ideas: taking design for a walk

The absolute most enjoyable part of my work is coming up with design ideas.  These notions and influences can come along from many sources, places, people and now, increasingly from the world wide web.  I’ve been a fan of Scottish architect and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh for as long as I can remember. Something about his work and use of visual language has for a long time, been something I want to emulate when I make something new, but in a quiet way, I hope.

This piece of work all began when I was given a trailer load of timber by my cousin. Whilst we unloaded it my eye was habitually scanning the pieces whilst ideas came to mind for some of them. Lots of the timber was simply ‘stock’ beautiful, high quality hardwood stock at that.  A few sections of timber caught my eye immediately, I set them aside for some further thought and how I could use them to best effect.

scots elm, canadian maple, noble timber for a throne

burr-elm is full of character

The timbers that caught my attention were elm, spalted maple and tulip-wood, particularly fine and noble species and, as it goes, amongst my favourite timbers to work with…make a throne, they said, something to show off our grain and structure, the colours and structure are here to be found…make a high back chair kind of a throne, an earthy, rustic Mackintosh. This was indeed what I had to do.

burr-elm, maple and tulipwood, waiting for ideas

raw timber, part worked and dusty with age

The making: without a doubt, the fun part, begin with a notion, some ideas, and see where we can go. Working without plans but with some ideas of structure and shapes I wanted to achieve in the final, finished thing can be so liberating as a maker, it feels more like working with the timber, more than simply imposing my will upon it.

imposition of ideas sometimes fails

a cut too far

Then came the moment where I pushed too hard, stopped listening to what the timber was telling me!

carpentry tells us to make a feature of junctions that cannot be hidden

restored by carpenter sleight of hand

Having made a mistake, and recovered it. I continued with the making with the original enthusiasm I had started with. making cuts and shaping the parts as I carried on with the work, following the clues for how to work the timber. I’m so pleased with how my ideas turned out.

native elm from scotland

burr elm chair back

sculptural and functional furniture

the carpenters throne

elm, maple, tulip-wood

workshop photo almost complete


bespoke outdoor living furniture

One meets the nicest people when out walking the dog, outdoor people, ones who appreciate the simple things in life.  This bespoke commission came about over a period of time, many walks of the dog and meeting my neighbour along the way.  He had recently moved a way from the industrial north east looking for space to breathe, the simple joy of the big skies and wide-open spaces of Northumberland.

bespoke design idea for gregs table, Bellingham, Northumberland

sketch brief, every bespoke commission begins its life as a pencil sketch

We got to talking, as you do…dogs,, the universe and everything.  When I told him what I did for a living, craftsman/carpenter/bespoke furniture maker, he asked me if I would design and make some garden furniture, specifically, for his wife’s birthday present.  Much talk about design, size, materials and timber..he was wanting something sturdy, chunky and rustic.  Just my way of working, really.

Prepared some design sketches, the design brief included lots of natural flowing forms, high quality and durable timbers with individual and unique qualities.

elm, ancrum, northumberland

fresh from the sawmill, this table still looks like a tree

The decision was made to use Elm for this piece, highly durable and with a multi-coloured grain and figuring, one of my 1st choice timbers to work with.  Resistant and demanding of sharp tools and a high level of skill and craftsmanship.

selecting the board sizes, northumberland

shakes and splits in the converted boards

With a design agreed, and the timber chosen, time for a trip across the border to my absolute favourite timber merchant and collective group of artisan designer/makers of some very fine furniture, indeed. Real Wood Studios near Ancrum in Scotland.

This is where the making begins, in essence, in warehouse full of choice, locally grown and sourced timber..its easy to let the mind wander and see possibilities in every piece of wood there.  Time to focus and stick to the brief.  Not easy in a treasure trove of carpenter goodies such as this.

elm from ancrum

working on the layout with rough sawn boards

Back to the workshop, and begin to shape the rough boards into the bits and pieces of the table that took shape in my minds eye when coming up with the design sketch.  Cutting out defects, keeping the highlights of grain and figuring.

As a maker and craftsman, this is without a doubt, the fun bit. Where the ideas put down on paper and discussed at length with a client, begin to take shape.

the bulk of the machining has been done

a workshop still-life of the work in progress

I see my role in making as being that of doing everything I can in order to make the raw materials look good.  Starting the process with quality materials such as this gives one a huge advantage, rough diamonds into sparkling gems.

colours and texture

that moment after the first coat of finish

Applying the first coat of timber oil brings a glow to the hand worked timber, the colour and grain the payback for many hours of hard work.  Final assembly brings an inner smile like no other that I know, and idea realised is such a satisfying thing.

the uneven boards are a feature of this piece

those spaces are there for a reason, they allow for timber movement and let the rain trickle away

this turned out just as i wanted

the table top in the sunshine just glows and shimmers

bespoke joinery, Hexham, Northumberland

elm chopping board, chestnut tea-light holders

A hugely satisfying piece of work, both to make and to happily hand over to my neighbour, I added in a few accessories to go with the finished work.  I love my job, I want people to enjoy owning the things I make.  Job done, with ideas in my head for the next piece of work.