Tom Raffield Interview

We've teamed up with award-winning British designer Tom Raffield for our LDF event WORKSHOP: Create to Live. He'll be re-creating a workshop space in our Islington showroom and launching some brand new pieces. The event runs throughout the London Design Festival 13-21 September 2014.  We chatted with him to find out a bit about his design ethos. 

AIF: How did you get started as a designer/maker?

TR: The passion and love for making things stems from my childhood. I was always happiest when in a workshop rather than a classroom. Knowing that I could make a living from being a designer and maker was awe inspiring. University really brought it home to me that I could make this dream into a reality.

I graduated in 3D Design for Sustainability. It was a great start for me as the college, teachers and course inspired me to be creative and think in new and exciting ways. It also introduced me to Cornwall; a place I feel passionate about and also the place that has become my home. The greatest thing to come out of this course was the time, freedom and resources I had to research and develop new skills and ideas. I was able to spend a lot of time looking into different techniques associated with wood and to develop my own methods of using steam bending. This was a really exciting time for me as I felt I was able to develop new methods and technology which gave me completely unique results and in effect was the start of my career.

AIF: How important is the sourcing of your material to the design process?

TR: It is imperative to the design process. If we can’t source sustainable wood, we couldn’t make our products. Everyone here at Tom Raffield believes in making products that will be cherished, enjoyed and loved. In our eyes longevity is the basis for sustainability. Therefore all of the materials we use have to be of the best quality. We use local timber where possible from renewable resources. If we can’t source it locally then we will choose wood from sustainably managed woodlands where more trees are planted than cut down.

AIF: Product appeal – form or function?

TR: Both. Form and Function. Well, that is what I try to achieve in my designs. I am inspired by so many beautiful forms in nature and in my life that I just have to try and include them in my designs. Trying to translate these forms into functional pieces of lighting or furniture by using steam is the fun and very addictive part of my design process. It is what keeps every day of my working life so interesting and challenging. In other people’s designs I also look for both. There are so many talented designers that achieve both. Why must you compromise one for the other?

AIF: Your workshop looks beautiful - what does a typical day in the studio/workshop entail?

TR: A typical day in the workshop will start with a short walk from my house through the woodland to the workshop. It blows away the cobwebs as well as reminding me just how lucky I am to live and work in such a beautiful place. I usually get the coffee on before the rest of the team arrive for the day and check through emails. When everyone else arrives we have a brief catch up on orders that need to go out or be completed that day. The rest of the day will then vary depending on what jobs need to be completed that week. It is a good day for me when we have lots of varying orders and I can work alongside the guys in the workshop making some beautiful pieces. It’s even better when we are asked to make a bespoke piece and we can have fun developing the client’s ideas. I will always try and end the day with a bit of designing or product development. However as many of my ideas come to me when I am out enjoying the Cornish countryside you will often find me in the workshop developing ideas as soon as I can. Evenings and weekends included. I can’t keep away.

AIF: Will you pass on your craft to someone?

TR: We have two apprentices who are on training programs and one member of staff who has just finished his apprenticeship supported by the company. They are all training or have completed their training in different disciplines but are all now deft hands at making certain pieces in the lighting or furniture range. There is nothing better than that feeling of passing on your skill and knowledge to others who are eager to learn and who have the same passion for the processes you use to make things. The great thing is that everyone develops their own knowledge and are inspired in different ways. Especially if they come from other design backgrounds. So quite often I learn things from them too. I also have two young sons. I hope that one day they will be inspired as I am by making and designing things from wood. They will have the workshop at their disposal when they are ready to learn.

AIF: What are you launching here at the London Design Festival 2014?

TR: We don’t want to say too much at this stage as we don’t want to ruin the surprise. However, we will be unveiling a new wooden Chandelier at Adventures in Furniture, Islington, London. We are extremely proud of this piece which has been designed to reflect the ethos of an English woodland. Its proportions are spectacular and we are very excited for its launch.

We will also be exhibiting a new addition to the lamp-shade range. Inspired by the Scots Pine Cone – of which we have many in our own woodland here in Cornwall – this shade represents the beauty of the tree’s lifecycle.

We are honoured and delighted to announce that we have been asked to collaborate with internationally renowned interior designer Victoria Meale to design and make a special set of furniture pieces for the VIP Lounge. The area entitled “House in the Garden” has been specially designed by Victoria Meale for House & Garden magazine. The furniture will demonstrate the beautiful shapes and organic forms that steam-bending wood can achieve.

AIF: Do you have a secret London (or other) design destination that you’re willing to share?

TR: Decorex International is one of the best design destinations for us. It is not a secret that it is one of the must go-to interior trade shows. It sees such a plethora of designers under one roof that you will find it impossible not to be inspired. This year Decorex will return to Syon Park which means it will be even bigger and house even more designers, makers and creative.

AIF: Favourite London story?

TR: Attending the Chelsea Flower Show this year was a remarkable time for us. We were specially invited to host an Artisan Retreat. On the evening of the VIP night I couldn’t quite believe it when I bumped (literally) into the Duke of Edinburgh as he took a stroll around the showground. Never in a million years did I ever think I would meet royalty when I set my business up in 2008.

AIF: What would be your dream project?

TR: I would love to take on an entire restoration project or to design the whole interior of a project. In either a commercial or residential setting. This would allow me to really demonstrate what can be achieved from steam bending wood. From lighting, to making unique pieces of furniture to actually making steam-bent wooden structures to add to the assembly of the building. The possibilities are endless. If there is anyone out there who wants to discuss a steam-bent wooden framed house, then I am your designer.

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