Spotlight On Edward Barnsley Workshop Q and A
The Edward Barnsley Workshop, where we have been making furniture since 1923, is set in idyllic surroundings in rural Hampshire, high on a ridge overlooking beech and yew woods with magnificent views to the South Downs.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and The Edward Barnsley Workshop.
I have been designing and making furniture for almost 30 years. I joined the workshop 27 years ago as an apprentice and then became a craftsmen and thereafter workshop designer.
Edward Barnsley CBE (1900-1987) was one of the most important British furniture makers of the twentieth century. He developed the Arts and Crafts traditions established in the Cotswolds by his father Sidney in the late nineteenth century. Edward created over seven thousand pieces of well-made furniture that he hoped would be pleasing to the eye and ‘give real joy in use.’ His workshop carries on producing work to commission to this day.
What is it that makes your hand-crafted furniture so unique?
The thought and care that goes into every part of our furniture makes every single piece truly special. From the sourcing and selection of timber to the size of a roundover or arriss on a corner, every detail is carefully considered.
What was the first commission you were personally involved in?
At the workshop, it was a foldup music stand commission to celebrate a couples 5th wedding anniversary. This was my first opportunity to design and present to the clients in the workshop.
Do you have any favourite pieces from your commissions?
The very first Rocking chair made by Jouni Hakkinen was a special piece. A magic combination of hopefully inspired design and the highest order of craftsmanship.
How do you usually keep yourself inspired?
I love creating beautiful pieces and there are simply not enough hours to create everything I want to.
Looking back at your commissions, is there any single person or persons who stand out that pushed your skills and knowledge to create their(s) commissions and what was it?
When I first started designing formally for the workshop, one of my first major clients was an American tax lawyer. His design briefs were quite specific and demanded unique and new design solutions. He loved what I came up with and was willing to commission the pieces to be made really well. My very first set of Library Steps was designed for this client. Which has now led onto so many other library step designs.
What made you start your apprenticeships and training for fee paying students?
The workshop has always trained its own staff within the workshop. The creation of the charitable Trust in 1980 gave a formal structure to the training activities the workshop. The Trust is here to help and develop talented individuals that cannot afford to pay for tuition. We also recognise the lack of skilled makers within the industry and we are doing what we can in our small way to address that.
When your apprentices finish their time with you, what are your thoughts, knowing you have passed on valuable skills and knowledge?
I hope we have instilled in them an appreciation of the highest level of craftsmanship and integrity. Also an appreciation of safety and good working practices.
Do you know of any of your apprentices who have gone on to achieve great things?
I would not pick out any individual as I think the achievement of the Trust is that we have helped so many. I am very proud of the fact that the large majority of our ex-apprentices are employed within the furniture industry in some form or another.
Is there any advice you would like to give to people who want to start their own bespoke workshop?
Try and find a way to start working for your self that does not require a large initial investment or commitment. Rent a bench in a shared workshop. Prove there is a market, ensure you are designing and making pieces that people will pay for.
Edward Barnsley make furniture of exceptional quality for private houses, churches, cathedrals, boardrooms and public spaces. All our furniture-makers serve a unique Barnsley Workshop apprenticeship. To discover what they can create for you contact James Ryan, or visit our workshop and showroom in Hampshire. www.barnsley-furniture.co.uk/