Q&A with Student of the Year, Nicholas Davis

Seeking a career change, Nicholas Davis decided to pursue his passion for furniture making and enrolled at the Chippendale International School of Furniture. Nine months on, Nicholas was deservedly presented with the Student of the Year Award 2023, in recognition of his exceptional woodworking skills and craftsmanship.

We sat down with Nicholas to gain his insights into the Professional Course, his woodworking approach, and his aspirations for the future of his bespoke furniture business, Nicholas Davis Studio.

How did it feel to receive the Student of the Year Award?

“I was so grateful and touched to receive the award. It gave me a real sense that the hard work and sacrifices, of not only myself but those that have supported me throughout the course, were recognised. Being rewarded in this way, and the reaction of support from my fellow students and tutors made the moment all the more significant and memorable.”

How did you discover your passion for woodworking and furniture making?

“My previous career in graphic design and art direction meant I was working closely with a range of talented designers and creative companies across various disciplines. Working with fashion brands, cultural institutes, and exhibition design exposed me to the satisfaction found in design that is physical, tangible, and interactive.

“These experiences, paired with my love of working with my hands, led me to seriously consider furniture making as a career path. The Chippendale School was the next logical step for me.”

How would you describe your experience at the Chippendale School over the last 9 months?

“The past nine months have been fantastic and intense in all sorts of ways. The greatest advantage of being in the full-time course environment was having access to the incredibly wide-ranging knowledge of all the tutors. This made every day an opportunity to ask as many questions as I could and absorb as much information as possible.

“The varying perspectives and approaches of fellow students from across the world were also a big part of why this woodworking course felt right for me. Being with this range of people on a daily basis was brilliant, and, personally, I have come away with many new lifelong friends.”

Fireside Chair

What moment stands out as the most memorable for you?

“Completing the final steps of building my Fireside Chair was an especially memorable few days. This was towards the end of the course, at which point I felt confident, knowing exactly how to create the design I had set out to build. Being in this position after months of learning felt like a momentous final step and completing that chair to a standard I was genuinely proud of was really significant for me.”

Which of your projects was the most challenging?

“My larder cabinet had particularly difficult elements to it. Making the spice rack shelving reversible was very challenging, as the design demanded smooth curves and seamless joints.

“After many trials, the successful approach involved laminating layers of veneer onto a form that pushes the wood into a soft curve and is fixed to the inside of the doors with small removable bolts on an internal frame. Fortunately, this careful and time-consuming process paid off with a simple and functional finished result.”

What serves as your primary source of inspiration for designing furniture?

“I try to focus on the function a piece serves and the context in which it lives. Aesthetic decisions should comfortably follow these two main criteria. Usually, I find inspiration for a new piece from everyday life, such as wanting a lounge chair to have wide-level arms so they can be used to place a cup, or wishing my small kitchen had more useful and versatile storage and work surfaces. Both of these examples led to two of the designs I completed during the course.”

Occasional Seating

Have any furniture designers or particular styles influenced your own unique style and approach?

“I have a particular admiration for Arts & Crafts style furniture, which has an ethos of appropriateness running through it. In the design, joinery, and materials, nothing is superfluous. There are also many modern designers I greatly admire, particularly Finn Juhl, for his iconic sculptural design style. I love the work of Pierre Yovanovitch, whose creative work spans from furniture to interior architecture. The attention to detail and exploration of materials to create truly beautiful pieces is fantastic.

“There is a company in Finland called Vaarnii that creates brutal and sophisticated designs using only Finnish pine. Their approach and aesthetic really stand out to me. I also draw a lot of inspiration from architecture, both old and new. Lina Bo Bardi’s work serves as a treasure trove of inspiration, while the work of contemporary architect Ryan Kennihan is fantastically careful and considered, resulting in buildings that look both current and timeless.”

What materials do you enjoy working with the most and why?

“Maple is a pleasure to work with; it gives a beautiful finish but is also merciless for showing up any imperfections. As it’s so light in colour, any gaps or mistakes become very clear on the finished result, so it demands precision.”

What are your future plans for your furniture making business?

“I plan to build my own designs to sell alongside working on bespoke commissions. I’d also like to explore working on larger bespoke interior projects with wood, such as staircases and doors, as well as smaller designs like lamps and mirrors. In short, there are a huge number of possibilities – I will be content as long as I can continue learning and making beautiful things.”

Nicholas working on the Fireside Chair

Do you have any advice for aspiring woodwork students who are just starting their journey?

“Work hard, stay interested, and ask as many questions as you can. There is a massive amount to learn, which is what makes it so enjoyable. I believe that as long as you remain engaged and eager, working out what you want to make will come naturally in the process of learning how to make it. Most importantly, enjoy it – it’s a privilege to be able to spend time creating things from wood.”

Do you have any long-term goals you are working to achieve?

“Always in the back of my mind is to build my own home and workshop. This may be quite a long-term aim, but if that goal can become a reality, I don’t think there could be a greater achievement in my career.”

A huge thank you to Nicholas for taking the time to speak to us!

Check out his work at Nicholas Davis Studio or on Instagram @nicholasdavisstudio.

Are you interested in pursuing a career in woodworking? Take a look at our 30-week Professional Course to see how you too could become a fine furniture maker.

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