20 Minutes with Andrew Varah archive

Friday 15 July 2011

Carrying on from the interview from issue 182, furniture maker Andrew Varah answers our questions

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F&C: How comfortable are you working to someone else's design?

AV: Because I very rarely get the chance to work on someone's design, I find it very relaxing and if I'm able to make technical and aesthetic suggestions, this is a bonus. It also allows me to see how others approach a solution, so I'm all for it.

F&C: What is your creative process like?

AV: I always start with a series of sketches of the obvious, just to get the obvious out of the way. From those sketches I look for a detail, which I believe I can develop. Sometimes this process can take less than ten minutes, other times over a couple of hours. I try to look at spaces that are trapped, the distance between legs for example, by moving the space between the legs so the object seems to change aesthetically, for better or worse. I'm also influenced by where the piece is to be displayed. Sometimes a detail in the client's house can trigger a thought process which has the potential to influence the final appearance.

F&C: Do you consider yourself an artist or a craftsman?

AV: If an artist is someone who creates a visual impact then I'm an artist. Not being able to devote every hour of the day at a bench means my making ability is not nearly as good as that of my cabinetmakers, but I know how it should be done and I enjoy using lateral thinking to solve a technical problem. It must be difficult to design if you have little technical knowledge.

F&C: Do you think that fine furniture making is in danger of disappearing?

AV: Quite the opposite. Some people will always have an innate need to express individualism and without that need we wouldn't have patrons. However well a mass-produced piece is made it can never reflect personal details and client idiosyncrasies, which a maker can incorporate in the design. A simple example is a requirement for a secret compartment to be incorporated to contain a certain size object, or possibly dates and initials inlaid making the piece personal to the client.

F&C: What advice would you give to young makers just starting out?

AV: Spend some time working in an established workshop, not only to learn how to make, but also how not to make. The five minutes given explaining a process may have come from years of experience, this is invaluable and will save you time and money. If you can't find a workshop to employ you then offer to help out one day a week, this way you'll be able to ask questions which are never asked in books.

F&C: What's the practical process you take when moving through a project? i.e do you use CAD, Marquettes, drawings etc.? take us through your making process.

AV: Once the client has approved my design I draw all the elevations, full size, on a board and use chalk to highlight the external shape. This helps focus on the visual impact so I can judge the proportion and aesthetics. Sometimes we make a maquette to see where the shadows fall. We use CAD to resolve complex angles, but I prefer to show clients a pencil hand-drawn and shaded view of the piece. CAD can look clinical, unless you have lots to spend on the all singing and dancing kit, which we don't have.

Once we've resolved the technical aspects of how the piece is made I then look at every stage of the making, as sometimes a proportion has to be changed. Giving birth to a unique piece is a wonderful creative process, without suffering stretch marks. I polish every piece so I'll be the last one to ensure it leaves my workshop as my client would expect.

F&C: What irritates you about the industry?

AV: Probably the same thing that irritates anyone who's creative and that is the lack of perception of how we achieve the end product. A somewhat naive statement perhaps, because we also often lack that same perception about other professions. Relatively speaking, commissioning bespoke furniture is a new social phenomenon and we're going through a learning curve along with the consumer. It may still take some years before our work is regarded as synonymous with the choice of motor vehicles on offer.


Woodworkers Institute

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furniture , design , Andrew Varah , inspiration

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(PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL LAPSLEY)