Making Wood Work at Clerkenwell Design Week

  • In the lead up to the design festival next week, Port speak to five very different exhibiting designers who all share a love of a quintessentially natural material – wood James-Smith-Designs_Nest_Platter-Set_White_Copyright-John-Short-PhotographyWood has always been a material of interest for designers and patrons alike. Tapping in to a myriad of senses – colour evolved by age, natural scent enriched by oil lacquer, and textures multiplied by varying species – wood appeals to our innate admiration of the natural world.

    It’s “warm, tactile and a host of useful properties” says Steven Block, event manager of this year’s Clerkenwell Design Week. This year’s exhibitor’s programme has a particularly strong presence of handmade wooden products, an appeal that stems from their bespoke nature. “There are more good designers globally than there are good factories. products are being made in smaller quantities by the designers themselves.”James Smith’s newest collection, to be launched at the Clerkenwell Design Week, is a range of intelligent and multi-purpose oak pieces which showcase the intrinsic quality of wood as a versatile material. “Prior to studying design, I trained as a cabinet-maker which is essentially why woodwork comprises the main body of my work. I find the process and work environment enjoyable and intuitive, and the results of careful work very satisfying.”

    Above: Nest Platter Set, James Smith. Photograph John Short

  • Roey Hunt, who creates handcrafted objects using a mixture of found and new materials, ascribes working part-time with a tree surgeon as the starting point of his ongoing fascination with wood as a material. “He was very passionate about the wood we’d cut down,” recalls Roey, “but much of the time it had very little value and was generally just used for fire wood. I would collect interesting lumps and save them.”

    “After a number of years working with modern materials – resins, fibreglass, high quality sprayed lacquer – producing art and design, I saw a possible use for these pieces. The pieces I’m showing at Clerkenwell are all one-off pieces cut from a single piece of cedar wood” adds Roey.

    Below & right: Blocks of wood made into chairs, Roey Hunter

    Blocks, Roey hunt
    Roey-Hunt wooden stool

  • Furniture designer Phillip Euell reasons he was drawn to designing wood pieces from an early age. “I started building skateboard ramps with my grandfather when I was 10. I had my own circular saw and jigsaw by 12 and I must have built two dozen half-pipes in New York by the age of 16.” After an alternating career path taking in law, building, and French culinary school in Mexico Phillip returned to design and set up Euell Furniture with his wife. “My new collection is strange,” says Phillip. Launched next week at the design festival, he explains “the forms are organic,” though curiously “off-balance, and anthropomorphic. The material is noble – French pear and walnut. Inspiration came, in part, from several trips last year to China, California, and Israel.”
    Right: Console B by Euell


  • Banby-&-DayTurning to the wider process of production, Lewis Day of Barnby & Day, whose studio is situated at the base of the Welsh Brecon Beacons mountain range offers insight into a surprisingly modern process. “In general, each product starts as a rough sketch that is then modelled on a computer, giving us a near perfect visual of the piece”. These digital images “are then tweaked, and the process is repeated until we are completely happy with the design. Then we head to the workshop to create a prototype – the final stage of development – highlighting any design issues we need to resolve before entering into production.”
    Left: Barnby & Day poring over design plans

  • LARKBECK-portrait-03
  • Producing limited edition cabinets, Larkbeck studio is a partnership between Rafe Mullarkey and Laszlo Beckett. Founded on a shared ethos of respecting the material and producing skills to transform them, Larkbeck’s projects are simplistic yet possess detailed panels, highlighting their skilled craftsmanship. “Designing furniture within the limitations of solid wood construction excites me,” states Laszlo. “Yes, you can push the material and create new forms but, ultimately, you’re restricted by the fundamental behaviour of the material. This presents welcome challenges while designing decorative pieces for longevity and purpose.”

    Showing at CDW, their Sakura Sideboard cherry blossom detailed doors “are comprised of fragments from hundreds of photographs taken over several years,” says Laszlo. “Translating the 2D image to sculptural relief became the focus, generating a height field based on tonal qualities, correlated with the image’s perceived depth.”

    Words Stephanie Kukulka

    Clerkenwell Design Week runs at various locations from 21-23 May, with exhibitions, showrooms, forums, and public spacesSakura_sideboard_detail-Larkbeck

    Above: detailing of the Sakura Sideboard by Larkbeck, detailed with cherry blossom