With so much of the design industry being dictated by activities which are little more than digital data input, their work is refreshing to see and offers immediate rewards
Just out of interest, I thought I’d pop in to see the furniture maker Tom Raffield.
After several hours of endurance on the congested South West road network, I found myself meandering down through a leafy Cornish world, rarely visited by the tourist hoards, towards Tom’s base at Trevarno. Set in six acres of lush ancient Cornish woodland Tom and Danielle Raffield purchased the original Listed gamekeeper's lodge with the idea of building a family home that balanced daily living and engagement with their natural environs. On arrival, I was greeted by the sound of their two young children playing freely in their garden, an external space physically hugged by the house. Showcasing the couple’s design skills, the newly constructed steam-bent timber-clad building, concealed behind the original lodge, blends seamlessly into the surrounding landscape.
Tucked away and elevated above his home sits an ever increasing, yet modest campus of sheds, workshops and shipping containers – the operational heart of the business. Tom Raffield’s furniture and lighting designs are synonymous with nature; each product is hand-shaped using sustainable wood and created as sculptural pieces of art using a pioneering form of steam-bending. His products have become incredibly popular, resulting in the number of team members growing rapidly in a matter of nine months.
The team marries low-tech process – no really expensive machinery or sophisticated equipment – with modern technologies and innovative design. Their use of basic tools is the thing that makes it special. Despite the traditional origins of their craft, they have a belief in doing things in a new way, using the tools to create an outcome which is distinct in character. Skill and care is employed at every step in the process.
On entering a modest shed containing the Raffield ‘nerve centre’, the energy, joy and enthusiasm radiating from his team was captivating. Aimee - the business development manager - greeted me like a long lost friend. Located within the simple hand-made office, she works cheek-by-jowl with design assistants, craftsmen and marketing team. Each person I was introduced to enjoys what they are doing. This fact was immediately apparent and yet remained unspoken. The feeling of togetherness is palpable.
I was led through to a room stacked to the rafters with cardboard boxes, each one containing a hand crafted piece ready for shipment. The same room was used for quality control. Despite the production capacity increasing significantly of late, nothing left the building without being rigorously checked against their ambition.
Ambition to explore within defined parameters.
Ambition to reject complacency and deliver high quality.
Ambition to adhere to the foundations of their ethos.
Peering into the wood workshop, I saw two young craftsmen holding a single piece of steam-bent oak. Both remained silent. Both deep in thought. They were testing a new timber shaping technique. Their pondering silence spoke volumes. Testing is carried out physically, rather than numerical input into a CAD programme. This retains humanity to their output. With so much of the design industry being dictated by activities which are little more than digital data input, their work is refreshing to see and offers immediate rewards.
On exiting the workshop, I was led down the track past Tom and Danielle’s house, to their showroom now located in the old lodge. Bear, their four year old son, peered over the top of the garden fence to excitedly share the fact that they were going on holiday the next day.
By this point the visit to the showroom felt somewhat superfluous in the process of ‘selling Tom Raffield’. Everything I experienced did this job.
Images © Tom Raffield