We didn’t have much money when I was growing up, so when the yearly shopping expedition for school clothing came around a familiar pattern emerged. My brother and I would choose our jackets, then my Mum would run her fingers around the seams and give the zip a bloody good yank. Eventually an item that met her strict criteria would be found, and we could all sit down for a burger at Huckleberry’s – an ersatz McDonald’s also serving onion rings, which counted as exotic food back in 1980s Southampton.
I’ve found myself running my fingers along the seams more and more lately, both literally and metaphorically. Occasionally I’ll tut, and I’ve even emitted the odd “eeeh”. That’s right, I’m turning into my Mother. Still, since those halcyon days of greasy onion rings on the precinct, there’s been an explosion of disposable consumer goods and it’s getting harder to know how, and where, to find genuine quality.
That’s where Tara Button comes in. She founded the website Buy Me Once to address the issue, and she’s written a book that sets out a great foundation for a more responsible, happier relationship with shopping…and, perhaps, life in general. We sat down for a quick chat about advertising and what makes a good product.
I’d come up with this website where you only found things that you wanted to bring into your life for a lifetime, if you were looking for more sustainable and more durable options than the current disposable shopping situation. That was a practical tool, but the whole philosophy that sits behind why you should buy for life – you can’t really get it across in a tweet or a Facebook post, it needed a larger medium that sets it all out. Why we consume the way we do, why it’s a broken system, why it’s damaging us and how we can change that.
“A Life Less Throwaway” pulls aside the curtain on the seductive world of advertising and marketing. For those who haven’t yet read it, are there any simple ways to defend ourselves against their tactics?
The very simplest is to look at them sceptically – to be awake in your mind, to be critical. When you see a model looking down her nose at you, realise that what they’re trying to do is make you feel like she has a higher status than you, so that you buy what she has.
The best defence against advertising is being mindful and pre-planning what you want to bring into your life. If you’re bumbling through and you haven’t really thought about it you can be very easily swayed by advertising…so if you think about what’s important to you and what your values are, then you’re being much more proactive about what you consume.
You previously worked in advertising, which you describe as a “moral wasteland”; can you tell me a little more about that?
I found it difficult because some of the brands that I was working for weren’t necessarily adding to the happiness of humanity. So, I was selling chocolate and my brief was to increase chocolate consumption in children, which I found particularly difficult. There were a lot of high sugar, high fat brands that we managed to market as health foods, essentially. A lot of the messaging was based around this portrayal of perfect people with perfect lives – it was a little bit like what’s happening on Instagram, with everyone scrolling and seeing all these filtered lives and feeling that their lives aren’t as great. In real life there isn’t an Instagram filter following you around, there isn’t a hundred people with blow driers. I feel like advertising is damaging to people’s mental and social health.
There are some handy tips on how to find well made, long lasting products in “A Life Less Throwaway”. Do you have a particular product that ticks all your boxes?
There are a couple that I like for different reasons. I love my pen that has enough ink in it to last a lifetime – that’s pretty extraordinary, isn’t it? Then you’ve got Solidtekniks which have a multi-century warranty – they’ve been made in a way that people will be digging them up.
On the other side of things, there’s sustainability. Items like Elvis and Kresse, which come with a lifetime fixing guarantee but also are made out of recycled fireman’s hoses, they’re taking waste out of the system. I’d say that was a perfect example of a product that’s both sustainable and durable.
What are you working on at the moment?
We’re constantly researching, finding new brands. We just came back from the sustainable fashion summit in Copenhagen. The book is about to launch in America and I might be about to record some masterclasses as well, which will be pretty cool. We’re also looking to have “Buy Me Once” as a certification in its own right, so brands can display it on their packaging.
I have a complicated relationship with “social” media. It seems we don’t exist without it, yet it encourages some of the least attractive traits of humankind – vanity, insecurity, soft-focus photography. There’s even a new term (and perhaps circle of hell) for those who leverage their children’s existence for clicks – sharenting. Suffice to say, my son and daughter won’t be appearing on my Instagram account any time soon…so you’ll just have to take my word for it, they’re amazing. But they’re nothing to do with my work.
Now that’s off my chest, here are a few photos of what I’ve been up to lately. I tend to think I haven’t been very productive, what with trips to the dentist and the garage and the vet and the thousand other interruptions of your average family life. Maybe when I retire I’ll get time to make loads of furniture. Problem is, I need to make loads of furniture in order to retire. It’s like raaaain, on your wedding day…
Here’s the timber rack at English Woodlands Timber, tucked away in the beautiful South Downs. I came away with some Scottish Elm and plenty of English Ash for making chairs. Did I mention I was making chairs? I’m making chairs. Chairs chairs chairs.
I say chairs, I mean stools. Baby steps, there’s a lot to learn and the consequences of a badly-made chair are rather more painful than those resulting from a wobbly sideboard. Anyway, Instafilters set to “how Karl Lagerfeld views the world”, here’s a first effort –
Yeah, I know, the stretchers make it look a bit like a balloon animal. Work in progress! I’ve also been finishing up some rather clever fitted furniture, but that needs a lick of paint before it gets photographed.
Coming up shortly – in a slight change of tack for this website, but something I thought would be of interest – I’ll be interviewing Tara Button who founded the company Buy Me Once.
Nancy Hiller keeps it real. Funny, wise and fiercely intelligent, her “Making Things Work” was one of my books of the year…so I was pretty damned chuffed when she agreed to have a chat.
F – How did you start out making furniture?
N – I had no experience making furniture as a younger person, I really got into it by accident when I was 20. I didn’t have enough money to afford furniture so I started cobbling things together, with very crude tools borrowed from my boyfriend. My stepfather made fun of my efforts. (We had a rather bad relationship.) One day he insulted me, adding that I should take a carpentry course, so I rode my bike down to the local vocational school and signed up for a furniture making course through City & Guilds. That’s how I first got involved.
F – How did the writing of “Making Things Work” come about?
N – Let’s see…I’ve always been interested in writing, as a younger person I was very academic – did A Levels in Latin and Greek and went on to study more “dead” languages at university before dropping out. Much later on, long after I had been working professionally as a furniture maker, I went back to university and got a degree and then a Master’s degree in Religious Studies with a focus on ethics. I’ve always been interested in reasoning and logic.
I started furniture making in the 1980s – as you can imagine, back then sexism was more rampant than it is today – and I would often have people make disparaging remarks or have very low expectations of my skills because I was a woman. I didn’t, at that time, have any good way of arguing back. Part of my motivation for going back to university in my early 30s was to learn how to argue. By that I don’t mean how to have a row, but how to craft an articulate response. I don’t always come up with a perfect response on the spur of the moment!
N – I’ve never heard that, it’s brilliant. That’s really how “Making Things Work” started: I’m going to write a book that, in part, is responding to all the insults – which aren’t just sexist. They’re also very much misconceptions – what it costs to build things, the investment in time, the overhead costs, the materials costs and all the rest of it. So, some of the stories are responses that I wish I’d been able to make on the spur of the moment. Others are really a response to many of the romantic views that abound regarding the nature of making furniture. These days especially, in the world of Instagram and other social media, there is just a ridiculous amount of romance attached to the craft of furniture making. When I say ridiculous, is it totally ridiculous? There’s all kinds of stuff online about building anything, honing your skills – all of that is wonderful. It’s just that when you do the work for a living it becomes somewhat different from the delightful, relaxing world of building things in your workshop at the end of the day. There are real life pressures that get involved, there are real life expenses such as taxes and insurance.
The other thing that I wanted to do is – in America, there’s this sense that anything English is enormously superior to anything American. I wanted to provide some real life experience that I had, responding to that. For example, the lack of a toilet at the second workshop where I worked. Many people might think “big deal, you can just go in the woods” – but you can’t go in the woods when there are no woods! You know, you’re working with a bunch of men – it’s not a big deal to me now, but it was then. Just the sheer slog and the grinding cold.
The story about my time at Imperial War Museum – I loved my time working there, and I wrote that story out of great fondness for the people with whom I worked there – but it’s funny, some people are outraged by what went on in the tearoom! Except that it was all well-intended – I know that if some people, including myself, really want to make a feminist critique of that whole scene, I will go there with you – but, those guys were really being what they thought of as friendly to me and I wanted to take it in that way, because why wouldn’t I? I mean, you can always make yourself miserable in any situation, but why? I was miserable enough at the time through a romantic breakup and they really were a tonic.
F – There’s not much written about the day to day experience of working – why do you think writers tend to steer clear of an experience that most of us have?
N – You just answered the question yourself, in part, by saying “the day to day experience”. It’s not that it’s not interesting, it’s that it’s not exotic.
When you do furniture making for a living, and I don’t mean the first year or even the first five years necessarily, it becomes very much like any other way of making a living – there are many of the same frustrations. There is quite a bit of monotony to the work. For example, there’s a lot of sanding for many of us – hours or days of sanding. If you’re doing a kitchen full of mortise and tenon joints, you might spend a whole day cutting mortise and tenon joints. There’s the anxiety of not knowing whether you’re going to make enough money to pay your bills. There’s the occasional very difficult client, or difficult supplier or employee. In other words, it is very much like many other ways of making a living.
F – What’s your own home like? Full of your own creations?
N – It’s a smallish house, it’s very simple and in a rural area. The house itself is partly my creation as when I moved it was basically a shell. In my spare time over the following two years I did most of the finishing work myself – I put down wooden floors which are hickory, which is extremely hard so I had to predrill and hand nail every single board. I’ve built the kitchen cabinets– they’re quite simple, I don’t want anything too formal. Over the years as I’ve built speculative things that sometimes don’t sell, they’ve ended up coming into the house. So yeah, there’s quite a bit of my own work. Most of the furniture I’ve bought has been from friends who were selling things or from junk shops – nothing very expensive. It’s quite eclectic – the house is full of salvaged lighting and plumbing fixtures, I like old things and I like old houses.
F – What projects are you currently working on?
N – There’s always a variety of work going on at any given time – my primary livelihood is furniture and cabinet making but I also write for different publications. I write a weekly blog for Popular Woodworkingand four times a year I do a post on the business of furniture making for Fine Woodworking…and then I write books in the background.
I just finished up a small wall cabinet for a project article that’ll be coming up in Fine Woodworking magazine soon – I’ve got to finish some drawings for that. Last week I was doing some small cabinetry and shelving for a bathroom in a local client’s home. Today I’ll be starting to rip plywood for the second phase of a kitchen in a really nice architect designed house in a rural area – that’s the next big job.
The next book I’m writing is for Lost Art Press on kitchens. This Sunday I drove to Chicago to photograph a kitchen I did in 2014 in a 1915 house for an archaeologist and her husband, an Egyptologist – they were fun clients.
F – You’ve written a book on Art and Crafts furniture that’s being published soon. Is that a style you’ve always admired?
N – I became aware of it when I lived in England – it wasn’t a subject of my attention, I was just surrounded by so many pieces of furniture from the late 19th/early 20th century because my Mother furnished our flat from skips and junk shops. Many of those pieces are lovely – they weren’t made by the famous designers of the Arts and Crafts era but many were late-Victorian or Arts and Crafts in style. On the other hand, when I set out to write this book, having been asked to do so by Scott Francis and Megan Fitzpatrick at Popular Woodworking, the one thing I wanted to do is argue that we really have no business talking about Arts and Crafts as though it were a unified style because it’s actually insanely diverse. I think that’s something that we need to think about more often instead of casually tossing about “Arts and Crafts” as a style. Then, of course, the majority of the introductory chapter is concerned with what unifies Arts and Crafts furniture and that is the philosophical and aesthetic movement out of which it grew.
William Morris may be the best known exponent of the movement’s ideals but the movement grew out of social and economic critiques that were passionately written decades before Morris was even born. Certainly, Carlyle was one of those critiquing British society and economics and then, of course, Ruskin. I wanted to go back before Morris and talk about how Ruskin elaborated this fabulous foundation for the Arts and Crafts movement and its aesthetics in his essay “The Moral Elements of Gothic”. That became the foundation of the first chapter of my book. Fortunately, the editors at Popular Woodworking gave me carte blanche to inject a bit of humour into my treatment of this subject. I thought that for a readership that’ll be largely comprised of woodworkers that’ll help make it more readable. When you’re writing about Ruskin and some of the language he used, which is extremely florid and formal…the written material is incredibly rich. Ruskin had a brilliant mind in so many ways. One of the things that endear him to me most forcefully is the way he can tie himself up in knots, logically, and appear to be contradicting the very point that he made passionately earlier.
F – He writes at one point that he doesn’t think he’s properly dealt with a subject until he’s contradicted himself at least three times…
N – Right, the thing that’s brilliant is that is typical of deep and complex thought. There’s not enough of that today, especially in politics and government. This book is for furniture makers primarily, or people who love the Arts and Crafts movement, but so much of what these guys were saying was a social and economic critique and a proposal for a better society. Many of the same concerns that they had, many of us have today. The stuff they were writing and lecturing about is no less relevant today than it was then.
F – Is it possible to make a living as a woodworker without relying on rich clients?
N – I don’t primarily work for very wealthy people. Most of my clients are middle class people – the equivalent of civil servants in England, they work for the government or they work for universities. A lot of my clients find me because they live in old houses and I specialise in work for old houses.
There’s a wonderful discipline in having to make a living at a craft. There’s a humility – you have to learn, or at least I’ve had to learn this, unless you’re just going to work for wealthy people, you have to learn to sometimes do stuff that is beneath what people might feel comfortable posting on Instagram, let me put it that way. Working with sheet materials – every kitchen I do is made with very down to earth techniques using veneered plywood, screws and biscuit joinery. That is the core of the cabinetry that enables me to put the more labour intensive work into the parts that will get seen – those are the parts that incorporate more typical furniture joinery, maybe mortised butt hinges, things like that. A lot of people scoff at the way I build kitchens and some of the built in work that I do, but let them scoff – that’s how I can afford to make stuff and make a living at it. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s very strong, durable and practical…and frankly, it looks a hell of lot better than some of the preciously made stuff!
Part of my challenge as a professional woodworker is figuring out how to make those things that work with my client’s budget. For example, this kitchen that I’m just starting this afternoon, for a house in a beautiful hilly spot in Southern Indiana, those people are long term clients. All I ever made for them before was a bathroom cabinet, but it was a beautiful cabinet for an old house. They wanted me to work with them on their kitchen, come up with a design that would complement the architectural style of the house and make them happy on a daily basis – doing so using methods and materials that are affordable for their budget. That’s what I do. These are special people to me, I’ve known them for a long time and I love where they’re coming from – aesthetically and in terms of their values. So I was motivated to come up with a way of building their cabinetry that’s affordable to them. That’s part of what I mean when I called the book “Making Things Work”. I make things work by working with people.
I’m supposed to be finishing up painting my staircase today.
I hate painting staircases, it’s a job that goes on and on. And on (that’s the third coat). Still, the tedium of such a repetitive task made me recall a job I had back in the 90s, so I’ll take this opportunity to write it down before the paint thinners make me lose my memory forever.
It was a four storey London townhouse between Sloane Square and Harrods, on one of those streets that looks immaculate but feels empty of any human life. The client was a Saudi prince who had just got married – the princess would occasionally turn up with an architect, the pair of them gliding through the house looking regal while we were busy putting decorative finishes on anything available. All the way from the entrance hall to the very top floor we’d glaze painted a transition from deep red through to bright blue – utterly nauseous to look at but a technical triumph. I sometimes miss working for people with a lot more money than taste.
It soon became apparent that it was down to me to decorate the balustrade. Four floors of ornate metal spindles to be rubbed down, undercoated, glossed, metalled, glazed, stippled, lightly wiped off then varnished. This was a job that needed getting out of the way so I decided that it was an opportunity to stick a bit of overtime in.
One morning a couple of days after I’d started there was a knock at the door. I opened it to be barged out of the way by two large ladies laden with shopping bags, who proceeded to head straight to the kitchen. They spent the rest of the day chatting away over the stove, busy cooking up a feast. I hadn’t seen the royal couple for a few days but assumed they were back in town at some point.
Come nine o’clock in the evening, I was thinking about knocking it on the head and heading back to my local pub in Kilburn. I was finishing my last spindle of the day when in came the prince and princess, who barked some orders at the cooks then headed upstairs to the apartment we’d finished a couple of weeks before. Shortly afterwards the cooks began trooping upstairs with trays of food. One of them stopped, carefully placed a silver platter full of Lebanese mezze on a step for me and said simply “ramadan”. I hadn’t realised it was that time of year – I’d heard, however, that plenty of Muslims actually put on weight during their fast, as they totally overdo it when the sun goes down!
Funnily enough, I made sure to work late for the next few days. The prince ended up inviting me upstairs one evening while his missus was out, and we sat on his giant sofa stuffing ourselves whilst playing FIFA on his Playstation. Come to think of it, he probably owns a football team by now.
Anyway, I’d better get back to work. If anyone feels like heading over to cook me a Lebanese feast they’re more than welcome – I’ll be on the stairs.
How do you organise your books? I try and keep mine vaguely shuffled into subject matter, and I occasionally sort them alphabetically by author – sheer madness, I know. There’s only one shelf of mine kept aside for a single publisher, though…and that’s Lost Art Press.
I caught up with their very own Christopher Schwarz for a chat about woodwork, books and filling your house full of furniture you’re not quite happy with.
F – How did you start out making furniture?
C – It wasn’t really free will. My parents were hippies and they bought us a farm in the middle of nowhere. We built all our own stuff – our own house and a lot of the furniture in our house. We were in the Deep South so it was very hot, we didn’t have air-conditioning, we didn’t have plumbing. Those were our weekends, making things for the farm.
I went to college to become a writer, hoping to get away from all that, but then as soon as I graduated I just went right back into it. I started taking night classes making furniture at the local university here, that was back in the early ‘90s. That’s all I’ve thought about, or done, or considered doing, for almost thirty years.
I started out as a journalist, so for a few years I was a daily newspaper writer – covering murders, train wrecks, trials – it was all very interesting but at night I was at home, building furniture. About 1996, I was trying to figure out which way I was going to go with my life, and I got a job with Popular Woodworking magazine as an editor so was able to do both for a long time – which was really amazing, I didn’t think that could be possible. So, I’ve always gotten to do a little bit of both; that’s good because it’s really the only thing I’m good at.
F – Tell me about founding Lost Art Press, what inspired that?
C – I’d been at Popular Woodworking for many years, on the corporate side for so long and thought I knew enough to do something on my own. I have a business partner, John Hoffman, who’s also a woodworker and we were drinking too much beer one night and we started talking about it. Within about six months we’d filed the papers to become a corporation – that was eleven years ago. We thought that the reason there were no good woodworking books being made was because it wasn’t good for the authors. Corporate publishers really screw over authors like you just won’t believe, I’ve been on both sides of the equation – as the screwer and the screwee. We thought we could figure out a model where we could build a company without screwing authors. That would allow us to go after people like Christian Becksvoort, Peter Follansbee, Peter Galbert – all these fascinating woodworkers who had no desire to do a book because there was nothing in it for them. That was the core idea behind Lost Art Press, and has stayed the same. All our authors get the same contract, we split our profits 50/50 with them – in corporate publishing you usually get 7-10% – so it’s a good deal. The way we manage it is we keep costs really low – we don’t have employees, we don’t have a corporate jet or even a photocopier – we’re just two guys, and we hire out our friends to do all the design work and the editing so it also supports a network of other independent people.
F – You publish historical texts as well as present day writers – bringing the knowledge of current woodworkers to the general public and unearthing these tomes that I certainly wouldn’t have come across…I’m always impressed by your ability to find these fairly obscure woodworking texts from the pre-Victorian era!
C – That was another thing that drove us – there were so many early books out there, and so much knowledge that needed to be brought forward to the present day. I think that John and I, and everyone I knew in handwork, were struggling trying to teach ourselves things when really all the answers were written down or at least there were breadcrumbs to those answers.
So it was launching into getting Charles Hayward republished, for 20thcentury guys he’s one of the best writers on handwork, and then going backwards even more with Roubo, that was a ten year project, and then Moxon – the first chronicler of woodworking. Those were the foundations – giving us a starting point just a little higher than what we started with in the ‘70s and ‘80s, when people were just making it up as they went along.
F – How can independent makers survive without relying solely on rich clients? Is that something you’ve found to be a problem?
C – I think it depends, it depends on your business. I know a lot of woodworkers and we talk about business all the time. I’ve been completely independent for six years now, but I’ve done commission work for the last sixteen or seventeen. If your business is catering to the ultra-rich you can probably do that, and do that alone. There are people who build furniture for sheiks and princes and dotcom millionaires, and that’s one way to do it. My path, and the only one I can speak to well, is that I try to have a balance of things so that I can keep my work priced at a point where I can always do what I want to do and can always say no to whatever I want to say no to. People get very excited when they can actually have something made by someone else and have a say in how it comes to life. The way I do that is by diversifying – I write, I edit, we sell whatever we need to sell and take on freelance jobs.
The one thing that’s ensured success as much as diversification is living someplace that is dirt-fricking-cheap. I live in the Midwest, which we call flyover country. It’s really nice but it’s not where a tourist would ever think to go. We can raise a family here, my wife and I are both writers so we make horrible money, but in the Midwest you can do that. I think that’s really important, keeping your debt low, keep your expectations low, and living somewhere that’s inexpensive.
F – What’s your home like?
C – I’m in my storefront today, we’re kind of between homes at the moment. The storefront is an 1895 bar, by the time we got it it was a fighting lesbian bar, it was totally purple and glittery.
F – Do you still get old clients knocking on the door at 2am asking for a drink?
C – We used to for about three years, they’ve stopped coming around. We do get a lot of weird characters here but it’s fine, it’s fun. We’re fixing up this place so my workshop is on the ground floor and then my wife and I will live upstairs, as soon as we get the upstairs looking less like a bachelor pad. What’s my home like? It’s filled with my furniture, very little in there is store bought, but my wife bemoans that like almost everything in our house it’s prototypes – so it’s the crap, the chairs that don’t look quite right or I wasn’t happy with. I’m not going to keep anything I can sell!
F – Do you ever still head to IKEA?
C – I won’t go to IKEA, not even for the meatballs. I hate the place. But…one year we got our tax return and we decided to give the kids $500 to get some furniture. I said “look, you can buy antiques, you can even hire me, I’ll build you what you want and I’ll give you a good price”. The buggers just went right to IKEA and bought everything they wanted. It was shameful, I’ve never felt such shame…
That was five years ago, all that stuff has been destroyed just from normal use. It just falls apart, it has a half-life. So now they’re coming to me for scraps. One of my daughters has just graduated college and is trying to raid our house for furniture as all her IKEA stuff is in pieces.
F – What furniture projects are you currently working on?
C – I’m finishing up this week two large tool chests for customers, one in Texas and one in California. That’s an unusual part of my business – I build a lot of tool chests and I build a lot of workbenches for woodworkers – which sounds like crazy at first, but a lot of these guys are people who don’t have the time – they’re nearing retirement and want to get set up or they just don’t think they’ll ever have the time to get these things so they hire me. Which I’m perfectly willing to do now – I kind of resisted it for a while. So I’ve got those two going out and then I’ve got 12/13 commissions lined up for the rest of this year. A lot of them are on the campaign furniture side – I have a couple of clients who are really into campaign furniture so I’ll be building a lot of campaign chests and Roorkee chairs and lots of collapsible stuff – but stuff that doesn’t collapse unintentionally.
F – Where next for Lost Art Press?
Specifically, what’s coming out very soon is Joshua Klein’s book on a very interesting guy named Jonathan Fisher who was an 18thCentury renaissance man. We have a this absolutely complete portrait of a woodworker and his life – he documented everything, and we have his furniture and his objects. So it’s a look at 18thcentury craft through the eyes of that person, with very little interpretation. That’s a really cool book.
We’re almost sending to press John Brown’s “Welsh Stick Chairs” which we finally got the rights to republish. That was one of the most influential books in my life, and I’ve been chasing the rights to that for many years, so we’re putting out a really nice edition of that. Hopefully that will inspire a whole new generation of people, because Brown was as influential as Krenov or Sam Maloof or any of the other big woodworkers.
More generally, we’re trying to decide if we should get more into video, we’ve done a couple of streaming videos. I don’t really like video, which I probably shouldn’t admit, but it’s not how I’ve learned. I’ve learned through reading and then doing. Other people are very visual learners, I’m not a very visual learner. Luckily my partner, John Hoffman, that’s how he learns so he’s more in charge of the video aspect. I don’t know if we’ll be doing more of that, that seems to be the way the world is going…but I just love books. I love the permanence of them. They can be made to a very high standard.
F – Videos seem very ephemeral. Books have a period of their own, they’re timeless.
C – I totally agree, and I hope that there are enough customers around to keep me doing this. That’s our fear, that people will say “screw books”. But we’ll just keep making books, that’s what I do. I’ll just keep doing it and if I have to make them one at a time, I’ll make them one at a time.
I’ll keep buying them – looks like I’m going to need a bigger shelf…
Many thanks to Chris and all at Lost Art Press – available from Classic Hand Tools in the UK and Europe.
Out for a stroll this morning on Whiteleaf Hill, which sits above the town of Princess Ribba (or Princes Risborough, as it’s known to everyone other than my two year old daughter). There no doubt used to be bodgers lurking in these beechwoods.
There’s still plenty of furniture being made hereabouts – both Ercol and Hypnos are based in the town. Not sure about Jo – definitely “was ere” though.
There’s a neolithic burial mound at the top, so this has clearly been a site of significance for thousands of years. Even more so nowadays, as you can just about spot an M&S Foodhall in the vale below.
For a piece of furniture to achieve a higher status than “firewood” (or burniture), it’s got to have a few things going for it. So, seeing as it’s Monday and I don’t feel like standing out from the herd, I’ll write them up in one of those lists that infests the internet.
Good proportion soothes the eye, calms the nerves and makes you feel that all is right with the world. Unfortunately it’s not even a consideration for much mass-produced furniture, which seems to be based around how easy it is to manufacture rather than to live with. It’s not difficult to use simple ratios when designing – the golden ratio is a favourite – and the result is more than worthwhile.
One serious advantage us small scale makers have over large manufacturers is that we can spend a bit more time picking exactly the right board for the job. Look out for nicely jointed tabletops/casework and drawers made from the same board – just a couple of signs that the maker cared.
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” – the Gospel according to William Morris. I’d argue that the former should lead to the latter, and the patina from a well-used object is often the most beautiful thing about it. At least, that’s my excuse when I buy yet another vintage plane.
A few years back I spent some time with a wooden box maker in a small town at the top of the Pennines. We were making up an order of tiny presentation boxes for Fortnum & Mason, and I’ll always remember the care and attention he payed to every last detail – the hinges were miniscule. One of those boxes still sits on my shelves at home, and if I find myself wandering off on the job I can almost hear old Bart muttering “not good enough”!
Too often an afterthought, the right finish can make an item of furniture sing. I always try to ensure that the customer can top up the finish with something readily available – Osmo Polyx is a favourite – rather than rely on secret recipes of dubious provenance.