Out of the Woods (Cornwall Life)

All copy as submitted to publication.

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.”

Colour and Chaos (AnOther Magazine)

All copy as supplied to the publication.

Katie Treggiden speaks to Indian-born surface pattern designer Kangan Arora about bringing the spice of the subcontinent to London.

Kangan_Arora_Radium_02.jpg

Having moved to London to study at Central Saint Martin’s (CSM), homesickness led Arora to create her debut collection inspired by the colour and chaos she had left behind in the Punjab. “Not for nothing is pink known as the ‘navy blue of India’,” she says. “I have some magical childhood memories of Holi, the festival of colour. Our faces would be stained magenta or bright blue for days afterwards and the streets looked as if they’d been washed with paint.” Combine that colour-filled childhood with a family textiles business that goes back generations, and years of study at Central Saint Martins and the National Institute of Fashion, and Arora’s inimitable style starts to make perfect sense. She has collaborated with Heal’s, Urban Outfitters and Floor Story, and her work has been showcased at Milan’s Trienniale Design Museum, the Southbank Centre and the V&A Museum.

Kangan_Arora_Radium_03.jpg

Home

Arora regularly goes back to India and every trip sparks new ideas. “I can go home and be inspired by something on every corner, from a wall of peeling paint, to somebody wearing a ridiculous outfit,” she says. “It’s the accidental and unexpected juxtapositions that inspire me – the orderly chaos. I always come back feeling energised – as if all five of my senses have been fully charged.” Her most recent collection, Fluorescent Forest, comprises three prints: Painter, Radium and Jali. Painter is a tribute to the beautiful hand-painted signs that adorn commercial trucks in India; Radium takes inspiration from the vinyl offcuts that cover every surface of the workshops that create more contemporary signage; and Jali references decorative steel screens used to protect Punjabi windows.

“Growing up in India, you can’t escape colour,” she says. “It’s in our homes, on the street, in our food, our clothing and especially our festivals.” Arora uses the Pantone colour system for commercial freelance work, and a 4000-colour ‘pom-pom box’ for her collaborations with rug manufacturer Floor Story, but for her own work, she prefers to mix colours herself. “I had a wonderful tutor at CSM called Garth Lewis who taught us colour theory. We spent two weeks painting thousands of little squares to make value charts to understand the subtle differences between various hues and tones,” she says. “As a result, I can now be very intuitive about colour. I love the sheer alchemy of blending paint and pigment – the colours that emerge sometimes really take me by surprise!”

Kangan_Arora_Radium_05.jpg

Teaching

Having studied at Central Saint Martin’s, Arora now teaches there, something she says is an important part of her practice as a working designer. “Teaching and learning go both ways,” she says. “I’m constantly learning new things from my students and that’s something one shouldn’t ever take for granted.” Arora is also a firm advocate of ‘hand learning’ as well as ‘head learning. “One of the things I love about CSM is that, for all of its modern equipment and progressive teaching methods, it doesn’t neglect the basics – painting, drawing and learning by doing,” she says. “It’s amazing to see students discover the magic of screen-printing with child-like enthusiasm, just like I did when I was at college. It’s wonderful to give something back – it’s that thing of ‘sending the elevator back down.’”

Novocastrian’s Uncompromisingly Northern Furniture (AnOther Magazine)

Novocastrian_AnOther_Magazine_Katie_Treggiden
All copy as submitted to publication.

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.

Continue reading