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
We’re often asked how we can turn novices into professional woodworkers in only 30 weeks.
The answer is that we have the very best teaching methods and staff.
Our professional course has been running for well over thirty years.
So, we have learned what works to ensure that our graduates have all the skills they need.
Compare that to a four-year university course, with all the student debt that involves.
One successful student, who demonstrated talent in spades, was Gordon Young from Edinburgh.
Gordon began on the ‘conventional’ route, earning a Masters degree in civil engineering from Heriot-Watt University.
It’s a qualification that has some relevance to fine furniture making because it does involve an understanding of how to design things.
Other students often don’t have design skills when they come to us, which is why it’s the first thing we teach our students.
After all, if you can’t visualise a design in 3D you can’t easily make fine furniture.
Not only that, but we also bring in Isa Dorster who teaches at the lycée des métiers d’art georges guynemer near Montpellier.
She is a renowned expert in the subtle art of teaching 3D visualisation. Isa augments our own tutors who can also teach computer aided design.
Gordon therefore had a head start on some of our students, design-wise. But he’s also someone who has always been a natural at making things.
He proved that with his beautiful and functional desk in Oak and flamed Beech.
It was sinuous and tactile but, a cardinal element for every piece of furniture, utterly practical.
Its design was made special by Gordon fashioning the two contrasting woods to converge on the top.
He joined them together with a seam of macassar ebony veneer, with the seam then falling down the side of the desk.
Gordon also demonstrated a real talent for gilding on the course, particularly his parquetry chess board framed in oak.
Gordon gilded his chess board frame with copper, then treated it with alcohol to create an aged effect.
This was then sprayed with copper nitrate acid to turn Verdigris, which describes the resulting green pigment.
Gordon is setting up Twin Tree Design, and intends to pursue a career in general bespoke fine furniture.
We’re delighted that he has chosen to stay on at the Chippendale school and work from our on-campus incubation space, Myreside Studios.
This allows our professional course graduates to immediately get started in their new careers. Importantly, they still have access to the school’s equipment, machinery and tutor support.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
Alex Stanton has been shortlisted, first, for his Shou Sugi Ban hall table in Ash (Design Award).
The second shortlisting was for his sideboard in Rosewood and Walnut veneers (Bespoke Award).
Organised by The Furniture Makers’ Company, Alex’s pieces will be exhibited at the Young Furniture Makers exhibition in October in the City of London.
The event showcases the very best furniture and furnishing design talent. It offers the industry the opportunity to connect with young, creative designers.
The Young Furniture Makers Awards are the student equivalent of the Company’s Guild Marks. They recognise excellence in the fields of bespoke, design and innovation.
24-year-old Alex, from Brisbane, is currently launching his business in the UK called Alexander Stanton Fine Furniture & Design.
He personifies the fact that you don’t have to have woodworking experience to come to the Chippendale school.
Many of our students come to us as novices, having never worked with wood before.
That’s not a problem because our 30-week professional course is designed to instil in everyone the confidence and skills to practice as a fine furniture maker.
It’s a course that has been fine-tuned over thirty years. It has also seen the Chippendale school become one of the most prestigious furniture schools in the world.
Alex did have the advantage of having had three years of experience fitting timber floors and staircases.
He’s also had a long interest in designing furniture and had made simple pieces such as tables.
Before making a final decision to come to the Chippendale school, Alex came to visit a few months before the first term began.
We always welcome visitors and are delighted to show people around our workshops.
That also includes the merely curious because the school is a 3* visitor attraction with Visit Scotland.
His first project was his shortlisted hallway table and, pictured above, is Alex’s design – which he then made as a scale model.
Design skill is the first thing that we teach our professional course students. Simply, if you can’t visualise your designs, you will struggle to make anything.
But learning that skill is made easy at the school. We have expert tutors and we bring in a renowned expert from France.
Alex’s finished Ash console table had beautiful decorative flourishes. For its legs, Alex moulded laminated supports that were a design echo of Gothic cathedral architecture.
He also incorporated African Ebony veneers into the leg supports, and carried that colour contrast through to the Douglas fir drawer fronts.
He used a burning technique, called Shou Sugi Ban, which originated in 18th century Japan.
It was initially used to preserve wood. Now, it’s more commonly used to bring different colours and textures into a piece of furniture.
Alex also made a small and delicate display cabinet in Oak and spalted Beech and a steam-bent coffee table in Olive Ash and spalted Beech.
His last piece, for which he has been shortlisted, was a fluted sideboard, pictured above, in rippled Rosewood with Walnut veneers.
Alex proved himself a gifted woodworker over his year with us. We’re delighted that he has been recognised so early in his career.Read More