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
There are some people who just know that a professional woodworking course is absolutely what they want to do.
Others, however, are not so sure.
It may be that they’ve had no prior woodworking experience or lack design skills.
But not to worry, because the Chippendale school doesn’t require experience or skill. All we look for is a desire to learn those skills, which everyone does.
For those still undecided, one option is to enrol on one of our one-week introductory courses.
These are designed to give students a taste of woodworking. Therefore, to give the undecided a chance to make that decision.
It’s why, if an introductory course student does then enrol on our professional course, the introductory course fees are deducted in full.
That’s the route that Ross Cunnison from Edinburgh took.
He had previously worked offshore for ten years in the oil and gas sector. He also studied geophysics at the University of Edinburgh.
His decision to enrol on our professional course was made having enjoyed one of our introductory courses last year.
Ross’ decision turned out to be a good one because he proved to be a skilled woodworker and won our Best Design Award.
It’s an annual award that we give to the student who, in our opinion, shows real design talent.
What we liked about Ross’ furniture was its simple honesty, yet with well-crafted flourishes that made the ordinary sublime.
That was particularly true of his Olive Ash side cabinet or credenza, with two beautifully-dovetailed drawers and two cupboards.
Its creativity lay in a waterfall edge, with the grain of the wood perfectly falling from the cabinet’s top and down its sides.
That honest approach to furniture design is something that all good woodworkers have to master.
Because good design is about making utterly functional furniture, but with a little imagination thrown in.
Good design is therefore about subtlety, and instinctively understanding the interplay between form and function.
It’s an instinct that Ross demonstrated, and we’re delighted that he’s now setting up his own furniture making business, Ross Cunnison Bespoke Furniture.
Top honours from furniture school
A student from Russia has won top honours at the Chippendale International School of Furniture, for the first time in the school’s 31-year history.
Iana Molotok from St Petersburg won Student of the Year at the prestigious school, against competition from other students from the UK, Canada, the USA, Ireland, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
Among her portfolio was a wych elm chair with echoes of a Möbius strip in its beautifully-shaped design, and a coffee table in yew and sycamore, with an intermittent stream of resin across the top, creating the effect of a meandering river.
A former financial controller, Iana is returning to St Petersburg to set up Credenza Studio , her own furniture business.
Best Portfolio went to Mike Whittall, from Aberdeenshire, for a portfolio that included a curvy dressing table and stool made from sycamore and yew; an exceptionally well-proportioned coffee table with a shaped ash top and elm legs; and an elm desk with generous flowing curves and a design borrowed from the Ottoman Empire.
Mike, a former finance and tax advisor, is setting up Ochre & Wood, his own furniture making and restoration business, from his hometown in Aberdeenshire.
He will be working mainly to commission sourcing wood, as far as possible, from local sawmills.
Design Student of the Year was awarded to Anne-Lise Maire from Stasbourg in France for a portfolio that included a beautifully-crafted yew and elm writer’s desk. Her second project was a wonderfully-eccentric long-legged music box with and elm cabriole legs.
Anne-Lise, who now lives in Edinburgh, has set up Gild Ma Frog Furniture to produce bespoke furniture and create her own range of modern and sophisticated gilded cabinets.
Adam Stone from Perth in Scotland won Students’ Choice for a highly-inventive oak coffee table that opens from 120cm to 200cm long to become a dining table large enough to accommodate ten people.
The chairs, which he has also designed, can be stored inside the table – making it a practical and attractive solution for any home where space is at a premium. The internal mechanism was also made from oak, although the ingenious table can be made to order in a variety of materials.
Adam is setting up Adam Stone Furniture in Perth.
Professor Richard Demarco Prize
Lastly, Graham Clark from Fife was awarded the Professor Richard Demarco Prize 2016, an award that recognises particular craftsmanship and artistic merit. In 2011, Graham was knocked off his motorbike by a hit-and-run driver, sustaining both head and other severe physical injuries, and had to relearn how to read and write.
The main piece of furniture he made during the year was a folding double cabinet made from spalted beech, oak and yew – and which is to be given to his youngest daughter Madison (6).
Each year the award-winning Chippendale International School of Furniture takes students from around the world for immersive 30-week courses. The school also runs one-week “taster” courses throughout the year.
Anselm Fraser, the school’s principal, said that “this year’s graduates have all shown exceptional skill and craftsmanship, and it was very difficult to choose winners.
“Our course is designed to give students the very best training in furniture design, making and restoration and, with their proven talent, give them the building blocks for future success,” he said.Read More
A value for everything, and the cost of selling nothing
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
How to set up a bespoke furniture design business
Garry Macfarlane, originally from south-west Scotland, founded Freckle Furniture when he graduated from the Chippendale International School of Furniture in East Lothian outside Edinburgh. His fledgling bespoke furniture design business moved to new expanded premises nearby at Fenton Barns after spending two years in the Chippendale Incubator workshops adjoining the furniture design school.
Since 1985, the Chippendale International School of Furniture has been running one of the UK’s leading intensive furniture design and furniture restoration courses. Many of the furniture school’s graduates take advantage of the low costs and support provided by the Chippendale Incubator Workshops for a year or more.
Turkey Shed to Workshop
A cabinet making entrepreneur, Garry Macfarlane, describes his new furniture design workshop: “It was originally a turkey shed for the Fenton Barns turkey farm. It then became a blacksmith’s workshop. When we moved in it was just a big space but we could see the potential. It was a bit of a leap of faith but it has been worth all the effort.”
Working with a fellow Chippendale graduate to create the workshop and share the costs, Garry has created extensive professional facilities including a fully fitted machine room, sanding room and kitchen, as well as a large workshop.
Getting the Furniture Business Started
Garry continues with his story: “Starting out was very tough and the first two years were a struggle. But all the hard work is starting to pay off and I am now incredibly busy which meant that I had to move to bigger premises. I’ve now completed two kitchens in London, a smaller job in Chelsea and a full kitchen near Clapham.
“The latter commission, which came through a Scottish connection, was for a Victorian terraced house with a large, open plan kitchen extension out the back. Working with the architect and the customer we came up with a great design solution. The kitchen was made from solid Scottish oak and the doors and framework painted with Farrow and Ball colours. The finished result looked stunning and the customer was very pleased.”
Varied Commissions – Bookcases, Desks… and a Human Foot!
“In Edinburgh I’ve made lots of bookcases and desks, mostly in oak which is popular. People like commissioning TV Cabinets too. I’ve also been asked to do some more unusual things such as display stands for mobile phones in an app developer’s office.
“I made a model of a foot for the BBC programme ‘Dissected, the Incredible Human Foot’ on BBC4. The programme was pretty gory though – I had to turn it off!”
“At the moment I’m working on a pedestal style desk in American black walnut with burr walnut and rosewood detailing. It is for another Scottish connection in London. Then I’ll be starting on a kitchen table for someone in the Borders using Sycamore.”
Early Challenges – Learning Clients’ Needs
Setting up a new business brings many challenges, not least learning the needs and demands of customers: “Some clients know exactly what they want; others need taken through the commissioning process step by step,” say Garry.
“I’ve got more confident with pricing, costs and timings over the last 3 or 4 years. With repetition and experience, I’m doing the work a lot quicker. I’ve also invested in good quality machines which allow me to produce things quickly and accurately. Everything in here is handmade though, nothing is computer controlled.”
Marketing as Well as Woodwork
Marketing is of course a very important area for any new business: “I work hard on my marketing. I get new commissions from a range of sources including the internet and repeat business, but more and more is by word-of-mouth. Generating the work was difficult initially but now I’ve got so much that I’m thinking of taking someone on to help me – I’ve got several months of work in the pipeline. Hopefully I can get in to a position of having 2 or 3 people in the workshop with me.”
All this is a far cry from Garry’s previous job before he went to the Chippendale Furniture School: “Previously I worked for Ryden, the Chartered Surveyors, and was sitting behind a desk all day in Glasgow. I was in commercial property investment but that was hit hard by the recession and I moved into property management when the market dried up. It just wasn’t really for me and I wanted to do something different.
“Making bespoke furniture is much more rewarding, more creative and there’s less paper pushing. I don’t clock watch anymore because I’m enjoying my work. I’m my own boss and I can manage my own time. I’ve no regrets about the move even though it hasn’t always been easy.
“My advice to other furniture making start-ups is:
1. Be prepared not to earn any money for a while.
2. Work hard on the marketing side. It takes a while to pull in the work and service it.
3. You can make money in the first couple of years but living off it is tough. You’re too slow and you’re still learning so much.
Never Stop Learning
“The Chippendale School of Furniture course was a really good introduction to all aspects of furniture design and making, but the journey continued after I left. There’s a cliché that you never stop learning but in woodwork it is certainly true.”
Freckle Furniture designs and makes hand crafted, bespoke furniture and kitchens to commission with exceptional design, enduring craftsmanship and superior quality. Garry’s ambition is to make commissioning exciting and engaging, and he encourages customers to visit the workshop to see their bespoke furniture being made.
Freckle Furniture’s work has recently been acknowledged by renowned Danish design company Bo Concept as one of their ‘Ones to Watch’ awards for 2014.
More information is available from the Freckle Furniture website.Read More