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.

 

 

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Warm, wonderful and woollen: the Interiors Collection @woolweek

wi2Campaign for Wool’s fifth annual Wool Week is celebrating the beauty and versatility of wool for fashion and interiors, and where better to hide from the blustery showers than in the pop-up Interiors Collection gallery in Southwark Cathedral.  The curated collection of more than fiftyl wool products features fabrics, flooring and furnishings from the high street to bespoke and designer pieces commissioned for commercial clients.  Here are my top ten:

wi3Roger Oates Stromness runner (70cm wide x 230cm long) is woven from pure un-dyed Shetland Wool in the UK.  Four natural colours, ivory white, light and deep grey and ebony, create bold stripes with a contrasting border.  The subtle hues of the un-dyed wool lend themselves perfectly to the geometric and monochrome trends of the moment.

wi10The Røros Tweed storm blanket (120x180cm, £195) from Toast, also uses the natural monochrome tones of un-dyed wool, this time from Norway.  Røros, established as a mining town in 1646, is on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. In 1789, when the director of the mine, Peder Hiort, died childless, he bequeathed his entire fortune to a foundation set up to provide training to the poor in handicraft and textile production.  Røros Tweed was established in 1940 to sell handmade textiles, and continues to ensure the whole process from raw wool to finished product stays in Norway.

wi9Mary Goodman‘s Seating Spheres, launched at Tent London, are a mix of British Swaledale and Herdwick wools.  The spheres are made to order and are a fun addition to any home office.

wi8For a less energetic seating solution, Galvin Brothers  (Completely) Imperfect Day Bed, upholstered in Melton Earth Cobalt and Boutique Islington grey from Abraham Moon would be a very sophisticated place to recline with a good book or simply find a moment of calm.  Firm, flat and fit for a daytime ‘power-nap’, it is also a single bed worthy of any overnight guests.  Made of solid oak and finished with Danish oil, the bed (180 x 44 x 80cm, £1,985) has the Galvin Brothers signature turned leg.  Their partnership with local supplier Abraham Moon, established in 1837 and one of one of Britain’s last remaining vertical woollen mills, means this piece of furniture is Yorkshire through and through.

wi4Bailey Hills’ Comati Stripe Metallic cushion has the striking motif digitally printed on to 100% wool twill.  The metallic shimmer is the perfect complement to Jonathan Adler‘s luxurious handcrafted Ingmar Chair (£2,250) with its shearling-lined seat.  What an indulgence.  wi6Kit Kemp for Christopher Farr Cloth’s folklore embroidered fabric, 100% wool with cotton embroidery (£280/m), is luxury with a colourful and artisanal flair.

The Tetrahedron and Falling Cubes cushions (£95) made for Pentreath and Hall by Fine Cell Work, a social enterprise that trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework, bring colour to geometric designs. Georgia Bosson’s Skeleton ‘Crosses’ cushion is made from industrial wool felt waste material overlaid on linewi7n.  From £55 each, the cushions are limited edition, and by the nature of their materials unique.

From the decorative to the utilitarian for the last of my picks, Hey-Sign’s collection wi5of laundry baskets made from 100% wool felt with 30°, 60°, 90° (35 × 27 × 75 cm) motif.

Wool’s versatile aesthetic appeal is long-lasting, as it is a resilient performance fibre.  Wool has many virtues being natural, renewable and biodegradable (if pure wool).  It is also multi-climatic, keeping you warm in winter, and breathable to keep you cool in summer.  In the home, wool is an effective insulator with anti-bacterial and hypoallergenic properties and is naturally fire-retardant.

wi1With such a strong British wool heritage, I look forward to an exhibition that captures stories from native breeds and traditional crafts to outstanding contemporary design and innovative materials.

The Interiors Collection is on display at London’s Southwark Cathedral during Wool Week – open from the 5th – 12th October 10am – 7pm daily (8pm on Thursday).  Admission is free.  If you can not make it there, then have a look at OneWool, the new online gallery showcasing the largest collection of wool interiors products.

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

Last Chance to see Useful + Beautiful

ub1Over a hundred years ago William Morris advised “have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”.  The current exhibition at the Geffrye Museum useful + beautiful: contemporary design for the home revisits Morris’ ‘golden rule’ bringing together products from a range of emerging designers and established names. Each of the products is innovative in some way, whether through its use of a new material, technology or adaptation to the way we live today.

What is more, 2014 is the centenary of the former almshouses’ conversion into the Geffrye Museum, so it is fitting that the exhibition celebrates the local furniture-making trade of London, and Shoreditch in particular; one of the original aims of the museum.  

As Annabelle Campbell, Head of Exhibitions and Collections at the Crafts Council notes, “Good design is about innovation, it’s about elements of sustainability”.  Design is also dialogue, influencing the way we live, as well as responding to it.  The form and function of the objects around us influence our physical and emotional experience of a space.  ub2Climbing inside Freyja Sewell‘s felt cocoon, Hush, you have an immediate sense of retreat, even sanctuary in the midst of the museum. Our lives are so immersed in the omnipresent worldwide web, and constant connectivity of digital technology, solitude and respite are rare.  Hush creates an immediate moment of calm.  The pods are cut from a single piece of 10mm industrial wool felt and lined with padding made from recycled wool fibres, a by-product of the British carpet industry.  Wool is naturally flame retardant, breathable, durable, biodegradable, and provides great acoustic insulation, hence the name, Hush.

PLUMEN-in-John-Lewis-150-years-pop-up-exhibition-currated-by-Design-Museum-3-250x160Digital technologies are providing new materials, new ways of making and marketing products.  Crowdfunding sites offer designers the opportunity to leverage their fan base for financial support, for example, Hulger, the company behind designer-low energy light bulb brand, Plumen, raised the $20,000 they needed in a week on Kickstarter.com to launch their second product, 002, an energy efficient alternative to the 30W incandescent light bulb, in January 2014 (they eventually raised nearly $60,000).  The original Plumen 001 is exhibited at useful+beautiful, and as part of the Design Today exhibition (pictured left) celebrating 150 years of John Lewis  until August 31st.

ub3The internet enables distributed manufacturing models such as OpenDeska global platform that connects local makers and international designers.  As the customer you can browse a range of furniture collections, download and then make the furniture yourself, or get it made on demand by a maker close to you.   The Edie child’s stool (or bedside table) was designed by David Steiner and Joni Steiner to be made from a single piece of plywood on a CNC router with ‘air-fix’ construction. The OpenDesk platform provides an affordable route to designer products made in your community, and you can customise the finishes!

ub4Using the same technology as cardboard tubes, Seongyong Lee developed a process for making tubes from thin wood veneer.  The tubes are further strengthened with a coat of laquer and used as legs for the Plytube stool.  The stool weighs less than a kilo, making it more energy-efficient, and is very strong.  Plytube was part of the Craft Council’s Raw Craft exhibition earlier this year.   

ub5Both Plytube and William Warren‘s reinterpretation of the traditional woven-top stool reflect a renewed appreciation for traditional craftsmanship.  The Weave Stool is made from four identical plywood forms, with black  ash veneer, that slot together.  Simply elegant.  

Jack Smith’Folding Stool, also made of ash, is similarly clean and considered in its design, and so versatile.  The three hinged legs meet in a Y-shaped hole in the stool’s seat.  Sitting down gives it strength, yet stand, pick up the handle and the stool folds flat for easy storage in our space constrained homes.ub6   Pia Wüstenberg’s colourful, sensual and tactile vessels for Utopia & Utility illustrate Alvar Alto’s observation that “Beauty is the harmony of purpose and form”.  Stacked the vessels are decorative sculptures, but each of the ceramic, glass and wooden parts is a bowl with its own use.

With the aid of technology design can now be mass produced.  ub8Good design is available to everyone, along with the bad.  As prices of goods have fallen, so interiors now have seasonal colours and looks that are ‘bang on trend’.  The products on show at useful + beautiful have more than fleeting appeal.  Many of the designs have also consider the lifecycle of the product.  Piet Hein Eek‘s Scrapwood classic cupboard is made of new and found wood.  Hein Eek has been experimenting with offcuts and scrap wood for more than twenty years and the range now includes a chair, table, sideboard and wastepaper basket.  The Scrapwood collection is available from SCP.  ub7The Tip Ton chair, designed by Barber and Osgerby, is manufactured from a single mould, without any mechanical components. The chair is made entirely of polypropylene, so it is durable and 100% recyclable.  The chair’s forward tilt position helps to keep the spine and pelvis straight, allowing better circulation to core abdominal and back muscles while at work or rest. Greater well-being certainly makes everyday living more joyful!  The Tip Ton chair is available from Vitra, and other stockists, in eight colours. 

useful + beautiful is a wonderful prompt to consider more than the aesthetic of the things we choose to live with.  Products that have form and function are beautiful everyday!

useful + beautiful: contemporary design for the home runs until 25th August 2014 at the Geffrye Museum, so see it while you still can!  

 

 

A conversation with the creator of the Artichair

kizis1This month, in collaboration with the SCIN Gallery, Carefully Curated is delighted to present the innovative materials researcher and designer Spyros Kizis, and his Artichair, made from artichoke thistle fibre.  SCIN describe Kizis as a materials-Superman and are buzzing about both his current work and his future plans, “Definitely one to watch!” 

Edinburgh School of Art graduate, Kizis’ design approach explores not only the material, but also the systems and processes that support the material’s extraction, the product’s manufacture, its distribution and disposal.  As we approach Global Peak Oil, Kizis wanted to find an alternative to oil-derived plastics, without the associated negative environmental impacts.  He developed a composite of Greek artichoke thistle fibres and a bio-based resin, made from waste cooking oil.  Artichoke Thistle (Cynara Cardunculus) grows readily without the need for pesticides or irrigation. Grown easily in a Mediterranean climate, he sees it as a way to encourage local production in his home country, Greece.  The material is created from renewable, sustainable plants, and is 100% biodegradable.

kizis2The Artichair dining chair, pictured above, is moulded and set on simple wooden legs.   Influenced by a classic Eames chair, the material is celebrated in a clean, contemporary shape.  The lounge chair is more generous in its proportions, and with warm honeyed tones it seems to invite you to linger.

1. You are currently featured in the Plausible Implausible exhibition. Can you please tell us more about how you started to experiment with agricultural waste, turning it into new materials?

The whole project started as an investigation into alternative ways to redevelop the Greek economy after the financial crisis. The main idea was to take advantage of local natural resources to design and make products.  After lot of research I ended up using the Artichoke Thistle, which is produced for biofuel purposes at extremely low cost, and the waste was the starting point for this project. What is fascinating about this process and all projects on the same principles, is the journey from nothing to something of value, or if you wish, from something useless to something useful.

2.  What do you think is people’s perception of design when using a new material? How do you feel the Artichair fits into this rapidly evolving design scene?

In my opinion, there is a totally different way of design-thinking behind so called “materiality”.  Instead of traditionally thinking what material could we use to built a specific project, the process is now reversed: what could we built with a new awkward material that we have in our hands? In this way we explore new potentials, new designs, and new concepts. I believe that Artichair really fits this developing scene. My ambition, though, is to go further and instead of being limited to a craft scale, or cool experimentation, to be part of a sustainable mass production system which effects considerably more of our lives.

3.  What future do you envisage for your material? Do you have any large scale plans for it?

The future plans are quite big and exciting. I was lucky enough to be approached by people that saw this as an opportunity, that are sensitive in environmental issues, and very open to giving young people, and new designers a chance. I am now to the Schaffenburg office furniture company from the Netherlands.  We are now designing a new chair which they are going to put in production soon.

4.  Can you see your material being used in other industries?

I could see the material being used in other industries, particularly in interiors and panels. What I would find really interesting, though, is a collaboration with chemical engineers to extract the cellulose from the plant and make a bio-plastic suitable for injection moulding techniques. This would really increase range of applications for the material in different industries.

5.  Are you planning on experimenting with any other waste materials in the future?

Experimentation with other waste materials is a way I would like to continue to work, but that does not mean that I will not continue to work with more traditional commercial techniques. At the moment, I am working on a project about pendant lights, experimenting with wood ashes, waste polystyrene boxes and bio-resins.

Kizis’ work is part of the Plausible/Implausible exhibition currently on show at the SCIN Gallery until 3rd October.

Image credits:  Photos provided by SCIN Gallery

Related links:

http://www.themethodcase.com/spyros-kizis-artichair/

http://www.scin.co.uk/blog/2014/8/12/0ru6yx4v73bs9c65uz5edevtubhf2z

A furniture painting Masterclass with Out of the Dark

62a668_de9d61af450ef7ade2bab3aeead88800.png_srz_140_135_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_png_srzSometimes there is no substitute for experience.  Out of the Dark have plenty of experience of “How to Revamp Your Furniture” and this week ran an evening workshop at Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road to share some of the tips of their trade.

If you haven’t heard of Out of the Dark, they are a charitable social enterprise that recycles and restores salvaged furniture employing young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and training them in furniture making and restoration.  Based in High Wycombe, the 19th century chair-making capital of the world, think the classic Windsor chair and Chiltern woodlands, Out of the Dark is proud to draw on this rich heritage of traditional skills.  Much of their work is for boutique hotels and commercial clients (they just shipped a hundred chairs to Kuwait), but their work is available to all online.

ottd1The three hour workshop at Heal’s drew an attentive crowd with smartphones full of images of projects in the pipeline.  The evening started with tips on where to source furniture: keep an eye out for skip finds; for more economical furniture source further afield from London; or drop into Out of the Dark and have a look at their unpainted stock.  Look for a solid piece of furniture in a shape you like, and free your imagination.

Do be deterred by a lot of chipboard, but not by a little wood worm.  The former needs sensitive handling to preserve the veneer, the later can be solved with some white spirit or worm treatment and left for 24 hours before painting.  If there are any wobbles tighten them up before you start preparing the piece.

ottd2Planning and preparation are key to achieving a polished look, and easier than tidying up a hurried piece at the end.  Jay, co-founder of Out of the Dark, Travis and Yasser talked us through sanding, priming, painting and finishing before unleashing us on some pine boards to have a go.

I have learnt from experience to always sand in the direction of the wood grain, and start painting chairs upside down.  I scribbled these and many more tips down in the notebook provided, but there is no substitute for actually painting a piece under the watchful eye of one of the Out of the Dark team.  They have a real attention to detail, patient perfectionists with paintbrushes!   You have to literally get a feel for it.  Tactile is a word that crops up a lot.

ottd3Heal’s were game to allow a group of amateurs loose with aprons and paint in their showrooms!  The evening was an intense transfer of Out of the Dark’s knowledge gained from working with all manner of pieces, and products.  Osmo finishes are a particular favourite for their performance and environmentally-friendly footprint.

ottd4It was engaging to chat to Travis about his quiet passion for the traditional crafts of caning, painting and upholstery, as well as appreciate the confidence he now has working with wood.  It may take a matter of minutes to spray paint a chair in a factory setting compared to the several days by hand, but the skill, satisfaction and story are far from comparable.

If you are short of time, or the inclination for lots of elbow grease then Out of the Dark run a commission service to spruce up your un/loved pieces.  If you are keen to try your hand, the event cost a very reasonable £15, and all proceeds went to support Out of the Dark’s work.  You can find out about future events at Heal’s here.  News of Out of the Dark events and workshops and open studios this June can be found here.

Out of the Dark have a very exciting collaboration in the pipeline for later this year which bring their work to a wider audience and deepen their knowledge and skill of traditional furniture-making. So watch this space!

Related link:

Out of the Dark: restoring furniture & direction to troubled teenagers

 

 

 

Design Factory @ Clerkenwell Design Week

sc1The buzz at the entrance to the Design Factory was palpable for the opening of Clerkenwell Design Week 2014.   By lunchtime the queue to get in was snaking up the street, and with good reason, as there are some exciting stories to tell.

I raced upstairs to see the first pieces from a new collaboration between Sebastian Cox and Benchmark Furniture.  The Chestnut and Ash range, made from coppiced chestnut and well-managed ash, includes the SHAKE and LATH series.  The SHAKE cabinet (pictured left, w80 d41 h180) and SHAKE sideboard (w150 d45 h80) are made from a solid dovetailed ash carcass with doors made from cleft chestnut shakes, hence the name.  Cleaving is the controlled splitting of wood along its grain to create a unique, textured detail that speaks honestly of the materials crafted with such skill.  

sc2The LATH chair revisits the traditional ladder-back chair.  With laths split from freshly coppiced chestnut and a frame made from ash cut with a CNC router, it is epitomises this new, true collaboration.  The chair (w42 d50 h98) is available with a seat in either veg-tan leather, or natural Danish cord (both are pictured with the SHAKE sideboard).

Sean Sutcliffe, MD and co-founder of Benchmark, came across Sebastian’s work when he was judging the Wood Awards 2011 (Sebastian won the Outstanding Design category).  Sustainability and craftsmanship have been integral Benchmark Furniture   since it launched in 1983, and in 2007, Benchmark won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the Sustainable Development category, the first furniture maker to win this award.  It is the perfect springboard for Sebastian’s designs.  

sc3sc4Whittling away the hours, and sharing some greenwood working gems alongside a splendid Benchmark table was Barn the Spoon (here he is on the right whittling with Sebastian).  Barn started woodworking when he was 12, and has not stopped since.  He has a shop at 260 Hackney Rd, runs courses and the annual Spoonfest (tickets for 2o14 are already sold out).  Working with all manner of wood from London, sycamore, cherry, beech, birch and spalted alder (which has a lovely speckled look), Barn fashions that most essential, and treasured of kitchen implements with great eye for the grain.

It was impossible not to enjoy the arrestingly colourful outdoor furniture from Jennifer Newman.  The M-Bamboo Table and M-Bench were voted “Top Product” when first exhibited at last year’s Clerkenwell Design Week.  This year, they were back in exuberant fashion made from a base of aluminium (88% recycled and recyclable) with a durable powder-coating finish available in any RAL colour. As with the M-Bamboo, the top of the prototype table pictured is made of bamboo, which grows to maturity within 5 years, with light bamboo for inside, and dark bamboo for outside.  

jn1There is other colourful, functional outdoor furniture on the market, but look closely and the joy is in the detail of the Jennifer Newman pieces.  The crisp, clean lines as the aluminium folds around the seat of the A-Frame Bench are precise.  It takes skill to wrap like that, just ask my husband at Christmas!!  The planter on castors would be the perfect home for any citrus or similarly fair-weather plants as they can be rolled into warmer locations when the British weather dictates.

disciAround the corner, I lingered at the DISCIPLINE stand admiring their concise 2014 collection and manifesto that promises, “Natural materials, sustainability, durability, beauty and simplicity.”  DISCIPLINE works with 16 international designers to create function objects for everyday enjoyment from bamboo, cork, glass, leather, metal, stone, textile and wood.  I particularly liked the Drifted chair with its cork seat, but it was too early in the day to justify a sit-down!  The Drifted series, designed by Lars Beller Fjetland also includes stools, is available in a combination of natural, red and black painted base with dark or light cork seats, priced from £170 for a stool.

bd jaElsewhere, there are further contemporary reinterpretations of traditional chair-making techniques.  In particular, leaving the end grain of the legs exposed is used to great effect with the Holton series at James UK (pictured on the left in walnut) and the Occasional Peg table (440mx520mm) from  Barnby and Day (pictured here on the right).  I was also partial to the brass detailing on Another Country’s Bar Stool One.  The various foot rest options are apparently well-suited client of all statures and standings, and the back support steadies those late at the bar!

IMG_3452 IMG_3453There is plenty for the bijoux urban home, such as this clever and versatile folding Proppy chair from Devon-based Tandem Studio.  The chair can be used inside or out and is surprisingly comfortable with an adjustable back rest.  When not in use it can hang from a wall bracket, awaiting the next guest, or freeing your floor space for other things!  Available in solid oak or beech and finished in Osmo oil from £225!

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpgFor those inspired by RHS Chelsea Flower Show but without an inch of outdoor space, the boskke Sky Planter provides a bit of green indoors. Hanging from the ceiling the Sky Planter uses a terracotta disc to feed water gradually to the roots.  Made of ceramic or 100% pre-consumer recycled plastic the planters could keep fresh kitchen herbs very much to hand.

Today, Thursday 22nd May, is the last day of Clerkenwell Design Week so get there while you can, or you’ll have to wait until next year!

Photo credit: boskke; the rest my own!

 

 

May Design Series – cc edited highlights

tr1Time for another design pilgrimage to the ExCel centre for the May Design Series 2014, featuring 400 suppliers of kitchens, bathrooms, lighting, furniture, decor and an edited selection of products from four key European shows (Maison et Objet, Paris; IMM Cologne; Light & Build, Frankfurt and i Saloni, Milan), as well as New Design Britain.  

I was delighted to see Tom Raffield Design.  It was an a-ha moment for me as a few years ago I bought some pendant lights for our house (the Helix and the Hive I now know).  They are often complimented, but I could not remember where I sourced them from.  Suddenly they are everywhere, in the Green Room at Salone del Mobile, at Chelsea Flower Show as part of the Artisan Retreats (alongside another favourite, Eleanor Lakelin) and here at May Design Series.

Tom Raffield designs and handcrafts steam-bent furniture and lighting.  Steam-bending wood is a traditional woodworking technique, that is low energy and adhesive-free. Tom developed his own technique to create the complex, fluid shapes characteristic of his work.  All the wood is from sustainably managed sources and typically unseasoned, green or air-dried timber, and any wastage used for the composting toilet!  The wood is finished in lemon oil, beeswax or a water-based varnish.  Not only is the production process ecologically sound, the products are built to last, and so beautiful you will cherish them for a long time.  I loved the coat loop (pictured in the background), literally Shaker with a twist, and the occasional table with its sinuous, curved detail, a new product launching at May Design Series.

myx-hanging-lamp-growing-180dpiWhile waiting for the 11.15am Conversation Series discussion on the circular economy (more of that later), I was drawn to Smart Environment zone.  MYX is a material cultivated over 3-4 weeks using oyster mushrooms grown on a hemp and linen fibre mat.  The fibres are byproducts of clothing and rope manufacturing.   The fibres are woven with mushroom spores, and as the mycelium (vegetative part of the fungus) grows the textile-like material gains strength and flexibility from chitin, the polymer in mushroom cell walls.   The material can be shaped, in this case as a lampshade (pictured right) then dried leaving a lightweight material that is organic and compostable.  And you can harvest oyster mushrooms in the meantime, so MYX is an end-waste product, that products a delicious food product in its growing cycle.   What a deliciously sustainable example of the circular economy!

Next door, Nobelwood is a smart alternative to tropical hardwood.  Fast-growing pine (FSC certified) is fully impregnated with water soluble biopolymers made from bagasse from sugar-cane.  After drying, the wood has the colour of natural teak and weathers (if un-treated) to a silvery grey colour when used as exterior cladding.  I hope to see a garden furniture set on the market soon!

wall2bearIn the New Design Britain corner, I couldn’t walk past Cristiana Ionescu’s family of felt bears without a smile.  What a delightful accessory for a toddler’s room.  Helen Dugdale‘s colourful Paper-Knotwood caught my eye.  Helen wanted to create a sustainable, recyclable material from coloured paper.  Each piece is unique with the possibility of bespoke colour patterns and combinations.  The material can be cut, sanded, and machined to reveal its layers as a grain, or used as a veneer.  A candy bright or subtle stripe for any interior surface.  

feltFrom the hard to the soft, comfort of 100% pure wool felt from Hollandfelt.  There was a rich array of vibrant colours urging me to stroke them.  Hollandfelt is one of the few felt producers using 100% pure wool from Australian and South American sheep whose fleeces have softer fibres than those closer to home.  The Merino wool is washed in hot water with natural soap rubbing the fibres together to create wool felt.  Felt is renewable and recyclable.  Hollandfelt contains some recycled material from previous customers re-dyed to a darker colour.  The carpet felt, twice felted for durability, is naturally flame and dirt retardant, as well as having good insulating and acoustic properties.  Woolfelts are suitable for fashion, furnishing, architectural interiors and craft applications.  All the products have reached the Öko-Tex 100 standard whose test criteria exceed existing legislation, for example limiting formaldehyde use and banning allergenic dyes, and why wouldn’t you err on the side of caution when choosing materials that you live with?

corkThere were definite moments when I would have been grateful for a seat in the Corqui, made of natural, renewable and sensual cork from Corque Design and designed by Pedro Silva Dias (600x50x690mm).  My potential choice of seating was not limited though as Out of the Dark provided eight chairs for a Silent Auction (pictured below) to raise both awareness and funds for their social enterprise that trains young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to recycle, restore and repaint furniture.  More of their wares were on display in the DX section of the show.  I have just got wind of an exciting collaboration between Out of the Dark and one of my favourite makers, Sebastian Cox, so watch this space for more news!

ootdIn the meantime, news from Clerkenwell Design Week will follow, along with tales of the discussion on the circular economy hosted by Stephen Gee, Director of Resource, with Sophie Thomas, Co-Director of Design, RSA, Mark Shayler, Managing Director of Ticketyboo, and James Bell, Environmental Consultant at FIRA.

 

 

Photocredits:  Jonas Edvard (MYX); Helen Dugdale

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.