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
Steve Tripp’s journey to the Chippendale school and our professional course took four years to plan.
Steve, a former IT consultant from Minnesota, finally made the move, with his wife also enrolling at a university in Edinburgh.
While he was busy learning his new woodworking trade, she completed a Masters in Arts, Culture and Festival Management.
Both Steve and his wife have long had an interest in traditional crafts and ways of working. Those include everything from weaving to ceramics, and from woodworking to lace making.
He’s particularly been influenced by the Lost Trades Fair in Australia. This is all about promoting traditional crafts made by people not machines.
It’s also a movement that has ideals of sustainability and educational outreach and, in different guises, is gaining traction worldwide.
Steve’s stand-out piece was a beautiful mirror with an enigmatic message.
The mirror, in white Oak, had the words, “The lyf so short” across its top.
Below, it had “The craft so long to lerne.”
It’s a good quote because the artistry involved in woodworking is also a process of lifelong learning.
However, the quote is actually from the 14th century writer Geoffrey Chaucer. It comes from his epic poem, The Parliament of Fowles.
The quote is about love and how learning how to love is a skill, or craft, in itself.
But the enigma of the quote goes further because the poem describes a flock of birds gathering in the early spring – on ‘seynt valentynes day.’ The birds are there to choose their mate for the year.
It’s believed that the poem later became the inspiration for St Valentine’s Day.
The words on Steve’s mirror were oil gilded in 24 carat gold. The mirror itself was decorated with the iconic rose motifs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
The result was a thought-provoking mirror, with a powerful punch of a message, and beautifully executed.Read More
Our students at the Chippendale school become good woodworkers by learning the rules of good furniture design.
However, we also encourage them to then tear up the rule book.
Because great furniture design can also be about incorporating the right level of quirky surprise.
It’s about making something that is entirely functional, and then adding a dollop of creativity.
That’s what Matthew McGlone achieved with his Elm and stained Oak side table.
Matthew, originally from Manchester but long-time resident of Scotland, completed it after “three weeks of manic work.”
In the first part of our professional course we teach students how to make basic things like doors and table legs and the jointing techniques to hold everything together.
In other words, our students learn how things should be made.
Later in the course, once our students have gained proficiency and confidence, they can then decide if the rule book can be thrown out the window.
That’s the part of the course when a little bit of magic can happen. The latter part of the course is when our students have the skills and confidence to unleash their imaginations.
Instead of his side table having “proper” doors, Matthew incorporated sinuous and dramatic gaps into his design.
In an otherwise functional piece, it lends originality – and buyers of fine furniture appreciate originality.
Form and function
But that balance of form and function is important, because any piece of furniture must perform the tasks it is designed for.
If it doesn’t – for example, if a cupboard is difficult to access or a chair is uncomfortable – then that balance is disrupted.
But, as far as Matthew was concerned, who says that side table doors should be solid? And his pieces do exactly what they were designed for.
It was a bold and imaginative design approach which we applaud. Matthew also incorporated those dramatic gaps in an earlier table.
That confidence in his trade possibly reflects his long-term fascination with wood.
In his childhood, he spent hours bush-crafting in woods, fashioning spoons from small pieces of wood.
But he’s also a wordsmith, with a degree in English Literature and a Masters in Creative Writing.
The word’s out that he’s setting up his business, Wild Wood Furniture, from incubation space at the school.
These workshop spaces, Myreside Studios, allow graduates to start up for themselves, with full access to the school’s equipment and machinery.
It’s all part of the holistic approach we take at the Chippendale school – giving an all-round professional course, but with real support after graduation.
The good news is that Matthew has already won commissions and is hard at work!Read More
Woodworking is a passion that many people have, but don’t immediately pursue as a career.
Many of our students are people who have made the decision to leave their industry mid-career.
They’ve taken the conventional route and gone from school to university and then into a humdrum world of work.
Then, after years doing jobs that haven’t been fulfilling, they finally decide to follow their dreams.
But we’re always happy to take students on our professional course straight from school.
So, if you’re uncertain about moving onto higher education, why not consider a career in fine furniture and design?
Our 2019/20 course starts in October and we still have a couple of places remaining.
Our nine-month course is designed to turn novice woodworkers into craftsmen and women.
And we’re delighted that so many women are now enrolling on our one-week introductory course, one-month intermediate course and our flagship professional course.
Student of Year
Indeed, in the last four years, two female students have won our Student of the Year award.
Most of the school leavers that we take in are from the UK, but not this year.
Julius Schmalbach, from Hamburg in Germany, came to us with a little woodworking experience, but no formal training.
But he did have a small workshop at home, and taught himself to make simple pieces such as a table and bedside cabinet.
His first piece with us was a beautifully-designed ash chair with a woven cane back.
It had fine proportions and was exceptionally well crafted, with steam bent and laminated legs.
Underlining his professionalism, the chair was entirely his own design, which he fine-tuned from a mock-up that took four weeks to make.
It’s the first skill that students learn at the Chippendale school, because without being able to visualise your design in 3D, you can’t accurately construct your design.
However, we have the tutorial expertise to ensure that all our students easily master the dark arts of design and visualisation.
We then encourage students to make a scale model of their proposed piece.
That helps them understand what it will look like from all angles and how it will be joined together.
Most students wouldn’t have started with so ambitious a project, and Julius’ painstaking approach to his design gave him the necessary confidence.
Confidence is also something that we instil at the Chippendale school and, as the course progresses, everyone’s confidence increases.
That was certainly true of Julius because, having taken time and trouble over his chair, he then made a small bench made out of oak, which took him four days!
His signature piece was a lovely cherry veneered writing escritoire, with two drawers held together with hand-cut dovetails.
It was another ambitious project, particularly to veneer around corners, and to make its cherry octagonal tapered legs.
It’s a lovely and practical piece of furniture, with a high level of attention to detail. For example, the handles are also made from well-turned pieces of cherry.
Not content with that, he also completed a walnut medicine cabinet, with star-shaped mirror cut-outs.
The pieces of mirror are gilded in white gold to lend it a magical quality and, inside, it has two drawers and two shelves.
Julius shows that woodworking skill can be learned at any age.
So, if you think a career in furniture design and sawdust might be for you, don’t delay…contact us today!