How falling out of a tree led to a love of wood

An interview with Seonaid Denholm who set up a furniture making business in the Chippendale Incubation Centre after graduating from the Chippendale Furniture School.

“I fell out of a tree aged 9. Here I am, 14 years later, a few less broken bones but still playing around with wood!”

What sort of work were you doing before becoming a student at the Chippendale School of Furniture? Why did you choose furniture making?

“Prior to September 2010 I was a studying Economic and Social History at the University of Manchester, and working part time as a chef. Had I graduated a few years earlier the career path would have been very different; I would have a PGDE and be teaching primary school (well I would have hoped to have been). The pessimistic state of the economy dictated otherwise.

“Someone asked me ‘if you could do anything what would you do?’  Some people are cut out for a big business life in the city, in a big office block, always being the middle man. Spin this somewhat stereotypical model around 1800 and that’s what I wanted.

“With a grandfather building yachts in his garage, an interest in antiques and enjoying carpentry at school a career in wood fitted perfectly.”

What were the highlights of the 10 month Chippendale Furniture design course?

“For me it was the workbench and the range of different skill areas that were incorporated into the course. One is not just taught presupposed cabinet making skills but gilding, stained glass work, and boule work. It gives you a taster of other crafts which can then be incorporated into a design and/or piece of furniture.

Senaid Denholm with the grand father clock, desk & mirror she made when a student
Seonaid Denholm with the grand father clock, desk & mirror she made when a student

“Away from the workbench, it’s got to be the atmosphere of the School itself made by the people and also by the setting.”

What did you make whilst at the cabinet making school?

“My first project, ‘the solid wood one’ was an Olive ash Grandfather clock, based dimensionally on the long case Lancashire clock, but influenced by the shaker movement.

“My second project, ‘the veneered one’ was a kidney shaped writing desk with a solid pine base frame dressed in walnut and burr walnut veneer.”

Tell us about the furniture making business that you have now set up and your aspirations for it.

“Yellowhammer Furniture is a commissioned-based business.  My aim, therefore, is to achieve high level of customer satisfaction and make excellent furniture. I specialise in making indoor bespoke furniture, but also do restoration work, make bespoke kitchens, outdoor furniture and even bespoke footbridges. In all, lots of wooden things!

“The next three months will see the launch of the website www.yellowhammerfurniture.co.uk then going into the winter, some promotional campaigns. Creatively over the forthcoming years I would like to establish a series of furniture with a specific style which will be the intrinsic trade mark of Yellowhammer Furniture.

“I would also love to do something long term as big and as whacky as the Italian Livio De Marchi has done.”

Why did you base yourself in the Chippendale Furniture Incubation Centre?

“Renting at the Chippendale International School of Furniture seemed like the obvious choice. The start-up costs required for a workshop are just not feasible at the age of 23, but I will get there in time. In saying this it is not just the underlying costs of a business start-up which made renting here so appealing, everyone surrounding you is in the same boat ‘making a career out of wood’.

“One thing I have learnt from renting at the school is to think outside the box; sometimes one is so close to the work that one cannot see the obvious solution to a problem, whilst the person on the next bench can point it out straight away. It makes you realise that there are always different ways to do things and there is always a solution.”

What sort of commissions are you working on?

“I am currently working on various different commissions: the first, two bedside tables, which are original Yellowhammer Furniture designs; the second, a tv cabinet designed to imitate 18th century furniture styles; the third piece is a tree root coffee table. There is also a chair in there somewhere.

Coopered table designed by Seonaid Denholm.
Coopered table designed by Seonaid Denholm.

“In its design stage is a storage chest to accommodate 100+ wax cylinders for a 1911 Thomas Edison phonograph. On a completely different to do list is the completion of a Windsor chair, which my late grandfather (a boat builder) was halfway through before he took ill.

“Every commission is so different from the next it is impossible to describe one as more interesting than another and providing this doesn’t change, here underlies what I hope will make Yellowhammer Furniture a success!”

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