This year we are holding two exhibitions and sales of fine furniture,
one in Edinburgh and the other at The Chippendale International School of Furniture – the details of which are as follows:
EXHIBITION AND SALE OF FINE FURNITURE – EDINBURGH
Monday 13th June from 6pm-8pm &
Tuesday 14th June from 10am-8pm
FREE ENTRY * * * ALL WELCOME
EXHIBITION AND SALE OF FINE FURNITURE – GIFFORD, EAST LOTHIAN
Friday 17th June from 6pm-8pm &
Saturday 18th June from 10am-4pm
FREE ENTRY * * * ALL WELCOME
We do hope you will be able to join us!
In the last of his series of articles on modern woodworking, Anselm Fraser, principal of the Chippendale International School of Furniture, looks at the thorny issue of how to price bespoke furniture.
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, the 19th century playwright, would have understood the problem completely.
In his play, Lady Windermere’s Fan, he writes that a cynic is “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Like much of Oscar Wilde’s work, his comedy hides a biting truth – that we often consider moral or ethical values as being less important than financial worth. We allow greed to overrule good sense.
It’s an issue that is particularly pertinent for today’s woodworkers, because the value that we place on a beautifully-crafted piece of furniture may be rather more than a prospective customer is prepared to pay for it.
Yes, it may have taken many, many hours to make, using the finest woods, veneers and delicate inlays. But if that prospective customer is looking for a simple table or chest of drawers, then he or she may be more interested in utility value than financial value.
In other words, spending days and weeks crafting the finest chest of drawers in the whole history of chests of drawers, and placing a huge price tag on it, is no guarantee of a sale.
In a world dominated by IKEA, furniture makers have to look imaginatively at the market, design and build accordingly, and – most importantly – always have a sensible price in mind. We may be craftsmen and women, but our valuations have to be pragmatic.
The key concept is value. The painting hanging on our wall may only have aesthetic value, until we discover it’s a Picasso – at which point it acquires huge utility value as a way of paying off the mortgage.
In the same way, good furniture has both utility and aesthetic value. Our wonderful chest of drawers may be aesthetically beautiful but, if the drawers don’t open properly, it lacks utility value.
That balance between form and function is at the heart of all good design, including architecture and fine woodworking. Finding that balance is the first thing that furniture designers should always do: who am I selling to, and what are the values my customer is looking for?
The fact is, good design must be about both the aesthetic and the utilitarian and, if necessary, woodworkers shouldn’t be afraid to compromise, if compromise brings down the cost to an acceptable level.
That budget will be influenced by two things – the cost of materials and the labour costs of designing and making the piece of furniture. It’s a deceptively simple bit of arithmetic: costs + your time = price.
Of course, it’s a little bit more complicated. Costs aren’t just wood and screws. They also include everything from heating to water, local taxes to equipment. For the mathematically dyslexic (and I’m one), it’s a three-step process:
Step One: Deduct the total cost of your piece of furniture from the income you will receive from it. If your total cost of production (including an allocation for materials, marketing, rent of workshop etc etc) is £10,000 and you sell for £11,800, your gross profit is £1,800. Easy-peasy.
Step Two: It then becomes a little harder, because the next step is to divide gross profit by total income, giving you a gross profit margin of 0.15.
Step Three: Multiply that figure of 0.15 by 100 to calculate the gross profit margin percentage. In this case, 0.15 x 100 = 15%.
The British Woodworking Federation (okay, not representing fine furniture makers) says: “When looking at profit margins it is important to make sure that you cover the depreciation of your fixed assets in your profit and loss account so that you can provide the essential cash to replace these with new investments. As a rule if you are in manufacturing gross margins after direct costs should be in the region of 40 to 50%.”
I wouldn’t disagree with that figure, and improving gross profit margin should always be a clear and unambiguous business objective. Equally, you have to have realistic expectations about what customers may be prepared to pay.
Being realistic about pricing is key, but you also have to have some clear ideas of what you want from life. How much income do you want? In terms of profit, do you also want to generate savings to fund growth? Do you need to invest in more equipment?
It’s a question of balancing the present with the future – building a business and a reputation, so that, in future years, you can build gross profit margin. The problem is that many woodworkers think too highly of themselves, and charge a Rolls-Royce rate, when their customer is looking for a Fiat Uno. (All too infrequently, alas, the opposite can be true!)
Remember that Picasso hanging on your wall? Also remember that Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso (to give him his Sunday name) survived during his early career in Paris by burning most of his paintings – just to keep warm.
I always advise our students to be pragmatic, certainly until they have built a reputation. There’s no point in graduating from a furniture school and thinking you are immediately a master of the woodworking universe.
That takes time and, in the meantime, it’s better to under-sell than not to sell. Remember also another line from Lady Windermere’s Fan: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Start low, be sensible and pragmatic, but always aim higher and higher.Read More
When Sam Rouse found out that his wife Kayla was expecting a baby, he did what any father would do – he built a wooden crib in the shape of a boat.
Sam (24) is an American student at the Chippendale International School of Furniture in East Lothian and is originally from North Carolina.
He met his wife at university in Virginia, where he was studying business marketing and she was studying nursing. From when they were married, the couple had planned to move to Scotland to allow Sam to pursue his life-long passion for woodworking.
When they finally achieved their family goal of enrolling Sam into the Chippendale school, it was only natural that Sam’s first furniture project be for the newest member of his family.
Sam completed the crib, inspired from his own childhood spending summer holidays on the North Carolina coast, just in time for Liliana’s birth in April.
The crib is made from ash, elm and fumed oak with cherry and walnut accents and has an anchor-shaped floor stand. Its side planks were hand planed and each detail meticulously crafted.
The Chippendale International School of Furniture takes students from all over the world for its immersive 30-week course. This year, the school’s students come from the USA, Canada, the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Russia, Australia and New Zealand.
“Not every baby gets a custom-made boat for a bed,” says Sam. “I hope that Liliana will one day have children of her own, and that her crib will become a family heirloom.”
Sam plans to return to the States this June and start a furniture design business of his own. His desire is to help others create heirloom quality pieces of furniture that will be as unique as the people they are made for.
“There is something truly special about having a piece of furniture in your home that was made specifically for you – quality furniture that not only looks beautiful but is sturdy enough to stand the test of time,” says Sam.
“I believe that there are many people who are looking for just that and I plan to help them create inspiring pieces of furniture that will truly be enjoyed and handed down the generations!”
To find out more, visit www.samrousefurniture.com or email Sam at email@example.com.
In the second of three articles on modern woodworking, Anselm Fraser, principal of the Chippendale International School of Furniture, looks at changing patterns of living, and how our smaller homes are influencing furniture design.
Every woodworker that passes through the Chippendale International School of Furniture is taught that good design is either about beautiful creativity or wonderful practicality – and preferably both.
However, in my experience, modern woodworkers all too often fall into the trap of believing their craft should be based solely on their creativity – and creating fabulous pieces of furniture that have little relevance to the real world. My view on creativity is more complex.
So, first, let’s have a look at the real world because it’s the place that we inhabit, and it’s because it’s full of people who need a bed to sleep in, a table to sit at, and a chair to lounge on. A world full of people who need furniture.
But, according to the UN, more than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas and, by 2050, about 70% of the world’s population is expected to live in towns and cities.
The current level of urbanisation ranges from 82% of the population in North America to 40% in Africa, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, in their Safe Cities Index 2015.
Every day, over 187,000 people become city dwellers. In 1950, New York was the world’s first megacity, defined as having a population of more than 10 million people.
Now there are more than 20 megacities and, by 2025, New York is likely to have dropped to sixth on the list – behind Tokyo, Delhi, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Mexico City.
All that urban living has enormous implications not only for infrastructure but for the size of homes that we live in. For example, in 1920, average homes in the UK measured about 1,647 square feet. Now they measure 925 square feet, according to the Institution of British Architects.
Research has also found that the average one bedroom flat is now the same size as a London Underground tube carriage.
Which (finally) brings me to my point: a UK 2012 report found “long- and short-term storage space” – for everyday stuff such as ironing boards and bed linen was one of the features people most wanted in their home.
As furniture designers, we have to recognise how our markets have changed and make furniture that is fit for purpose for the 21st century – markets that involve real people living in smaller spaces, but wanting creative solutions for their everyday needs.
Of course, there will always be a large market for those able to live in larger accommodation, but furniture design constantly needs to evolve to remain relevant – and creatively anticipating and meeting modern trends is a skill that woodworkers must acquire.
So, why not have a look around your home? What about those stairs that do nothing more than allow you access to the upper floor? Why couldn’t some, or all, of those stairs also be drawers for storage?
Or the coffee table cluttering up your living room? Why can’t it also have storage space for books or clutter? In other words, small spaces need furniture that is multi-functional. Sofas than turn into bunk beds, tables and chairs that are also book shelves…the list goes on and on.
For me, good furniture design must fulfil a clear need, but do it beautifully. Form and function should seamlessly work together to create furniture that looks good, works well, and is practical.
For example, last year we had a student whose big idea was to make fabulous bespoke furniture that could be easily dismantled. She had rightly identified that over 50% of people aged under 25 have already lived in three or more homes. On average, they’ll typically move three more times before they are 45 – and moving large pieces of furniture can be a hassle.
Too many furniture designers are still wedded to creativity making something for generous spaces: the large dining table or sideboard, for example. These commissions, they reason, will generate a large sum of money and make their designs worthwhile.
For some, that may well be right. But in my experience, older people who have moved up the property ladder to large properties generally have the signature or bespoke furniture they want – some, perhaps, inherited. They might have the space, but not necessarily the need.
Also, older people often like old things. They represent a collective market that browses in antique shops, and who wouldn’t necessarily think about commissioning a new piece of furniture.
But what about younger buyers, living in small spaces, and needing creative multi-purpose furniture solutions? The maths is compelling, certainly for those in affluent areas.
The average UK salary is currently about £27,500. In the City of London it’s close to £50,000, roughly double the UK median. Other UK cities have the same disparity, if not on the scale of London. That means that an average couple living together in wealthy inner-city areas are likely to be cash rich but property poor.
In other words, it suggests that woodworkers should be looking again who their customers are – or who their customers could be, and challenging their creativity to offer furniture solutions rather than just furniture.
In that sense, creativity should be more than just designing and making a beautiful piece of furniture. Creativity should also be about identifying buying markets and designing for them – real people in the real world, with very real needs and expectations.
In his final article in the series, Anselm Fraser will address the perennial bugbear of how to price bespoke furniture.
The third and final term of our students’ nine-month furniture design course was kick-started with a week of intensive woodworking, learning the art of Windsor chair making under the guidance of Britain’s leading Windsor chair makers, Tom Thackray and his son-in-law Steve.
The making of Windsor chairs involves a whole range of woodworking skills that, once learnt, will be invaluable to our students in their furniture-making careers. First, the seats are shaped using a ‘travisher’ and various degrees of sanding.
The rods at the back of a Windsor chair are known as ‘sticks’ – as opposed to spindles – and are shaped from thick to thin by forcing them through a specialist lathe.
Traditional woodturning skills are used to form and shape the legs.
A Windsor chair is a joy to behold and a pleasure to own. They are chairs that become loved over time and passed down from generation to generation. They make wonderful gifts and, because they can be handcrafted in any size, they can be made for men, women and children – and they can even be built as rocking chairs. Additionally, a whole wealth of design features can be added, including the carving of personal details into the ash wood, making each chair absolutely unique.