To kick off the final year of our degree at Rycotewood Furniture Centre, we took a study trip to the South East of England to have a look around various manufacturers, suppliers and workshops to get an idea of the industry beyond the safety of a degree course. A short film of the trip is posted below.
After a beautiful drive down the A303, we arrived at Modus who specialise in commercial furniture. It was more of an assembly plant than anything as most of the components are mass produced and imported, however there was a section in the corner of the building where upholsterers were doing their thing and also a CNC router at work producing components for a chair.
The second day we visited Halstock Cabinet Makers which was something we were all looking forward to. Jasper, the director of operations, came into the workshops a few months prior and gave a presentation of the company explaining their values and workshop organisation. This was probably the most organised workshop I've ever seen. Not necessarily in terms of physical organisation, but in that every project was communicated effectively and clearly between each department so that it could be completed in the quickest and easiest way possible. After speaking to some of the makers, most of them said the paperwork could a bit of a hassle sometimes, however they all saw the overall value it bought to the process of manufacture. It's definitely something I will take away from visiting them. We also had a surprise visit from the one and only John Makepeace at the end of the workshop tour which was very eye opening. He spoke to us about his experiences in the industry, what to do, what not to do and also touched on the subject of design and making in regards to some of his own pieces. The visit proved very valuable and I feel I got a lot from it.
Later in the day, we visited the School of Architecture at Hooke Park which was interesting to say the least. In summary it's a playground for student architects to mess about with design and potentially build something full scale. We were able to go into some of the buildings, most of which seemed to have a fragmented theme going on, or a skeletal like frame made from logs. We also went on the mezzanine floor of the workshops and witnessed someone cutting a bridle joint in the end of a log with a Festool TS55 which was somewhat terrifying, especially with the lack of PPE. But overall the students work was incredible and was worth having a look around.
On the third and final day we visited Mundy Veneer who are a great company and have helped me out with projects in the past, I actually bought the walnut veneer from them while making the laminates for 'Cognition'. They are incredibly patient on the phone, even if you have absolutely no idea what you need and have a very detailed knowledge of the species they supply. Well worth looking into if you're after veneers. We also came away with a bin full of scraps that were due to be thrown out. One mans trash is another mans gold and all that!
The final visit was to Artichoke Furniture near Cheddar. We first took a detour through Cheddar Gorge which was a stunning drive and ended up going through it 3 or 4 times. The workshop at Artichoke was very well laid out, extremely clean and had some high tech machinery at its disposal. Just have a look at the spindle moulder in the video! Bruce, the managing director of the company seemed very genuine and gave us a great insight into how he ran the company to start with and how he runs it today. They actually include an in house design team who clients can use instead of relying on a separate interior designer. We didn't see many projects in the works while we were there, however a quick look at their portfolio and you can see the detail and variation in their work.
It's a somewhat daunting thought to be spat out the other end of a degree course with absolutely no idea what to do next. However, going on the trip and seeing these establishments hasn't necessarily given me a direction that's set in stone, although I can be safe in the knowledge that I know whats out there if I need extra time to earn money while growing my name and brand online.
After going into work every day for 3 weeks to either work or get progress done on the project, it is finally done! This project took a lot longer than I though it would, mainly because the shop isn't organised in a time efficient setup for projects. I'd have to walk from one side of the store to the other if I forgot a domino or sheet of sandpaper, reset extraction every time I needed to use a power tool, and finally explain to customers what the bloody hell I was doing every time they came past. Not that the latter was an issue, it was awesome to have so many peoples interest in the project.
Anyway, the YouTube video is posted below. If you want to see the project in further depth then you can follow the link to my channel and view the 3 part series where I narrate over each step of the process. Photos of the finished piece are in the portfolio section of my website.
I'm Matt Estlea, a student at Rycotewood Furniture Centre in Oxford, currently studying a BA Degree in Furniture: Design and Make. I also work at the Basingstoke branch of Axminster Tools and Machinery on weekends and have an unhealthy obsession with cats.