With a tactile approach to design, handcrafting organic pieces of furniture, UK based Furniture designer-maker Philip Dobbins gives us an insight into his inspirations and iconic designs, in this exclusive interview…
Creating heritage furniture for more than thirty years, Philip Dobbins is a fine furniture designer, a maker of handcrafted contemporary designs with traditional techniques.
With an inlaid love for creation, Philip talks to Treniq as he looks back at the rich history of period furniture that continues to inspire him as he strives to interpret that in a modern world.
T: – You have some extremely beautiful and unique tables and cabinets in your collections. Where do you get inspiration for your designs and what is your design process?
PD:- History! There are particular periods that inspire me, mostly late 18th century London, which was a vibrant period for designs with many innovative styles vying for recognition. Equally inspiring to my work is the Deco furniture being produced in Paris in the 20s and 30s.
My design process is governed by whether the piece is commissioned or speculative. Commissioned work starts with the client’s requirements so often involves a visit followed by sketches, samples, finished drawings, until a picture starts to emerge. Speculative pieces tend to start with a head full of inspirations and ideas when a particular theme or form comes to the surface.
T: – How long does it take to develop a product from scratch?
PD: – It can be two or three weeks for something like the Mosaic table, through to months for the current piece, a burr walnut drinks cabinet not quite ready yet!
From the start, Philip made craftsmanship a priority, his workshop being a legendary hub of creativity for more than thirty years. A meticulous designer-maker, he passes his expertise onto wood, metamorphosing it into unique pieces that have become an integral part of many-a-homes.
T: – Woodworking and designing furniture is not something that most people get into. How did it become your passion?
PD: – I was one of those children that was always happiest when making something. Later, I had a bit of a passion for furniture from a history point of view which lead into how it was made and the narrative of the design. When a job came along with a local furniture manufacturer I was hooked. Two years later I started making on my own furniture.
T: – Is woodworking an acquired talent? How important is it to get proper guidance or formal education for this field?
PD: – There must be some underlying facility, but talent needs those 10,000 hours of practice to be marketable. I had a sort of unofficial apprenticeship with a few very talented practitioners. However, I’d advise anyone starting out, to gain a formal training. Not just for the technical knowledge and skills acquired but also for the business training and particularly to become part of the community of makers.
T: – You are known to merge traditional techniques with contemporary designs. Why do these ‘traditional methods’ appeal to you? What have you discovered learning and using them?
PD: – Traditional techniques still remain the only method available to execute a particular design feature even with every modern piece of technology available. They are more of a foundation methods: methods that were built upon to develop new technologies; in that sense we’ve learnt everything we know from old methods. A continued skill in old methods is essential to the development of the new.
Through the constant search for new innovative techniques by building upon the traditional methods, Philip creates timeless, classic pieces that are enjoyed and cherished by the owners living with it.
T: – Do you look for anything specific when you select the wood for sustainable furniture?
PD: – Timber choices are made to suit the design, essentially by colour, grain-pattern and technical qualities although a lot of my work involves veneer techniques which frees up the constructional choices a bit. Like all bespoke makers I am concerned about the environmental impact of the timber trade. Bespoke makers don’t have a large footprint in direct terms but as part of the larger design world we have an influence on trends and thereby a responsibility.
T: – Since you marry tradition with modern so effortlessly, how do you strike a balance between classic and contemporary?
PD: – Mass produced, and to some degree even batch produced furniture, is often designed with ease of manufacture being paramount and necessarily the form and detail of the item will suffer. That isn’t to say that there isn’t some beautifully designed contemporary furniture available in the mass market. I don’t consciously set out to marry tradition and modern, but my design lexicon is informed by the narrative history of furniture design, and I strive to interpret that in a modern world.
Sixty Seconds With Philip Dobbins…
What did you do before designing furniture?
I didn’t, I’ve never had a proper job!
Who is your artistic inspiration?
Some obscure furniture maker looking over Chippendale’s shoulder in the coffee house.
What is the best type of material to work with to make exclusive furniture pieces?
For me it is wood, because it’s what I’m best with.
A little known fact about you?
It won’t stay ‘little known’ if I tell everyone.
A piece of furniture that you wish you had designed?
Nautilus by Marc Fish
Describe yourself in a few words?
Meticulous and a man of few words.
From your furniture range, which is your favourite piece and why?
As usual it’s the most recent, Mirto a mosaic demi-lune console table.
Five things that are an absolute must-have in the house?
According to me a dining table, coffee table, Sofa, radio and a dishwasher.
Your best tip to take care of wooden furniture?
Well some pieces just get better with use, others are best kept as show pieces. It’s resilient stuff, wood; invariably re-polishable, repairable.