April 2016

Crafting an identity

Getting a start in a furniture making business is difficult. I first reached a point where I had confidence in my abilities as a maker during my time as an apprentice. This then progressed to thinking about why things are designed the way they are and how I would go about selling my work. However it was only when I began to consider the running and start-up costs that it dawned on me what a daunting prospect going out on your own can be.

I worked for a long time for a business that manufactures a very whole-saleable seating product; selling enough units a year to cover fixed overheads in a small workshop. Knowing this I set out to design a production item of my own with the intention for it to be the foundation of my business.

It was back in 2012 that I started thinking about the Lilypad stool. At the time I had a modest workshop set up in my parent’s garage (don’t all young aspiring furniture makers impose this on their folks?). With a combination machine, wood lathe, drill press and bandsaw at front of mind, I designed the Lilypad stool, although a very early iteration.

One of many key lessons I learned while working under established designer-makers was to design according to the capabilities of available workshop equipment. Despite my equipment being limited I was still able to design something with originality.

I never wrote down a brief but I wanted a stool where the seat was a part of the structure – this appealed to my sense of craft design. The Lilypad stool can be separated into two key stages. The first being the seat, the second being the structure.

I thought about how I would shape a seat that looked good and was comfortable. Many timber seats in furniture are simple flat planks of wood that aren’t great to sit on. They’re done like this largely because of the complexity and labour required to do curved shape work. For my own, I devised an original way to shape the seat via a machining jig – a contraption that guides a router tool – which would create the contours of the timber seat. It would also replicate these exact curves for every batch production.

For the under structure I designed all the components to be turned on a lathe – allowing shaping, joinery and high speed sanding to be done on the one machine.

It took four prototypes before I resolved the design. I hope in the design of the Lilypad stool people can see its considered use of timber and the care that goes into every aspect of its crafting and finishing. Its understated looks betray the complexity of its making. Even so, I hope to make many over the coming years and with limited batches in unique timbers to be a feature.

More images of the Lilypad stool can be seen in our gallery. If you’d like to test drive the Lilypad please contact me to arrange a viewing or a visit to my workshop.

March 2016

Starting out and finding my place

I’ve always loved woodworking, and found I had a talent for it from a young age. It’s been a long journey learning my trade and reaching a stage where I’m comfortable to do master craftsman work (having the experience and willingness to problem-solve and overcome any crafting challenge!).

It was an easy decision to follow a career in something that I was passionate about, and working for myself was always a dream, ever since beginning my apprenticeship.

Eighteen months ago this dream became reality when I finally took the leap and stepped out on my own, designing and making furniture under my own name.

I’ve been a furniture maker now for twelve years. In that time, I’ve worked across different aspects of the industry. The banner of cabinetmaking is more than what you might expect – lots of different mediums and specialist areas. You can do manufacturing jobs, or work with timber, manufactured board, plastic, metal, composites, and even more. My speciality is to create furniture and craft pieces from high quality timber.

Early on in my apprenticeship, I realised I wanted to focus on the craft side of the industry. It’s hard to give an exact definition, but craft is all about quality of workmanship, planning design work around the material’s properties, making a feature of the way something is built, and providing the maker with a sense of ownership and pride in their work.

It’s in my nature to bring a craft attitude to everything I make. Of course there are economic realities that come with running a business, but I can’t go past the appeal and longevity of creating high quality pieces. I love to keep my customers involved throughout the process as we progress towards their ideal custom-made furniture, something that will last for generations. I’m excited to make quality furniture that celebrates craftsmanship, especially items that are customised and unusual, one-off pieces and batch work.

My training as a cabinetmaker has taken me across the world and back again. It’s spanned both traditional and contemporary approaches to manufacturing; I bring this understanding to every commission. I aspire to be part of the wider craft and design world, to see lots of influences, styles and approaches. I enjoy collaborating with others, experimenting with new materials and am open to new views and technologies.

The way I work is shown in my recent product, the Lilypad stool. It challenged all my design and making skills, and encapsulates my craft design ethos. It’s a step away from the work I’ve done for other designer-makers and I consider it the first in my furniture series as a designer and maker.

I talk more about developing the Lilypad stool, and what it represents in my business, in the next blog post. Thank you for reading, and for supporting local business and craftsmanship.

Rolf Barfoed

P 0424 788 554

E rolf@rolfbarfoed.com.au