Thursday, 24 November 2011

Back to the future

I visited the little Suffolk town of Long Melford last week as I had heard it was an antique mecha and a real treasure trove. As a fan of all kinds of styles and periods of furniture I thought it would be an excellent source of inspiration and valuable information. I was not wrong. I saw so many differences, nuances, patterns, themes and designs that are all lost in today’s modern, stark, industrial style of furniture which is so widespread now.

For example everything was opulent and grand, and why not. Obviously a lot of what I saw was for large houses and to show wealth and stature in society, but the patterns and carvings were immense and showed an extreme passion and amazing craft skill. why can’t these ideals be brought back. Money is one obstacle and time is another I suppose, but surely it’s not that hard to gain some stature and opulence in today’s society? I mean we buy furniture to show not only style and taste but maybe wealth and social position/vision (take minimalist ikea against dark detailed heavy furniture) gives you, well me an idea of class divide. So surely it’s up to us designers to bring some of this amazing stature in design, -‘showing off skills-’ back?! But to meet sustainability and peoples taste in line.

Another thing I noticed in many pieces I saw in the vast rooms and areas of these big antique shops was the proportion of the items of furniture, they were all massive structures, nothing like what is made today. Now obviously this again was to show stature and wealth in olden days and the material of wood (not many of these peieces had metal in them) was widespread and at the forefront of the industry as a whole, but again why cant proportion be a defining feature now? Is it down to house size? Houses are not as big as they used to be and new builds are getting smaller and smaller. Is it just money again? I don’t think so. Maybe we need to re-educate people in the idea of having multi functional furniture items that maybe big but for a beneficial reason and not an aesthetic reason. For example what happened to the classic sideboard? Can this be reinvented?
  And we have to be sensitive to cost and longevity in designs too as the items I saw were made to last for years and years, encompassing different periods in history and culture which would age its appearance and appeal. This just does not happen now but it can.

I also found a lot of specific designed pieces for hobbies and crafts. Never heard of in this day and age, but tables for crochet and knitting with function playing a major part where everywhere, and these tables stood out because the design was simple, no ornate carvings and they used fabric as well and leather, which is not present on the grand tables or ornate chairs. Shame we can’t bring these specific ideas back but the trend for people wanting multi functional pieces is bigger than ever.
  And while we are on missing elements in design today the carvings and directions applied to these pieces sing out status and uniqueness. The time it must have taken to produce these designs is mind blowing but the same old question of why we can’t do it nowadays is raised again. We could easily incorporate the complex carved patterns by use of milling machines and advanced manufacturing techniques, but would the public want? Or be able to afford it? It’s a shame the latter I feel is the deciding factor.

Moving on to the construction of these mammoth pieces was an eye opener. When I design pieces I try to be sensitive to material use and structural integrity, as I have a limit to how much material I can use and how much I can spend. And the common approach in mass produced furniture is to use rough, chipboard, OSB board to provide structural support and use these in areas which will not be seen by the consumer. But in the peiecs I observed every section, every structural element was of the same wood used on the showing, functional faces of the design, this not only in my eyes boosted the pieces craftsmanship and place in the house as a valuable item but made it last, weather the storm of life and make it strong, true to form, and not a passing fade

So all these elements and believe me there are more, made me realise so much is missing in terms of design today and it has given me so many raw ideas and incentives to put some of these back into furniture to sell/highlight what can and does go into designing and making a piece of furniture. To tell a story and build a relationship with these things we use everyday, because that is what its about isn’t it? Making a connection so we don’t throw away and replace so easily like they did in years gone by. And when I saw all these massive pieces of grand designs, sitting in small rooms, dotted about shops and clad with obscure antique china and retro sculptures they all seemed to be trying to reconnect with someone like they did when they were made. Trying to be found again so they can gain some dignity back and be used for what they are and build a lasting relationship.

Very endearing

I feel this blog post could be a lot longer on this subject as it is a vast discussion point and maybe I will come back to this area as it does hold a lot of secrets and directions, for me anyway        

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