St. James Workshop Ltd. is a large workshop on Brunner Road, soon to be totally reconfigured by the arrival of the new Morrisons supermarket. Five people, all working with wood in some shape or form, work out of this busy and productive site. Bespoke furniture maker Claire Darwent (www.cldarwent.co.uk) trained initially in Germany and since returning to the UK has established herself as a quality furniture designer and maker, often working on commission. The genesis of the current collective came about when she linked up with Phil Lardner, another furniture designer who was looking for a workshop. Also working here is Jennifer Low (www.boxheart.co.uk) and Natalie de Leval (www.deleval.co.uk).
|Natalie de Leval's 'Table Town'|
Who would have known that so much bespoke furniture was being produced in Walthamstow? Both workshops told me that they were surprised at the number of visitors that they had that were extremely local and yet had no idea such workshops operated locally. It seems that both sites have had a very positive view of participating in the Art Trail, not just in terms of business, but mainly in meeting local people and drawing inspiration from the curiosity of their visitors: “It’s been nice to see that people are so passionate about bespoke furniture…about commissioning something” says Gavin Coyle. “I think when people understand the providence of a product, it adds so much value if people see where it’s made… a lot of people would assume that it’s made abroad”. Maybe it's that the majority of people are so removed from industrial processes – it’s a consequence of the scale of mass production (see: IKEA) that less and less people have direct experience of the environments of production.
|Tools ready to go at Belgrave Works|
Gavin described a different kind of value inherent in the process of commissioning a local maker – a strengthening of the bonds of community. The process of commissioning is quite intimate. Gavin will visit homes to get a feel for the space and make preliminary sketches from this. “You spend 6-8 weeks making something for someone and you’ll communicate so much. Basically you’re building a friendship”. You also know that the money, the value, stays in the community.
|Gavin's collection of tape measures|
|Jennifer Low adding a finishing touch|
So said William Morris. Surely he would have approved of the mission of these craftspeople who pursue the marriage of these two considerations. There's a real sense of pride to be felt from the makers I met here, pride in the design, the process as well as the utility and beauty of the final product.