Thursday, 24 November 2011

Back to the future

I visited the little Suffolk town of Long Melford last week as I had heard it was an antique mecha and a real treasure trove. As a fan of all kinds of styles and periods of furniture I thought it would be an excellent source of inspiration and valuable information. I was not wrong. I saw so many differences, nuances, patterns, themes and designs that are all lost in today’s modern, stark, industrial style of furniture which is so widespread now.

For example everything was opulent and grand, and why not. Obviously a lot of what I saw was for large houses and to show wealth and stature in society, but the patterns and carvings were immense and showed an extreme passion and amazing craft skill. why can’t these ideals be brought back. Money is one obstacle and time is another I suppose, but surely it’s not that hard to gain some stature and opulence in today’s society? I mean we buy furniture to show not only style and taste but maybe wealth and social position/vision (take minimalist ikea against dark detailed heavy furniture) gives you, well me an idea of class divide. So surely it’s up to us designers to bring some of this amazing stature in design, -‘showing off skills-’ back?! But to meet sustainability and peoples taste in line.

Another thing I noticed in many pieces I saw in the vast rooms and areas of these big antique shops was the proportion of the items of furniture, they were all massive structures, nothing like what is made today. Now obviously this again was to show stature and wealth in olden days and the material of wood (not many of these peieces had metal in them) was widespread and at the forefront of the industry as a whole, but again why cant proportion be a defining feature now? Is it down to house size? Houses are not as big as they used to be and new builds are getting smaller and smaller. Is it just money again? I don’t think so. Maybe we need to re-educate people in the idea of having multi functional furniture items that maybe big but for a beneficial reason and not an aesthetic reason. For example what happened to the classic sideboard? Can this be reinvented?
  And we have to be sensitive to cost and longevity in designs too as the items I saw were made to last for years and years, encompassing different periods in history and culture which would age its appearance and appeal. This just does not happen now but it can.

I also found a lot of specific designed pieces for hobbies and crafts. Never heard of in this day and age, but tables for crochet and knitting with function playing a major part where everywhere, and these tables stood out because the design was simple, no ornate carvings and they used fabric as well and leather, which is not present on the grand tables or ornate chairs. Shame we can’t bring these specific ideas back but the trend for people wanting multi functional pieces is bigger than ever.
  And while we are on missing elements in design today the carvings and directions applied to these pieces sing out status and uniqueness. The time it must have taken to produce these designs is mind blowing but the same old question of why we can’t do it nowadays is raised again. We could easily incorporate the complex carved patterns by use of milling machines and advanced manufacturing techniques, but would the public want? Or be able to afford it? It’s a shame the latter I feel is the deciding factor.

Moving on to the construction of these mammoth pieces was an eye opener. When I design pieces I try to be sensitive to material use and structural integrity, as I have a limit to how much material I can use and how much I can spend. And the common approach in mass produced furniture is to use rough, chipboard, OSB board to provide structural support and use these in areas which will not be seen by the consumer. But in the peiecs I observed every section, every structural element was of the same wood used on the showing, functional faces of the design, this not only in my eyes boosted the pieces craftsmanship and place in the house as a valuable item but made it last, weather the storm of life and make it strong, true to form, and not a passing fade

So all these elements and believe me there are more, made me realise so much is missing in terms of design today and it has given me so many raw ideas and incentives to put some of these back into furniture to sell/highlight what can and does go into designing and making a piece of furniture. To tell a story and build a relationship with these things we use everyday, because that is what its about isn’t it? Making a connection so we don’t throw away and replace so easily like they did in years gone by. And when I saw all these massive pieces of grand designs, sitting in small rooms, dotted about shops and clad with obscure antique china and retro sculptures they all seemed to be trying to reconnect with someone like they did when they were made. Trying to be found again so they can gain some dignity back and be used for what they are and build a lasting relationship.

Very endearing

I feel this blog post could be a lot longer on this subject as it is a vast discussion point and maybe I will come back to this area as it does hold a lot of secrets and directions, for me anyway        

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

a small conflict

Some people may not be aware that my design career started in a passion for car design and this is what I studied at university before losing the passion for it and realising that gaining a job in car design was beyond difficult. So I turned my passion towards furniture design but I wanted to touch on a small conflict that I have noticed within transport design that has got me thinking and I suppose I am just thinking out loud with this.

  I have noticed that on Britain’s road there is a wide range on different aged cars. Their not all new and not all old, a very diverse mix. But what does this produce? Are current car designers aware of what’s happening? Mixing old with new, does this create a divide between consumers and also what relationship is created between the different aged cars in terms of safety and legacy? This may all sound a mash up of my thoughts and in a way it is but I think that what is currently on the roads today is so diverse and do the designs relate, understand, complement each other? Should they? Are current car designers superseding current designs too quickly and not thinking abut sustainability and making the cars last longer in the current climate?

  Basically I suppose I am saying that the car industry is not doing enough to sustain the cars already on the roads and celebrating some truly amazing cars that I currently see driving about (Mercedes CLS anyone?) and what does this industrial system do to social behaviour? (sociology time) I mean I get jealous when I see a new car and automatically think I should trade in. the power of design! Also in terms of safety are consumers being bullied into buying a new car because they are perceived as being safer and should we worry that the some old cars are not as big or secure than new cars. And what does the barrage of new cars every year against old cars create on our roads? More danger?

 Just by seeing an old morris minor against a mazda 3 in a car park the other day has sparked this idea in my head and opened up another area that design creates. competition, emotion, reaction the list is endless. So when someone asks you what is design and its just drawing pretty pictures, they are so wrong, what we designers have to think about before drawing anything is long!

Ramble over

Wednesday, 9 November 2011


As this blog is amongst other things an account of my progression as a designer and a showcase of my designs I thought I would detail an important part of my design process which I have been neglecting, ideas and directions. I did a lot of this when I first started to design furniture as I did not have that many resources or tools to construct proper workable furniture, and as I had ideas coming out of my ears I needed a way to document and see these ideas in full scale 3d, so I started making mockups and models of the ideas and directions I wanted to take. These used various cheap woods and scrap materials I found from diy stores and around the house and proved invaluable in sorting out the concepts in my head and sorting the proportion of the designs which is vitally important if human interaction is involved. The photos below show some of the ideas I had made and to this day still provide inspiration and fuel for the designs I now make from quality locally sourced hardwoods.

  One of the mocks up I made involved modifying an old stool and adding extra elements to highlight and distinguish the structural elements of furniture. I did this by painting and extending the pieces that provided the most structural support. I wanted the object to identify its features more. I was pleased with this mock up and loved the fact I could see it and evaluate it in full scale. This model is now the basis for a range of furniture I want to make based on this emphasising principle (when I have the time), taking old furniture and reinventing it and making its individual features stand out for what they are, important

  Another model I made was for an idea of a leg arrangement based on a crossing over effect of the legs to provide not only a different aesthetic but a structural/sustainable advantage in eliminating unnecessary pieces to complete the piece. So I used bog standard wood from B and Q which was cheap and warped and I felt bad for using it as I was worried that it was not from a sustainable source and was a waste of valuable resources, but I later found out they were from a sustainable source.
  I cut and screwed the sections together and gave it a bright lick of paint to make its unique look stand out. And again I cannot begin to explain how satisfying and important it was seeing an idea I had in my head there full scale in front of me, it gave me renewed optimism to make more models and experiment more with the ideas in my head.
  So I am going back to making some more designs and experimenting with the ideas in my vast collection of sketch books. I will use scrap materials and off cuts of wood to really push out the concepts in my head into the really world and see if they will work/convey the right impression I am after.
  I am now finding out that this method of experimentation is invaluable in this day and age and will lead to the concepts being made into unique items of furniture. It will not only help in deciding construction methods but give me precious user feedback and opinions which are sometimes lost/forgotten when your stuck in a sketchbook or a workshop. So like this blog it’s a precious way to get my designs noticed and ‘living’, as furniture I feel is becoming a scarce practice due to the difficulties in obtaining sustainably sourced wood (price being the main obstacle and cheaper mass produced items). I want my designs to challenge, change and push forward new ways to get individual british manufacturing moving in the right direction, and this is one way of doing it, experiment, try and innovate in my own way.