The Unmatched Beauty of Bespoke and Handmade Furniture: A Guest Blogpost
Here is another guest article from my friend, Jo Lee of Swedish Interior Design, in our “View From Europe” series. Handmade furniture from craftsmen who are applying timeless, painstaking techniques to make beautiful, lovingly crafted pieces, are being edged out it seems in this economy of fast, soulless, cheaper MDF-type case goods. Here Joe looks at the benefits to be gained by ordering a custom made piece of furniture.
The world of interior design is increasingly cluttered by poorly made reproduction furniture in a wide range of styles coming from China and the Far East. This is all to satisfy our unshakeable desire for something new, different or exciting in this world of transient tastes and ever changing fashions. We forget, as we spend to maintain our ‘habit’, about the attendant environmental costs of mass manufacture, carbon intensive shipping and cheap Third World labour. These become ever more important as resources become scarce and the quality of human life lessens – just remember the recent factory collapses and death tolls in India as a direct result of our need for new things.
It’s also sad too because as we hunt online for bargain after bargain, we forget about our local craftsmen. Those with time honoured skills who find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. As all of you know, there’s something very wonderful about a piece of furniture lovingly crafted from a beautiful piece of well dried timber – honed, carved and polished to perfection. Its filled with life and spirit in a way that mass produced pieces never can. Like this…
It takes years to perfect the kind of talent that creates graceful curves and sweeping arches by hand – something a machine can replicate but never quite match. Only a human hand can create that extra mojo that you find in something made with love and attention to detail that works with the vagaries of wood to create beauty – that’s why antique pieces continue to command a strong following – from people who appreciate artistry and the feel of real wood.
Of course, economics requires the presence of the reproduction market serving customers in different price ranges. But I am continually surprised that even at the extortionate prices at the high end of the market, companies still make gaudy copies of antique furniture from veneered MDF and plywood with the lame excuse that “Chippendale would have used MDF if it had existed in his day.” Hmpf!
I don’t think so. Yes, inert wood gives stability in our age of central heating but it’s the natural movement and vibe of real wood that we love and this creates something special that we want to hand down over generations. Here’s some real wood that we made for a client!
Reproduction furniture is fine…from a distance, although at the cheaper end of the market it just doesn’t look or feel right. Look closely at the finish, the way drawers are jointed – is there hand dovetailing? Do the shelves use handcarved dog tooth racking? How are the carvings made and applied? How does it hold together as a piece overall – does it have the essential ‘unity of being’ that all great furniture has?
A great piece of furniture is so much more than the sum of its parts – it’s the way it is put together and the feeling and love that is put into it – something that cannot be hurried – and there are no short cuts for handshaping and burnishing.
Again this jars with today’s “I want it now” mentality where no one is prepared to wait for anything and they expect to just pluck it off a shelf. That’s fine – but what you gain in instant choice, you lose in the quality of the final product.
Looking at the interior design market as a whole, there is so much ‘instant redesign’ based on looks popularised on TV. It’s become like the fashion market – disposable styles changing so fast to drive the great god of consumerism and satisfying the empty soul of mammon that today’s consumer seems to exhibit. Nothing built to last or built with care.
Didn’t the Supremes sing “You can’t hurry love”? It’s the same with real furniture and unless we support the younger craftsmen, restorers, French polishers and the like who are all too few, we will end up in a world where ‘business’ not ‘craft’ is all important. That would be so sad.
Swedish Interior Design designs and hand makes one off bespoke furniture, beds and dining tables for clients all over the world to their specifications and dimensions.