taken by Clare. Originally, Clare created the woodcuts to emboss tree prints on paper, but realised the woodcut are things of beauty in their own right.

corkAnd last, but not least, as I prepared for my cycle home, I was wishing for a pair of cork bicycle grips designed by Green and Blue and handmade in Portugal.  Cork is durable, anti-bacterial and offers cushioning, the perfect material for bike grips.  Cork is a naturally renewable, and these grips are hand made from Portuguese cork harvested in managed forests. They have beautiful form, and function.

Clean lines and living at Lozi Designs

lozi1 From the old, to the new at Lozi Designs at their pop-up, 31-32 Alfred Place, WC1E,  just behind the furniture hub that is Tottenham Court Road.  If you are planning a trip to Habitat, Heals or new kid on the block, West Elm, in the coming weeks then spare a few minutes to pop round the corner and pop in to Lozi Designs’ pop up.  On show is their new range of furniture, handcrafted using traditional woodworking techniques and modern technology.

The furniture is made from sustainable materials such as birch plywood, organic glue and milk-based paints.  The pieces are created by bending and shaping the wood into organic and geometric shapes, reducing the need for joints in furniture with clean, contemporary lines.

lozi2I am a particular fan of the bedside table (pictured above, £360) with its offset drawers. The large table (150x200cm, £850) and bench (£340), both pictured right, are a great combination for kitchen, office or study, and mini versions are also available for kids.  The child in all of us will be charmed by the swing (£100), and smiley shelves (from £100) that bring a little joy to storage.

cinemaJust behind the Lozi Design’s pop-up is the current HQ of ADA Projects, a collaboration of artists, designers and architects who share their skills and knowledge through lectures, courses, public events and film screenings.  Enthusiasm and industry were hand in hand, a workshop to one side, and the pop-up cinema to the other.