I was approached by Callum Egan of Napier University, Edinburgh, to design and make an interactive storytelling chair. It was also to be part memorial for Calum’s late colleague Professor David Benyon who had shared the vision for the chair. It was to be used outdoors for classes in Napier’s Lions’ Gate Interactive Permaculture Gardens. After discussing ideas we decided on the chair having decoration to represent both circuit board technology and elements from nature.
I used stainless steel rods, recycled copper nails, recycled brass and copper pipe to form a circuit board pattern. This gradually morphed into a plant like layout. I polished all the copper and brass before fitting the shapes to the back. I left the metal bare so the pieces would change colour over time due to verdigris. The larger leaves were made from reclaimed teak wood which originally came from lecture theatres at Edinburgh University’s Appleton Tower. These were then laser etched with the commemoration and motto “Hasten Slowly”.
I made the chair itself from locally sourced oak and some reclaimed oak from the door to a Victorian walled garden. I was replacing the door as part of another project. The wood had a lovely grey weathered appearance and looked ancient, which had been part of the initial brief. I gave the completed throne several coats of teak oil to waterproof it. This finish can be reapplied easily without having to sand the wood.
I hollowed out two sections of burr wood so there was space to fit Bluetooth speakers inside. These were then fitted to the chair back. The burrs are removable so the speaker batteries can be recharged. The burrs were located about head height when seated. Perfect for the interactive storytelling chair to speak to the person sitting on it! Ideas and talks on sustainability and permaculture can now be delivered by the chair itself or from a seated lecturer or guest speaker.
Just as the Covid Lockdown happened, I started work on this oak chair commission from the Selkirk Incorporation of Hammermen.
The Incorporation was established in 1681. Historically most guilds had chairs carved with their emblems and decoration on the back. The Hammermen no longer had one in their possession.
A guild member saw a chair on the BBC Antique Roadshow programme. It had the Selkirk Hammermen emblems and date of Incorporation carved into it and it looked original. The owners who were in Northern Ireland said the chair had been in the family for generations. It was not for sale..
The Hammermen commission me to make a new oak chair.
The dimensions and details were worked out from studying still images from the TV programme and from this single photo, which I think came from the owners. I also looked at contemporary examples on line and from museums.
I drew out a full scale plan for the carved details. The Hammermen approved the plan and then I started the carving work.
I kept the design as close to the original as possible, but with the modern Hammerman emblem of the arm and hammer replacing the single hammer. I also raised the seat height to a more comfortable and usable level. We decided the chair was to be made from locally sourced oak. I choose a single quarter sawn panel of oak for the back. All the carving was done by hand.
I assembled the chair with mortice and tenon joints, with no nails or screws used in the frame construction. The finish was several coats of Danish oil then a topcoat of clear satin lacquer to keep it maintenance free.
I handed over the completed chair in time for the Selkirk Incorporation of Hammermens opening of their new hall in August 2021.
Finding furniture for under the stairs can be a problem in small cottages.
Last year a couple came to my workshop to see if I could come up with a solution for their house. They wanted a bespoke piece of furniture, something with cupboards and shelves which would fit a small area under the stairs. They hoped for something in the dresser style, with an angled top section.
Furniture Design Elements
We talked over the design elements they required. They wanted natural edges to the wood which was to be locally sourced Wych Elm. I asked the couple how many shelves were needed and what spacings were preferred between the shelves. We had to make allowances for electric sockets on the wall behind the cabinet, so they were accessible. They told me exactly what they wanted. I just had to make it for them.
Also it had to be ready for Christmas!
It is 5′ 5″ tall ( 1650 mm ) and 5′ ( 1520 mm ) wide. The lower cabinet is 22″ high ( 560 mm ). The handles and the bun feet are all hand turned, from burr elm. I finished the whole cabinet and shelves with 3 coats of Danish oil. The shelving fits nicely under the stairs and creates a display area where the space had previously been wasted.