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08 July 2009


Tradition of quality lives on in today's designers


Bespoke furniture is becoming a best-seller.

Sharon Dale reports.

MAN AT WORK: Philip Dobbins in his workshop.




Furniture making is enjoying a renaissance thanks to a yearning for something more meaningful than mass-produced can offer.

Though the number of talented young designer makers is growing to meet the demand, veteran craftsman Philip Dobbins welcomes the competition.

"It's wonderful and it means that there is a lot more interest in the work we do," says Philip, who has been shortlisted for the furniture making Oscars the Wood Awards.

Philip, who has also designed and made props for TV, opera and theatre, has been in business since 1978 at his farmhouse home in Leeds, where he has slowly converted outbuildings into workshops, timber stores and a showroom.

He learned his skills working for a local company, but has no formal qualifications. Yet his work aspires to the standard set by Otley-born Thomas Chippendale, one of Britain's most famous master cabinet makers.

He is often asked to copy antique works and specialises in one-off pieces of furniture made to measure for clients' homes.

But it's his own contemporary design an elegant burr oak side table that impressed awards judges. "My workshop experience has evolved from early years making exacting copies of the finest period furniture, through to the present, when I aim to be fully involved with the design and making of contemporary bespoke furniture, both to commission, and speculatively for galleries and exhibitions.

"Speculative pieces allow me to develop my ideas of the continuing tradition of furniture design. I look to many periods of design for inspiration."

A side table can take more than 80 hours of work, not including the time taken to design it.

For this reason bespoke does not come cheap, but it will last and is made from the finest timber.

Philip, a founder of the Northern Contemporary Furniture makers and a regular exhibitor at the Cheltenham Celebration of Craftsmanship, enjoys using oak, walnut and burr.

"It's interesting how trends change," he says.

"I've had some burr walnut in my store for 30 years and no-one was interested in it. Now clients are asking for it. They are wanting richer, darker timber rather than pale ash, oak and beech.

"When I started, clients commissioned very traditional pieces but they're much more adventurous and interested in design now.

"Stores like Ikea have helped educate people, although their product is disposable and I hope mine will be around in 200 years' time.There seems to be an idea that traditional skills are dying but that is definitely not the case with furniture making."


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