I started this series of chairs and tables over 30 years ago when it was obvious that we would need to take a radical look at the way we live, to take account of the finite nature of the planet. Initially I was more interested in a platform to explore a fresh visual language, creativity thrives on a crisis.
Now climate change is very much for real, and we have done depressingly little to alleviate the inevitable outcome, (we have actually become far more profligate and probably less satisfied) I still feel that an alternative future is possible and potentially much more fun.
On the principal that an interesting answer is most likely to come from an interesting question, I designed this furniture with sustainability high on the agenda. Really good design makes the challenges of tomorrow feasible and exciting.
There is a noble tradition which includes Windsor chairs, the Shakers, the Mini, where appearance is born of utter pragmatism, style comes as a by-product of its context, its use and its making. Now context must include the many facets of sustainability:
• Choice of materials and production techniques that have the minimum adverse environmental impact.
• Making things that are a delight to own, because they satisfy practically and visually and don't let you down.
• Right livelihood, asking the best of makers. Making work idiot proof will have a very predictable long-term effect.
For an object to be truly sustainable it must be sound from the raw material, through production, to life long use. Perhaps the most important aspect of a sustainable object is peoples wish to sustain it. So, as well as looking great even as fashion changes it must also work exceptionally well for a long time. In a chair's case this means that comfort and user convenience have to be taken seriously.
Making a chair comfortable is central to all my designs. Comfort and good posture are much the same thing. Generous lumbar support and very little contact for the lower back prove remarkably effective and provide solutions for users with a range of seating requirements.
All my designs have flexible structures, essential as flexible chairs make for flexible people! Not only do they yield to your body, but also encourage your movement, which in turn reduces pressure points and again leads to greater comfort.
Being able to get your feet back under the seat makes getting in and out of a chair much easier, as well as making for a comfortable forward sitting posture. To this end they all avoid the need for a front rail.
Lightweight chairs make it much easier to move towards or away from a table as well as using less material.
A chair has to support a dynamic load many times its own weight. These chairs are designed as fully triangulated structures where all the joints can be pivots; the strength is in the geometry, not in a massive structure. However to overcome the stiffness of triangulation, one or more sides of the triangles are curved and thus allow flexibility which in turn makes the structure stronger, lighter and more comfortable.
When looking for appropriate materials, wood stands head and shoulders above other structural materials. Merely growing it has environmental benefits. Of hardwoods, Ash stands out above all others. It is the toughest, and remarkably, is strongest when fast grown. It is self seeding. It has no sap wood so less wastage in conversion. It, together with Douglas Fir, absorbs more atmospheric carbons than any other tree. It grows particularly well in UK. It is excellent for steam bending. It is plentiful and not too expensive. The best fast grown material usually comes from young trees, this is particularly useful to timber growers as they are frequently forest thinnings, giving a return in a shorter time than the traditional main crop.
Steam bending is one of those activities where fast work is better than slow, it is very efficient and enjoyable but not fool proof, making it a very good use of a craftsman's time. It also seasons the wood at the same time as it is bent, using a fraction of the energy required in conventional kiln drying.
Because the timber is worked "green" (unseasoned) it can be sourced directly from the forester who can select the right pieces, which frequently would have no other market.
These are studio pieces, a developing train of thought. They are made in a local workshop run by Simon Moorhouse. Simon originally learnt to craft the Trannon range in my employment, he now runs his own successful fine furniture business.