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.