Making success happen
Brexit divides cabinet
Stephen Barr, one of our recent professional course graduates, first came to the school on a one-week introductory course.
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.
Note: Two places still remain unfilled on our professional course 2019/20, which starts next month. More information here or contact us here.Read More
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.
Note: Two places still remain for our professional course that starts next month. More information here or contact us here.Read More
The value and cost of furniture making
Anselm Fraser, principal, the Chippendale school’s principal, writes in The Woodworker magazine.
Oscar Wilde, the 19th century playwright, expressed it perfectly.
In his play, Lady Windermere’s Fan, he wrote 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. 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. 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 that 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, from architecture to 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. 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.
It’s a process of determining cost and then building in a reasonable profit margin.
Make something for £10,000 and sell it for £11,800, and your gross profit is £1,800. You will also go out of business rather rapidly.
As a rule, gross margins after direct costs should be in the region of 40-50%.
Generally, improving profit margin should always be a clear and unambiguous business objective. But, equally, you must have realistic expectations about what customers may be prepared to pay.
The problem is that many woodworkers think too highly of themselves. They charge a Rolls-Royce rate, when their customer is looking for a Fiat Uno. (All too infrequently, alas, the opposite can be true!)
Also remember that Pablo Picasso only survived during his early career in Paris by burning most of his paintings 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 rather than not 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.
Note: A couple of places remain on our professional nine-month course which begins in October. For more information, click here.Read More
Paddling to an island
Jacob Corradi from Banbury in Oxfordshire came on our professional course from a previous career as a birch canoe and log cabin builder.
He therefore had a grounding in woodwork, although boat building and fine furniture making require very different skills.
Jacob’s first project was an olive ash writing desk, with six curved legs and a solid oak top with a live edge.
It had two drawers and a cabinet section made from ammonia fumed oak. A neat design flourish was that the desk’s legs appeared to rise up from the desktop.
The desk’s two drawers and cabinet were finished with steel handles.
It was a bold and ambitious project, accomplished with style and confidence. It definitely possessed a real “wow” factor.
Underlining his skill and craftsmanship, Jacob sold his desk at our graduate exhibition in Edinburgh.
You can see a fly-through video of the exhibition here.
Jacob also brought that sense of drama to his monumental ebonised kitchen island in solid oak.
It was a statement piece that was also entirely functional. It had large drawers, ample interior storage space, and a slate on the top for hot plates.
Jacob is now going to work with David Hall, another of our professional course graduating students.
They’e setting up The Whisky Barrel Furniture Company.
The plan is to work in partnership to design and make high-end furniture made with, or incorporating, wood from whisky barrels.
The intention is to make pieces that will be of interest to, for example, distillery visitor centres and whisky bars.
It’s a bold and ambitious idea, but one with enormous potential for Scottish buyers, or for anyone wanting to own a piece of Scotland.Read More