Out of the Woods (Cornwall Life)

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Tom Raffield designs and makes steam-bent furniture from a woodland workshop in the Trevarno Valley near Helston. He tells Katie Treggiden why it’s so important for him to invest in the local community.

Using a unique steam-bending technique he developed while still studying at University College Falmouth, Tom Raffield designs and makes all of his products in a workshop he and his team built five years ago from trees that had fallen during a storm. He lives on site in an old gamekeeper’s cottage with wife and business partner Danie and their two boys, Bearwyn, two, and Beauregard, four. It’s a location that is crucial to his work. “The woodland is my main source of inspiration,” he says. “There are acres of beautiful, untouched and remote woodland in this valley, which is a rare thing in this part of Cornwall and we are lucky enough to own about seven acres. I wouldn’t be making the sort of work I am if we were anywhere else – I only need to step out of my front door and walk a short distance through the trees and an idea for a new design could be staring me in the face.” A case in point is his Scots Light, a wooden lampshade handmade from 80 individually cut and steam-bent ‘leaves’ of ash, inspired by the cones that fall from the Scots pine trees that surround him.

Walking through his workshop, the making process needs little explanation – trees go in one end and finished products come out the other. Apart from that steam-bending technique of course: instead of heating wood in a steam-filled box and then bringing it out to bend – a process limited by the 30 seconds to a minute in which the wood must be bent before it cools – his steamer is a bag, allowing the wood to be bent inside, removing the time limitation and enabling incredibly complex three-dimensional shapes to be formed. One of his earliest products was a chair made entirely from a single length of wood.

More recent products include the Arbor Sofa, which features one long ribbon of oak forming the front legs, arms and backrest, plus a base, three back legs and a fixed seat upholstered in wool from one of the few vertical woollen mills left in Britain; and the Giant Flock Chandelier, which comprises over 120 individual steam-bent wooden shapes suspended around three tungsten light bulbs, to mimic a swirling flock of starlings in the twilight sky.

This distinctive body of work has won Tom a Lighting Design Award, and recent selection as one of Kevin McCloud’s Green Heroes and as one of Walpole’s Brands of Tomorrow. But interestingly, those are not the accolades he is most proud of. Last year he won Apprenticeship Employer of the Year, and that’s the award he has on his desk. “Wherever you live, you’re part of a community, so you have a responsibility to use what’s local to you,” he says. “We’re lucky that Cornwall is full of people who are really good at making things from boat builders to crafts people, so I use as many local suppliers as I can, but I also think it’s important to invest in the future by taking on apprentices.” Tom works with students and graduates from University College Falmouth and Cornwall College Camborne, many of whom end up as full-time employees. “I’m passionate about training young people,” he says. “I get so much satisfaction from watching them learn from all the other people here. And the business evolves as a result of those people coming in, which is a lovely thing – we are all learning together.”

He’s excited about Cornwall’s future. “It’s beautiful, so people want to live here,” he says. “And a combination of high-speed internet, flights from Newquay airport and the way people do business these days makes it increasingly possible to make a good living here. A lot of young creative people are moving to Cornwall to set up their dream businesses and there’s a real energy around that.”

Novocastrian’s Uncompromisingly Northern Furniture (AnOther Magazine)

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Katie Treggiden speaks to the Newcastle-based design trio – a designer, an architect and a metal worker – putting their hometown firmly on the map.

With their debut collection at the London Design Festival’s designjunction and Newcastle’s Northern Design Festival, and an award for Best New Designer under their belts already, Novocastrian has burst onto the design scene with a singularly local approach to design and manufacture.

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AnOther Magazine, January 2015

I have started writing a column for AnOther Magazine. Each month I will profile a different upcoming product or furniture designer. My first story has just gone live and is called Taking Shape: Aljoud Lootah’s Glorious Geometric Furniture. (All copy is as submitted.)

Named Young Designer of the Year at the 2013 Arab Woman Awards, Aljoud Lootah recently became the first Emirati designer to have her work acquired by an international gallery when the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia bought her Oru collection for its permanent collection. Katie Treggiden speaks to the Dubai-based multidisciplinary designer blazing a trail for Middle Eastern design.

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Icon, December 2015

My first feature for Icon Magazine, Nedre Foss Gård, a story about an Oslo bar created by product designers Anderssen & Voll, appeared in the December issue.

What happens when you let product designers loose on a bar and restaurant interior? If it’s Norwegian design studio Anderssen & Voll, they custom-design every single item.

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Norwegian Arts, November 2015

Norwegian Arts has just published a story I wrote for them called Norwegian wool. (All copy is as submitted.)

Ever since Sarah Lund stepped onto our screens via Danish television series The Killing, sporting that jumper (actually of Scottish origin), our interest in Scandinavian wool has been piqued. But the Norwegians have been working in wool for centuries. Katie Treggiden investigates the enduring appeal of this ancient material.

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The Clerkenwell Post, November 2015

In November, The Clerkenwell Post published Violin Solo, my story about violin-maker Andreas Hudelmayer who was also featured in my recent book Makers of East London.

Clerkenwell is full of craftspeople, but perhaps one of the more unusual is Andreas Hudelmayer – a luthier, or maker of stringed instruments based at Crafts Central. Katie Treggiden finds out how exactly a violin is made.

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onOffice, November 2015

November 2015’s issue of onOffice included The Next Nomads, an article I wrote about an Eindhoven co-working space called Tribes designed by Abrahams Crielaers. (All copy as submitted.)


The way we work is changing. 95% of medium sized businesses now offer flexible working – and evolving technology combined with cost effective travel enables us to work from wherever the business is. People are also more likely to set up independent ventures and enjoy the freedom that comes with working for themselves: 70% more under 35s started their own business in 2013 versus 2006 and the figure was 55% for over 35s.

Targeting the estimated 1.7 million so-called ‘business nomads,’ ex-Regus CEO Eduard Schaepman has established new workspace concept, Tribes. “Regardless of whether they work for a large company or for themselves, today’s business nomads are increasingly a group in themselves,” he says. “Like-minded professionals who go where the business is; a group of people who care about the same things and have the same habits; a group with the same values, aspirations and practices.”

The first 1,500sqm Tribes space opened at Eindhoven’s Flight Forum in May, quickly followed by Rotterdam, and new premises are planned for Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague, Arnhem, Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent this year. Workers can buy a one-day pass, a monthly membership, or rent permanent offices adjoining the shared spaces.

Flexible areas include meeting rooms, long tables where individuals can plug in laptops, sofa areas for informal working, library spaces cocooned in Pierre Frey wallpaper for more focused periods of concentration, picnic-style tables and a café area reflecting the trend for café working, and a reception desk that doubles up as a bar.

Interior designer Huguette Crielaers describes the project as having the same premise as flexible workspace giant Regus, but says, “Schaepman wanted to add something more to it, something to make it more special, more social and a bit hipper.”

That “something more” came from translating the idea of ‘business nomads’ into a brief that tasked Crielaers with taking inspiration from nomadic tribes, and specifically a book called Before They Pass Away – a record of three years that self-described ‘visual anthropologist’ Jimmy Nelson spent photographing vanishing indigenous cultures.


“The book provided the DNA for our design concept,” says Crielaers. “We started by looking at the values shared by the nomadic tribes and our business nomads and decided that the space needed to be connecting, authentic, timeless, inspiring and then also a bit homely.”

The interior design takes its cues from the structures, shapes, materials and colours that surround the clans in Nelson’s book. “We wanted to get closer to the tribal colours and if you look at their clothes, their materials, their flags, the cushions they’re sitting on – they are all in certain colours,” says Crielaers. “It’s not a bright yellow, but a mustard yellow, not a bright green but a more moss green, it’s midnight blue, dark red, copper… so we started with those colours.”

An abundance of oversized indoor plants sit alongside natural materials like leather and wood. “We looked at what kind of materials the tribes use and saw that they really translated well, so we tried to integrate these authentic fabrics in our concept,” says Crielaers. The floor is tiled throughout with Fossil by Kasia Zareba for Ceramiche Refin and overlaid with Desso carpets marking routes through the space. “The tiles are a new stone design with a very tribal look, which we loved straight away,” says Crielaers.

A circular meeting table semi-enclosed with leather straps reflects the democratic arrangement of tribal meetings. “Most of the tribes in the book seemed to sit in a circle,” explains Crielaers. “So we had to make a tribe’s table – a circular table surrounded by something like a tent. There is no hierarchy and people can make eye contact more easily.”

The Masai Mara meeting room (all the meeting rooms are named after tribes) features a large waney-edged table with leather-clad chairs and artefacts sourced, via a local supplier, from Africa and Indonesia.


The broad shape of the building made it difficult to get natural light into all parts of the space. The team at AbrahamsCrielaers played with the light that was available – roof lights, combined with the black foil that clads the glass entrance, cast playful shadows across the reception area. In other places they embraced the lack of natural light, creating darker “cosy” spaces. The standard ceiling panels have been painted navy blue to escape the typical office aesthetic and to make the space feel more intimate. Clusters of pendant lights sourced from Dutch Bone, including recycled plastic lights made in Columbia, add warmth. “If you want a homely look, lighting is incredibly important,” says Crielaers. “Lighting makes the difference between a standard office and something different.”

There are more direct references to the book, such as the photos of tribes people, interspersed with members of the Tribes team, that adorn the lockers, so users have a face to remember instead of just a number. Motivational quotes such as “And so the knights sat at a table without a head, thus offering equality to all those present (Sir Thomas Mallory)” and “Work for a cause, not for applause” were selected in collaboration with communications agency The Communication Company.

But it’s not just the visual aspects of the design that were inspired by the tribes Nelson depicted in his book. “The way the tribes live is very inclusive,” says Crielaers. “Whereas in our culture you’re either in or you’re out, especially when it comes to workplaces, where you’re either of working age or you’re too old to join in.” The team are hoping to replicate the tribes’ connection with older generations by offering retired professionals free membership in exchange for making themselves available to younger entrepreneurs for advice and guidance.

The ultimate question is the difference the space makes to the people who work there. “It is much more fun to work somewhere like this,” posits Crielaers. “And I do think joy and happiness make you more productive.” And it seems she’s right. As Shawn Achor said in his TEDx Talk, The Happy Secret to Better Work, “If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity, their brain experiences what we call a ‘happiness advantage.’ Your brain in ‘positive’ performs significantly better than in ‘negative’, ‘neutral’ or ‘stressed’. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, we’ve found that every single business outcome improves.”


Norwegian Arts, October 2016

Norwegian Arts has just published a story I wrote for them called Probably Danish. (All copy is as submitted.)

When Einar Kleppe Holthe saw a Fredrik Kayser dining chair labelled ‘mid-century, probably Danish,’ he realised it was time to put Norway’s design heritage back on the map – Norwegian Icons was his response. Katie Treggiden traces the birth of the campaign.

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25 Beautiful Homes, October 2015

Two Become One, my homes feature about how Eugenie Nixon and husband Guy combined their flats into one spacious family home, appeared in October’s issue of 25 Beautiful Homes. (All copy as submitted.)

Eugenie Nixon and husband Guy lived across two apartments for a decade before finally joining them into the family home they’d dreamed of. Not ones to do things in the conventional order, Eugene was pregnant with their first child when the flat above Guy’s came onto the market, so she snapped it up. For ten years, the couple and their growing family – they now have two boys, plus Guy’s older sons – lived in both apartments, with bedrooms in one and living rooms in the other. They moved between the two via the communal staircase. ‘The neighbours didn’t mind,’ laughs Eugene. ‘They got quite used to seeing us come and go in our pyjamas.’

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Elle Decoration, October 2015

My first article for Elle Decoration appeared in the October edition – an eight page feature on the winners of the British Design Awards, entitled Elle Decoration British Design Awards 2015. (All copy is as submitted)

Now in their 14th year, the ELLE Decoration British Design Awards, held in association with John Lewis, celebrate and reward the best of British design. This year we have decided to recognise emerging designers who have made an impact over the last 12 months. We concentrated our search on UK-based creatives, brands, designers and manufacturers who have been working in the industry for less than five years. Thousands of ELLE Decoration readers nominated young talent across the six categories Here, we announce the shortlist.

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The Spaces, September 2015

The Spaces has just published a story I wrote for them called <strongLondon Design Festival: 10 shows that will make you see the capital in a new light. (All copy is as submitted.)

While most of the London Design Festival is a showcase of products and furniture, there are a number of installations casting new light on the city, that promise to make even locals see the capital’s buildings and spaces with fresh eyes. Here Katie Treggiden pulls together 10 of the best.

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The Clerkenwell Post, September 2015

I wrote The Whole Spectrum for the September / October 2015 issue of The Clerkenwell Post – a preview of 100% Design with a special focus on their theme of colour and local exhibitors. (All copy as submitted.)

As the London Design Festival approaches, Katie Treggiden talks to the trend forecaster behind 100% Design’s 12 Colours for 2016 and shares her picks of Clerkenwell-based exhibitors.

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The Spaces, August 2015

The Spaces has just published a story I wrote for them called Storytelling in space – understanding the new minimalism. (All copy is as submitted.)

A carved wooden bowl, a cup designed to highlight the flavour of tea, a hand-woven throw… As the rise of digital means we need less ‘stuff,’ the objects we chose to let into our homes hold more meaning than ever.

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Into The Fold (Guardian Weekend Magazine)

My second article for the Guardian appeared on Saturday 27 June – a story about the trend for origami inspired homewares. (All copy is as submitted.)

Into the Fold

In an increasingly digital world, designers are turning to folded paper as both material and muse. Katie Treggiden explores the trend for origami-inspired homewares.

In a light-filled east London studio, designer Kyla McCallum is folding paper. Sheet by sheet, she makes 11 folds in each of 70 pieces of Italian parchment. She talks as she works, barely watching what she’s doing, her hands moving automatically.

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American Hardwood Export Council, April 2015

I was recently commissioned by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) to write a series of four essays for their microsite, charting the progress of a project called the Invisible Store of Happiness, an installation for Clerkenwell Design Week by furniture designer Sebastian Cox and sculptor Laura Ellen Bacon. This is the third essay entitled Marking. (All copy is as supplied.)

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The Clerkenwell Post, May 2015

May’s issue of the Clerkenwell Post featured Touch Wood my story about the Invisible Store of Happiness – a collaboration between the American Hardwood Export Council, Sebastian Cox and Laura Ellen Bacon that resulted in a site-specific installation for Clerkenwell Design Week.

Clerkenwell Design Week is known for making an impact – not least with its much talked about street installations. Katie Treggiden goes behind the scenes to find out more about the three-metre high American hardwood structure that furniture designer Sebastian Cox and outdoor sculptor Laura Ellen Bacon are making for the archway at the Order of Saint John.

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The Guardian, April 2015

On Saturday 11th April, my first article for the Guardian was published in their Weekend Magazine – a report on the rising popularity of Scandinavian design. (All copy is as submitted.)

The New Scandi

With an appetite for innovation and a new generation of talent, the Scandinavians are coming – again. Katie Treggiden explores the rebirth of Nordic design.

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Dezeen, ongoing

I have been writing for British design and architecture blog, Dezeen, for about a year, doing one or two days a week on a freelance basis.

Here are some examples of stories I have written for Dezeen recently:

And you can see all my stories here.