Rachael Hamilton MSP for Scotland South recently visited the Chippendale International School of Furniture, meeting staff and students who this year come from nine different countries.
Earlier this year, Education Scotland published a highly positive report on the school, which has established an international reputation for furniture design, restoration and making.
Among the students she talked to was Paddy O’Neill, a UK student who is making a coffee table featuring a complex wooden rendering of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh.
Caption: Anselm Fraser, school principal, Rachel Hamilton MSP, Paddy O’Neill and Tom Fraser, school tutor.Read More
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
Anthony Glynn has just headed home to Bath from the Chippendale International School of Furniture near Edinburgh. He was highly commended for his work at one of Europe’s premier furniture design and restoration schools, and now plans to start up his own bespoke furniture business. This is his Chippendale Experience.
“I had a 20 year career in the IT industry, followed by an extended gap year that has lasted almost 10 years. During that time I’ve built up and sold a successful restaurant and pub business, travelled around the world, run a ski chalet in the French Alps and been a chef and butler at a stately home in the New Forest.
“It was while doing voluntary work at the Sublime Vineyard in the inspirational setting of New Zealand’s Waitaki Valley that I got hooked by the woodworking bug. I was helping to recycle old French oak barrels into rustic furniture. They had previously been used for Pinot Noir wine making. The feeling of satisfaction of making something useful from a beautiful material was the seed for an idea that when I returned to the UK I would learn to make furniture professionally. It was this decision that ultimately led me to the Chippendale School.
“I found the Chippendale School by searching on the internet. The syllabus looked very broad and the vast amount of hands-on bench time really appealed to me. By chance I was visiting Edinburgh with my wife as she was researching her ancestry, so I took time out to visit the school. I met Anselm and was so impressed by the standard and quality of the furniture making and the idyllic setting of the school, that I brought forward my plans to undertake a furniture making course by a year and submitted my application to Chippendale immediately.
“Having now completed the course, the school has exceeded my expectations about how much I could learn. Looking back over the last nine months, you can see that we’ve crammed a lot in.
“For me, the highlights have been the many ancillary crafts and skills you learn at the furniture school: carving, gilding, marquetry, boulle work, glass skills, carving, and learning about veneering with Scott Grove, one of the visiting experts.
“Of course, the resident tutors have also been a vitally important factor in the learning experience for me personally. They’re extremely knowledgeable and phenomenally patient – being slightly forgetful, I must have asked Graham the same question fifty times! The student-to-pupil ratio was very good, and you soon get to know which tutor is best to go to for help in particular areas.
“From a standing start, in just nine months I’ve gained the confidence to know that I can make furniture on a successful commercial basis; the Chippendale course not only taught me how to make furniture, but just as importantly, how to go about setting up a commercially viable business model.
“I’m particularly proud of my final term project piece; a Retro Danish-style cabinet made in sweet chestnut with a striking rosewood veneered front, and fumed sweet chestnut detailing. I inlaid veneer stripes into the rectilinear legs and, together with the fumed sweet chestnut stripes in the cabinet, I’m thinking of developing this as my signature style. I plan to translate this signature into various other forms, including tables, desks, dressing tables and bedside cabinets.
“I was delighted to sell the cabinet at the end-of-course exhibition, along with my Louboutin-inspired stiletto table. I sold the stiletto table to a local art collector, and it was wonderful to see it on display in her home. You get a real confidence boost when someone buys a piece of your furniture!
“Now back in the ‘real world’, I don’t want to lose the momentum; I’m looking to rent workshop space and setup my own business in the Bath area. The money that I made from selling my pieces of furniture at the end of course exhibition is a great kick start for my new business; it will cover the rent for a year, and allow me to invest in some of the equipment that I need to make furniture again.
“As a footnote, at some point in the future I would love to return to the Sublime Vineyard in New Zealand and make a special piece of furniture for the vineyard owners Steve and Fenella, as a thank you for being the inspiration for what I know is going to be an incredibly satisfying second career for me.”
You can watch a short video in which Anthony Glynn talks about his pieces of furniture.
You can also read Anthony’s blog on his stay at Sublime Vineyard.
Anthony James Glynn Bespoke Furniture is taking on bespoke commissions for clients in the Bath area for new furniture and restoration projects. You can visit Anthony’s website.Read More
A furniture designer from the west of Scotland has won a top award from the Chippendale International School of Furniture. The Chippendale School is regarded as one of Europe’s premier furniture design schools and runs intensive furniture design courses and furniture restoration courses.
Ali Wilson, who was brought up in East Anglia, studied architecture in Plymouth and now lives in Ayrshire, won Design Student of the Year for a stunning drinks cabinet in the shape of a fish.
Ali said that she was “delighted with the award. I have loved the course and learned such a lot.” Her “big fish” will be displayed at a number of venues over the summer.
The awards ceremony was presided over by arts impresario Professor Richard Demarco, who said that the Chippendale School was an “inspirational place and a teaching resource of national importance.”
The long-established school, which is in East Lothian just outside Edinburgh, takes students of all ages from around the world. This year’s intake included students from the USA and Canada – as well as across the UK.
You can see a selection of the amazing pieces of furniture designed and hand-crafted by the students in the Student Gallery.
There are still places remaining for this year’s 30-week intensive course which begins in October, with graduating students able to take incubation space at the school to establish new businesses.
Canadian student Gary Staple from Halifax, Nova Scotia won Student of the Year for his portfolio of work, which included a tea cabinet with intricate inlays, and which will go on show in Canada over the summer.
Gary, who trained as a carpenter and who now also runs his own Halifax business, Gary Staple Fine Woodworking, said that “the Chippendale course has been hugely useful and taught me a great deal, as well as giving me a European perspective on furniture design.”
Anselm Fraser, the school’s principal, said that “our students, many of whom have never worked with wood before, leave the school with skills they can use for the rest of their lives.”Read More
It’s the end of another year for the twenty-one furniture design students at the Chippendale International School of Furniture; the college is throwing open its doors for its annual Student Exhibition and Sale of Furniture.
The free Student Exhibition with strawberries and wine runs from 6 – 8 pm on Monday 9th and Tuesday 10th of June 2014 at Chippendale School near Gifford in East Lothian EH41 4JA (no need to RSVP).
You are invited to see (and buy) many stylish pieces of contemporary furniture, all created by the talented students. The Chippendale School was founded in 1985 by Anselm Fraser and is now recognised as one of the UK’s leading furniture making schools.
The school’s intensive furniture making and furniture restoration courses run from October to June each year, and there are still some places on the next course which starts on the 13th of October.
The course is very hands-on with up to 1400 hours of hands-on bench work, but also includes lectures by Anselm Fraser, visiting experts and inspiring field trips. It condenses a 2 to 3 year course into under a year. Most students go on to set up their own woodworking and furniture making businesses. Some stay start up their businesses in the adjoining Chippendale Incubator Workshops and benefit from ongoing support.
The photograph shows the ‘Big Apple’ created by Andrew Adamson, one of last year’s students: “I made the Big Apple as my solid wood piece using sycamore during the second term. I started with the Empire State Building and then another student said ‘why not put an apple on top’, so I created the very tactile two foot wide apple,” says Andrew.
“The stalk is made of walnut – I had to go into Tesco’s to measure apple stalks to get the proportions right!”
Current student, retired doctor Charlie Clark says: “When I started, I didn’t have a clue how to get from a plank of wood to a finished product, neither in terms of design and planning, nor in terms of the practical skills involved.
“The Chippendale School is a very interesting learning environment. It has much in common with the process of building knowledge, skills and experience that I was familiar with as a doctor. You learn from the masters, you learn from those who know a bit more than yourself and you learn from the other students. There’s a minimum of formal teaching, some exercises, but mainly the learning is built around the practical experience of conceiving, designing and making pieces of furniture.
“The furniture course is an enormously fulfilling thing to do in retirement for anyone with the time and energy to learn something new. Learning to work in new ways with your hands is a fabulous experience. I have acquired a whole set of skills that will keep me happily occupied for the rest of my lifetime and in the process have made valuable new friends and had a hugely enjoyable year.”
Reflecting the school’s international appeal, quite a number of the students come from overseas, particularly America, Europe and the Far East. The course appeals to a wide age range and even caters for students with little woodworking experience.
“All students need is a love of wood,” says Anselm Fraser, the School Principal. “We always look forward to showing off all the students’ wonderful pieces of furniture at the exhibition.Read More