A simple fact about bespoke furniture is that good design sells.
That’s a lesson that Fiona Gilfillan, one of recent professional course graduates has learned.
During her course, she made a spalted Sycamore and Elm console table, which sold at the graduate exhibition.
She was then commissioned by another customer to make a second console table.
Now she’s just completing a third, making her something of a console queen.
Fiona was the second student on our newly-introduced month-long intermediate course last year.
Then, despite not initially intending to make woodworking her life, she enrolled on our 2018/19 professional course.
Fiona is now setting up FeeMade from incubation space at the school.
Those spaces, Myreside Studios, are one of the ways we try to help graduates in their early careers.
Because we don’t believe that education and support should end when our students graduate.
Instead, in a more holistic approach, our Myreside Studios allow graduates to set themselves up in business from the school’s campus.
We give them good working space and full access to equipment and machinery.
They also have continued help from our tutors, so that they don’t have to feel isolated.
That’s important because our students build up close working relationships with other students, with everyone learning from each other.
Myreside Studios allow those working relationships to extend into professional life so that, in a very real sense, the school is a community of students and professional woodworkers.
Fiona also has one other claim to Chippendale woodworking fame.
She first came to us on a one-week introductory course, making her the only person to have completed all three of our courses.
Fiona is gifted and hard-working and we’re hugely pleased that she’s staying on at the school.Read More
It’s a good way for potential professional woodworkers to see if they really do have sawdust in their veins.
And if they do, and enrol onto our professional course, the introductory course fees are deducted.
It’s a route into woodworking that several professional course students have taken, having proved to themselves that woodworking is the career for them.
For Stephen, originally from Northern Ireland but now living in Edinburgh, it was a bold change of professional direction.
His previous career was in IT consultancy, with his own company, which he sold.
Stephen’s stand-out piece, for which he won this year’s Richard Demarco Prize, was a humorous statement on the vexed question of Brexit.
His “Strong and Stable Brexit Cabinet” was just as divided as the country on the issue.
His two-door cabinet in Walnut and Japanese Ash depicted the Union Jack on one door, and the EU’s stars on the other.
Also, one of the EU’s stars was missing…a visual quip about the UK’s intention to (maybe) leave the EU.
In our experience, furniture sells when it’s well-made and carries a design that turns it into a talking point.
Not only was Stephen’s cabinet extremely well made but his fun design gave it topical appeal.
In the run-up to the school’s graduation exhibition, several newspapers – including The Times – carried stories about his cabinet.
At the exhibition itself he was awarded The Richard Demarco Prize 2019.
This annual prize is awarded by Professor Richard Demarco CBE, one of the UK’s leading arts commentators.
Professor Demarco’s prize is awarded to the student whose work not only displays design and woodworking skill but exceptional artistic talent.
Stephen is now setting up Starship Unicorn Furniture from incubation space at the school.
These spaces, Myreside Studios, are another good reason to study at the Chippendale school.
They allow graduates to immediately set up in business and make full use of the school’s equipment and machinery.
They also still have tutor support in case of difficulty in those important early months.
It’s all part of the school’s holistic approach to teaching woodworking and helping our students post-graduation.Read More
Inspiration is something that we can all struggle with, and sometimes we find it in unusual places.
The lesson is that, wherever you find inspiration, grab it with both hands.
That was true of recent professional course graduate Tom Smyth from Bristol whose previous job was on a community farm in Somerset.
Tom knew that furniture making was for him having already undertaken evening classes in woodworking – and realising how much he enjoyed it.
Tom’s simple philosophy was that he enjoys making things, and he wanted a new career doing just that.
His stand-out piece during the course was a monumental garden seat, inspired by work he carried out on the roof of a listed 400-year-old timber framed barn in Hampshire.
OK, it’s may seem a strange link, but you have to take inspiration wherever you find it.
His seat was a symphony in majestic steam-bending, and held together using only pegged mortice and tenon joints.
Tom’s approach was to take a straightforward garden bench design, but make it bigger and more striking.
It was therefore a design that took the ordinary and transformed it into something special.
No wonder that his bench was snapped up by an eager buyer at our graduate exhibition.
Tom’s second piece was a lovely plant stand cabinet made from lustrous Lime.
But, finding inspiration from a completely different source, the top of the piece was delicately carved and gilded with yellow gold in a pattern that echoed the Buddhist tree of life.
It comprised a series of vases or containers, with plants spilling out, decorated with colours found on Buddhist prayer flags.
Tom’s finished collection also comprised a Sycamore lampstand and Sycamore baker’s block with granite top.
We’re pleased that he’s found work with Allangrange Furniture Restoration, run by our first ever student, Jayjay Gladwin.
Paul Hartman was this year’s recipient of the Public’s Choice Award.
It’s an award that is voted on by visitors to the school’s professional course graduation exhibition in Edinburgh.
It’s a real accolade because those visitors are representative of the buying public.
Paul, from Alberta, Canada already had construction and carpentry experience when he came to us last year.
His love of woodworking stems from his time at High School and working in the school’s workshop.
Paul’s decision to come to the school was based on a desire to challenge himself, and learn the craft of designing and making fine furniture.
But he could have chosen a different path, having originally studied Divinity at a Canadian seminary.
However, he decided that his faith could best be practiced from outside the church.
We’re glad that he made that decision because he turned out to be a hugely gifted furniture designer and maker.
In particular, he made one of the finest rocking chairs that we’ve seen for some years.
Inspired by the late Sam Maloof whose rockers are in national collections, Paul’s chair had a ‘woven’ back seat.
But it was also an honest piece, reflecting both the complexity and simplicity of good design.
That quality is something that was evident in Paul’s other pieces and the reason, perhaps, why the Edinburgh public liked them so much.
For example, his Elm coffee table decorated with a compass rose, and his Yew hall table, with a frame of rippled Sycamore.
Some furniture designers go a bit overboard and create funky, loud pieces that may only appeal to a very few buyers.
Others stick to the traditional, making quiet furniture that may be well-made but doesn’t have a WOW factor.
Paul steered a middle course between those design approaches, creating softly-spoken pieces that had absolutely no need to shout their quality.
Paul has now returned to his native Alberta and set up his own furniture design business, Dry Tree Construction.Read More
Grant Anderson came on our professional course having been a keen hobbyist for some years.
He graduated in June, having won our Students’ Choice Award.
This award is voted on by our students, and recognises someone who they regard as a particularly gifted woodworker.
Grant, originally from Zimbabwe, lived in London for some 14 years and worked in the motorbike business.
As a hobbyist, Grant learned some basic skills from YouTube, other internet sites and books.
Those skills were put to good use when he renovated a flat, and realised that the woodworking bug had taken over.
His first piece was an Oak coffee table, with nine strips of steam-bent Oak per leg.
It had brass decoration at each end, five Oak planks as its top, with breadboarded end-pieces held in place with pegs.
Steam bending is a core skill in woodworking, and a technique that we teach early on in our professional course.
It involves strips of wood being steam heated in a steam box, then bent around a former to create a specific shape.
Grant’s table was an ambitious piece and most of our students, as their first piece of furniture, would have made the table with more easily-constructed legs.
Grant, however, won his Student’s Choice award for his stand-out drinks cabinet, which incorporated some 1.8 metres of tambour doors.
Adding complexity to complexity, the external tambour doors were attached to an inner tambour mechanism.
Open the cabinet, and the inner and outer tambour doors moved in opposite directions.
Another design flourish was added with the creation of a secret compartment, with an opening mechanism controlled by burr Elm cup holders.
Grant’s design was all about displaying an ordinary blended whisky bottle, and hiding the single malt whisky.
It was therefore a drinks cabinet to offer hospitality to casual friends, or better hospitality to very good friends.
Grant’s cabinet was complex and intricate, underlining both his design and making skills.
Those considerable skills mean that Grant is well on his way to a new career in fine woodworking.Read More