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Designing at home with Tom & Danielle Raffield

We've caught up with Tom and wife Danielle, to discuss the challenges of lockdown, how they've found designing from home and business plans for the future.
Tom and Danielle Raffield at home
Tom and Danielle in their Grand Designs home (image credit: Seasalt Cornwall).

The UK lockdown has drastically changed our daily routines, working patterns and the ways in which we communicate. It’s been a challenge for businesses and individuals alike. With measures starting to ease and move towards a new normal, we’ve caught up with Tom and Danielle Raffield to discover how they’ve found designing our steam bent products at home, the lessons they’ve learnt from lockdown and positives they’ll take away from the experience.

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Located in the Trevarno Valley, Tom and Danielle's home has been a rural place to isolate during lockdown.

How have you found working from home?

T&D: It's definitely been challenging! Running your own business, you do inevitably work from home during evenings or on weekends anyway, but never before has it been a permanent switch from workshop/studio to home, and for the whole family.

We’ve missed being around our team and being able to work on prototypes of new products in our BREAM excellent workshops, but have we're just about in the swing of things now, once we got our heads around juggling home schooling the children and dual working!

We’re lucky that we do have a small workshop space at home, left from when we ran the business from this location. So there is space to be making and experimenting with materials – as we take inspiration from natural forms, being based in amongst an ancient woodland is perfect. Our current set up is definitely not equipped to the same degree as our Falmouth workshop, but there’s space to lay out new designs, sketch products and get hands on steam bending using our old set up.

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The kitchen island come temporary office space.

What sort of space do you usually work in?

T&D: When in Falmouth, we split our time between the studio, workshop and a prototyping space. At home we’ve been working from our kitchen, a lot…which anyone else who has been doing the same will know is dangerous due to the close proximity of distracting food!

The kitchen island often becomes a design hub where we bounce ideas around, make models or play with components. Then we have a small workshop in the woodland where we can pull together prototypes using materials we brought back with us from the main site at the start of lockdown.

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A small onsite workshop space provides a place for new designs to be explored and prototyped for upcoming product ranges.
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Tom makes precise markings on a steam bent design he's been handcrafting in his woodland workshop.

Describe your work process…what is your usual process or working day?

T&D: Part of working from home is the adjustment to new rhythms and juggling what us and the children need. It has been challenging and can change depending on the week, but overall it has been a real positive to be more flexible with working hours due to home-schooling the children. The rest of our team have been able to forge their own routines working from home or following safety guidelines whilst in the workshop, it's a new balance for everyone. Their attitude, hard work and commitment has been incredible in the face of this adversity.

We tend to wake up early and make the most of the light mornings and work whilst the house is still quiet. On sunny mornings before the kids wake up you can probably find us outside on the terrace with laptops and a coffee whilst answering emails. The afternoons we tend to take it in turns to work, one of us will be teaching/entertaining/playing with the children and the other has some peace and quiet to work freely. In the evenings we catch up on work again, we’re still designing and creating products for upcoming ranges - but also enjoying brainstorming some pieces for our own home, just for fun.

"We’ve been doing a lot of maintenance in the woodland, planting trees, tending to saplings, there’s lots here to keep the whole family busy".

- Danielle Raffield.
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New designs are still able to be explored at home using a range of mediums; hand sketches, small models and steam bent wooden mock-ups.

How have you found adapting to a new routine and environment?

T&D: In some ways this isolation has really suited us, we’re really happy and settled here and luckily have everything we need to continue working to hand. On the other, we’ve missed our team, the studio and workshop unity. And above all that, constantly adapting to changes in the economy and our concerns for the future of small businesses like ours. It's been a very difficult time but we're remaining positive and are very grateful for our customers' support over the past few months. It has definitely changed the shape of our business but we are focused on moving forward and forging a new path for our brand and dedicated team. We’ve also missed our family, good friends and the coastline. We’re dreaming of summer days on the sand!

What home comforts are you enjoying whilst spending more time in your own space?

T&D: A slower pace of life, a more flexible working routine and pottering! We’re usually so busy running around all the time we had forgotten how to just enjoy our home. Since lockdown started we’ve been growing vegetables, fixing walls indoors and out, playing more music and reading. It’s been a creative time for all of us. We feel a new sense of fulfilment being at home and realise how incredibly grateful we are for our lifestyle and location.

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Morning coffee outside in the fresh air has become a daily ritual for the Raffields. (Image credit: Seasalt Cornwall).

How are you staying fit and healthy whilst we #StayHome?

T&D: We’re fortunate to be rural and have the space to explore nature on our doorstep. Now things have eased a little we’ve been driving to the cost for walks and spending a lot of time doing outdoor activities that we’d all missed such as swimming… you can’t go swimming in the woods. 

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Beech trees line a countryside lane close to the Grand Designs home and provide inspiration whilst on woodland walks.

The natural world has evidently had a huge impact on what you create – what are you currently inspired by?

T&D: We’ve been through a couple of seasonal phases during the lockdown. Firstly the spring buds and new growth on trees - the forms found in nature are complex and beautiful, it's a feat of design engineering! Now we’re edging closer to summer, and the trees have all their leaves, we’ve been enjoying watching their movement. As the wind hits them their leaves act like a sail catching the air - windy days are when you see a tree at its strongest and most venerable. We’ve been enjoying paying closer attention to the nature that’s on our doorstep…

What’s the best thing about surrounding yourself and working with nature daily?

T&D: Definitely the benefits it brings to your happiness levels, it also makes you aware of the small and subtle changes that happen around you as the seasons shift. We believe the more time people spend connecting with nature the more likely they are to take care and protect it.

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A steamer is loaded with lengths of sustainably sourced timber in the workshop.

How do you come up with new designs and why?

T&D: It’s all about experimenting. Seeing a form, manipulating it, then transferring the shape or motion to different materials, then testing.

"We design through making, it’s a bit old school now in a world where most things happen on a screen, but we’re hands on from the start of the process to the finish. Our team hold up this value – handcrafting to order and then hand packaging the pieces to ensure they arrive safely at their new homes".

- Tom Raffield.

What are you currently working on?

T&D: We’re working on something quite architectural and purist for a launch later this year. Staying true to our roots, it’s a celebration of material and form but with a few twists and curve balls along the way – we’re finding it really exciting to develop.

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Tom explaining why sustainability has become ingrained in the company ethos and remains an all-important driver when deciding on new steam bent designs.

Why is sustainability important to you and your designs?

T&D: I think sustainability has become ingrained in us. We believe in protecting the resources available to us and recognise lots of materials are finite, so want to work in a way which protects them and helps to ensure their future. We want to produce high-quality products that people will cherish, care for and hand down to the next generation. It’s about that balance between nature and people, if we get it right we all have a future.

What do the next six months hold for you?

T&D: We'll be focusing on the business and navigating our way through this challenging time - listening to our team, customers and concentrating on channeling our creativity into our exciting new sustainable steam bent homewares. We're hoping for a positive few months ahead. 

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