Wood Planet magazine – Asia
Tom was delighted to be contacted by Wood Planet Magazine from South Korea who have featured a full, multiple page interview with him in their September issue.
As it’s all in Korean, here’s an unedited version of the full interview:
I’ve heard you spent you childhood in Exmoor where is really wild countryside. How was it? Were you wild as well as Exmoor?
I think I was quite free range. I was always allowed to go off and explore the rivers and moorland and had quite an informal upbringing.
Does your childhood affect your life style and work?
Yes. If you were brought up having freedom and not being told too much that things are not possible I feel you can do a lot. It means there are not a lot of restrictions on life and you are not so put off by things. You really just thing what you want to do and then do it rather than doing what you think is the best. This has enabled me to do something for a living that I really care about.
However, I felt kind of not only poshness and elegance also moderation, simplicity in your works, sometimes they looks like stoic, which are not wild countryside thing-y. did you intended to make them like that or is that for material you use(wood) and technique?
I am inspired by nature as a starting point and the idea is then to create what I think can work and is beautiful and then hope other people agree! One of the beauties of a small business is the freedom to do this and not having to answer to a group of people about my designs – if they are not right the public won’t buy them! I am driven by the process but not a slave to it; I have developed the possibilities steam bending technique to enable me to create the 3D designs I have in my head.
What else inspire you?
Living in Cornwall it is difficult not to be inspired by the awesomeness of the ocean. We are only a few miles from the coast and the sea on both sides and that is one of the reason’s I moved here. I am also inspired by the steam bending process and using it in new ways to create new shapes. There are no boundaries, really. Anything is possible.
I think you really like to be surrounded by wild nature and woods, that’s the reason why you chose Falmouth College of Art where is near seaside and your workshop is in the middle of woods. Where is the best wild woods you’ve ever visited?
There are so many amazing woodlands in the UK. Some of the ones on the Welsh/ English border are stunning. I think my favourite, though, is Frenchman’s Creek here in Cornwall, with its twisted oaks and amazing location on the banks of the Helford River. When the bluebells are out they reach as far as the eye can see, cascading down the hillside to the water’s edge.
I’ve heard you had holiday and just get back. Where did you go and what did you do? How was it?
It was wonderful to have time out with my family and visit friends and family here in the UK. We spent time camping and enjoying life and it was great to have a break as they are few and far between when you own a small business!
What make you be into bending wood? Was there any specific motivation?
I discovered the technique at University and that was a great opportunity to experiment with different processes and new techniques and really realise the capability of steam bending.
Please speak out and show off strong points and uniqueness of bending wood. What make you fall in love bending wood?
I love this method because there are no nasty glues or any need for lamination. I can use the wood grown on my doorstep, an absolutely raw material and it doesn’t need any treatment. The steam bending process is a natural one that pays homage to the material and only needs a pipe and a brace – the rest is all technique. There is also something in the speed needed to bend the wood once it’s steamed – it’s quite an adrenalin rush.
I’ve read you invented an innovative new method of steam-bend wood, which you called the bag technique. Would you explain that and how does it make you be able to create complex 3D form you’d like to make?
Instead of using a chamber and putting the wood into it, I take the steam to the wood using a bag. This means I can work on one section of wood at a time and create complex and intricate bends – even making several bends on one plank. This technique works well for sculptural, one-off pieces as it takes away the time constraint of having to bend something quickly.
How do you usually do your work, from initiation to workshop?
You can find the answer to this question here: http://www.tomraffield.com/blog/designing-the-butterfly-pendant-by-tom.php
What do you really concern when you design and create your pieces?
Sustainability is at the heart, but that often comes naturally with our products and the processes involved – hand making and steam bending – so I don’t have to think about it too hard any more, it is a choice I made in the beginning.
I am also concerned with the longevity and the value of a product. Our pieces take a long time to make and people see that. When you look at our pieces you can see the time taken and the craftsmanship and that is important – for it to be a product people love and cherish. It is also important to make the product to the highest standards so that it is durable – not only will people want to keep it forever but it will last forever, too.
Apart from bending wood, what is your design element you are proud of?
That I am able to take inspiration from nature and shape my designs to reflect it.
Michael Thonet’s No. 14, so called "Vienna chair","Number fourteen" is the first bending wood chair that was designed for factory manufacturing. Over 80 million pieces have been produced so far. What do you think about this chair?
And Ton become big company producing hand-made bending wood furniture but it is hard to mention “craftsmanship” to describe them. What make you keep being “craftsman”?
I think the chair is absolutely amazing and inspiring. A friend and I once found one on a local market for £5 when we were students and snapped it up – we couldn’t believe our luck! Thoret really pushed the boundaries of steam-bending for furniture design as before it had only really been used in boat building. Then laminating came along and it was cheaper and so steambending was only really used by DIY enthusiasts which is a shame. Now it’s coming back as people are realising the value of small runs and sustainable practices. Our concern with the environment now means there is a marketplace for it again, which is very good for me!
I think craftsmanship is about a love for working with a raw material and I find a satisfaction in that. Thoret truly had that, too. It’s about the process and the taking the time to get something right. I don’t think I am patient enough to be a woodworker but steambending is quite fast-paced during the actual bending and I enjoy the adrenelin!
I know England is heaven for artists or designers to keep going their philosophy comparing other country but I guess there is still tons of difficulty to being craftsman in modern society which worship fastness and trends. Tell me about that.
The success of our company and other small businesses indicates a definite increase in the popularity towards sustainable and lasting products. We are attending an event in London later this year called Seeking Slow – which shows there are a whole movement of people looking to go back to something simpler, to forage for their food and to buy products which are not mass produced. In Cornwall there are lots of small businesses handcrafting beautiful things using natural and recycled/ reclaimed materials.
As you design and create your work, do you consider marketability?
I never want to but towards the end of the process it is inevitable as I have a business to run and people who work for me to keep in a job. It is still crucial to create amazing pieces but also to create those pieces which people want to buy and can afford to buy. Everything has a cost – time. Materials, and I have to have that in mind and design and craft a product that has value.
What do you think you are? Designer or artist? Why?
I think I am naturally an artist but push myself artificially towards being a designer. I say this because I get inspired by a shape or a form or a process and naturally want to just craft something quite abstract form it. It is then I have to seek out my inner designer to turn that into something useful, for example a chair or a light. That said, I very much believe in crafting something that has a use – I think there is a lot that is meaningful in something practical.
Recently what project are you doing?
I am working on a number of designs – both bespoke pieces and developing new products for the range. I am also working with our two apprentices on a really exciting project to design and craft a Christmas Sleigh using all the techniques
Apart from your work, what does attract your interest?
I have recently had two children – both little boys – so I spend a lot of time with them and my wife, Dani. I love doing adventurous things and getting out in the fresh air to walk, cycle or surf. I also enjoy spending time with friends and our wider family and working on our house and the woodland around it.
I’ve just taken on two more staff and am looking to develop the range and expand itno new markets. We have more and more enquiries from outside of Europe and a lot of work in Asia and the Far East and I would really like to pursue this as I know people there have a passion for really unique design.
What do you want to be or to do in the future?
I’d like to do more designing and less making the same products. We’ll see how that goes!