What kind of people take a year out of their lives and join us here at Rowden? What are the skills and personal qualities are necessary to make a success of a furniture making course like this?
This page is here to guide you in assessing whether YOU have those personal qualities by telling you about the Rowden graduates who have already taken this course and are out there making furniture in the big wide world.
We have been teaching people furniture making and how to make a living from making furniture since 1983. That’s about 35 years experience of showing people how to do this. Well over 100 years’ experience if you count all our staff. Make no mistake – not everybody can do this, even if you are a competent maker you can still get this bit wrong, you need a full skill set.
This page will tell you about some of the Rowden past pupils who have made a success of this, made the necessary changes to themselves and gone on to make independent, successful careers as furniture makers. There are a lot more doing very nicely working in other maker’s workshops, and some are happy making and fitting kitchens, doing furniture restoration or contract shop fitting. Whatever you end up doing, start by aiming at the top, you cannot get a “promotion” to the best workshops if you have crashed about fitting kitchens in training.
These guys both trained in furniture making here recently, and are now really cooking. They, at last report, have a staff of eight, with pieces currently showing in Vivien Westwood’s shops in London, as well as in flagship Store in Corso Venezia, Milan. Young and Norgate do joinery and furniture.
They combine the making skills of Ross Norgate, who was trained as a joiner and carpenter before upgrading his skills on one of our one-year intensive woodworking courses to making bespoke furniture with the business acumen of Dave Young, who came to us and developed his flair for design during his time with us. Together, they are a powerful combination.
Two wonderful people, Jonathan and Lakshmi, both of whom trained here, have joined forces to create a highly-regarded furniture design company in the local area – Bark Furniture. They met after their separate courses at Rowden and first set up a workshop together. Now, they have a well regarded prosperous business with the strapline, “Quality Furniture Handmade in Cornwall”. Jonathan told us that when attending a show in London a specifier for a large retail outfit came to their stand and said: “Ah, you are the quality people” – and that is exactly how they want to be regarded. See them in London shows like Clerkenwell Design Week…
Grieg Fensome is one of my quiet successes. He runs a company called Hidden Ink, which deals with designers and specifiers as well as private clients. This is sleek, well-designed modern furniture beautifully made. A testament to the Rowden Atelier model and the prospects for Rowden graduates.
Christian O’Reilly joined us after a career in studio design work for the auto industry, working with companies like Volvo and Audi. He translated that three-dimensional design knowledge into a small, at this moment, one man business. Like many former students who come here for a year, he and his young family decided that North Devon was a very beautiful place to stay, so they settled down and grew roots in this county with a workshop not too far from our own here at Rowden.
Ben Rawlinson is a Rowden past pupil of our 12 month designer maker course, who has taken the intricate skills he learned at our workshops and translated them into a successful career crafting bespoke furniture in London. His tactile designs feature flowing curves and subtle details, which have gained him industry renown and client loyalty.
A great maker with a ton of experience, Tim Hodgekinson trained with me in the early 1990s and I would now rate him amongst the best makers in the country. He then returned to Looe in Cornwall to be near his family and to set up TJH Furniture Design. Since then the company has undertaken many local and national commissions and continues to flourish. Tim is a specialist in contract work for other companies, quoting on existing designs against other well-known workshops. His USP is his skill his efficiency and reliability, as a fast, accurate and highly competent furniture maker.
Jonathan Markovitz trained in this workshop in the late 1990’s after a period as a building surveyor and a rather challenging experience at a London Art College. He used the year here to develop a range of small-batch products that he took to exhibitions in London. His approach was always to set himself up in business with the support of his family. This he did running a small workshop, first of all here in Devon and later moving to his present workshop and home near Oxford where Jonathan runs a small commercial and training workshop inspired by the Rowden experience. We are old friends and fully supportive of each others’ workshops. Jonathan came recently to one of our open workshops and will, I hope, return shortly to lead another one for us.
Marcus first turned up on my doorstep about ten years ago. I remember he was dead keen, but a bit uncoordinated and rather vague. He had a history of working as a panel beater and body shop worker but also had a real artistic instinct and, it turned out, a real creative bloody-mindedness. With the support of family members, he gathered the fees to come here and didn’t stop making interesting stuff from day one. He is still doing it, working very hard, slowly making a name for himself as one of the more inventive furniture designers of his generation. You can see his work at MGM Fine Furniture.
James Morley studied here in 1999. After a career in the military and having tried his hand at the stock market and as an administrator at a race course. His military experience as a British Army officer and tank commander during the first Gulf War convinced him of his abilities to organise himself and the people around him, but he seemed to need to find a way of doing that in a small business. James used the course here as a springboard to set himself up immediately after finishing in a one-man business. James is supported by his partner Di. At the end of the year they contacted all their friends and relatives, all of their acquaintances, and told them of their venture; gathering an order book of commissions that got James making and subcontracting to other makers in his first year of business. In that time he stayed here at Rowden Farm and used myself and Daren as sounding boards while they found a location for their own workshop, finding one in Hartland, a coastal village not too far from here. They set up a gallery right in a honeypot tourist village with a workshop, renting out bench space and taking on a young local lad as an apprentice.
Stefan Höhn is a Swiss furniture designer-maker who studied at Rowden Atelier in 2011, and since has specialised in furniture restoration and preservation of timber monuments. However, he also designs a selection of handcrafted furniture in a contemporary style, which you can view on his website.
Jean Damien Lury came to me as a former property executive. I didn’t know quite what that was but I got the idea that he was a pretty competent guy doing something well that he didn’t want to do for the rest of his life. I see a lot of people in this situation, able at a good job but bored witless or stressed to the edge of breaking.
People saying things like, “I cannot look at another screen all day for the rest of my life” or “I cannot work for creating a report that will only be binned in a months time.”
Jean Damien is a bit larger than life and huge fun to be with, he was happy to take risks designing things that may not work out. He is a real grown up, able to take responsibility for his own decisions. The pieces he made here were a series of new ideas that took him into designing and making for the first time.
He now has a business, Lury Furniture, set up in a shared workshop in London with one of the best furniture makers in the country. I was able to effect that introduction. Nobody wants to share a workshop with someone without a recommendation that this person is safe, good company and reliable. His business is new and growing; he is in a good place to grow it and the coming years will be interesting.
Grant Sonnex I knew before, he came to me as a producer of BBC radio wildlife programmes. I knew his voice. However, in mid-life, Grant fell prey to repetitive strain syndrome. The constant pushing of laptop keys caused a damage that prevented him from working. No more BBC! No more anything to do with typing AAGHHHHH… So he came to me.
The work we gave him was varied and sufficiently mixed to allow his body to enable him to make. And make well. We worked with him to develop pieces of furniture that were to be used on his first website, we also helped with the website. When his first big client came along we advised and gave support on techniques and design. Doing this is not easy Grant will certainly tell you that, but it is worthwhile – I guess he would also say that.
He now displays his landscape art and furniture designs on his website.
Tim Akast came to us in about 2008 and has gone on to set up a nice business called The Furniture Maker in south Devon, servicing both local and national clients. Nice work Tim, well done.
Clifford came to us around 2003 as another I.T. expert who wanted a break from the computer screens and the office. I guessed that he might well go back and develop a woody workshop alongside his previous life. Fine Box Maker is what he came up with.
Tjeerd Blackford has been working as a furniture maker for around a decade now, having finished his furniture making training here and staying in North Devon. He has recently relocated to France where he plans to continue working.
David Redwine trained at our workshop and has soon gone on to do great things with his training.
“The elements of my design are most often born in the simple forms of nature—the odd branch of an oak tree; the snaking line of a snowdrift; or the shadow of dried thistle burned into ice by winter moonlight. My favourite clients see these things too, are inspired by and share their observations with me. The final piece I promise to deliver is one that is mindful of these origins, whose proportions and materials are both beautiful and appropriate, and one that fulfils its structural purpose with ease.”
Ed Wild is our in-house furniture designer maker and tutor. After training here at Rowden he established himself as a quality designer maker with his own clients creating beautifully hand crafted furniture. In 2014 he won the Wesley-Barrell Craft Awards for Furniture. You can find out more about him and his work over at his website.
“Following in the tradition of fine English furniture, Edward Wild creates bespoke handmade furniture in a clean simple style. Combining contemporary design and skilled craftsmanship with the finest materials, each piece is finished with an attention to detail making it unique.”
Shota Yamaguchi came to England especially to train for something that he knew he wanted to do from an early age. We are proud to say that he is still making, and making to high standard. You can find out more about his designs over at Syd Furniture.
“I have been doing woodworking since I was 14. At an early age, I left to England to study under the prestigious David Savage. There I learned the fine details of fine furniture making and learned to work with tight tolerances. From there I moved to Austin, Texas where I now have a custom fine furniture studio.”
After Enda Scott’s training here at Rowden he has made a bit of a name for himself exhibiting furniture designs in Ireland. He has most recently won the RDS Award for Excellence and the California Gold Medal in 2014
As his website says:
“Through the chosen medium of wood, each concept is developed in a manner that explores the organic characteristics of the material within the distinct sculptural form of the overall design. The process itself employs traditional cabinetmaking techniques, yet the innovative nature of the design frequently requires the workshop to push the boundaries of existing practice in the realisation of each piece.”
Douglas Williams joined on our course several years ago. When I first met him he was not long out of school and keen like a willing happy puppy. He came to Rowden and our rigorous exercises and demands did not deter him. he went on to work first as an apprentice then as a maker at The Edward Barnsley Workshop near Petersfield. He moved from there after a few years to Silver Lining Furniture and spent a few years there. With a CV listing three of the top workshops in the country he now is very successfully placed as a key member the largest bespoke furniture making company in Europe “Our Doug” is the ‘Bespoke Projects Manager’ with David Linley. In this job, he is responsible for placing all the bespoke furniture jobs with the appropriate responsible sub contractor. He needs to know the workshops and their capabilities and also know the demands that each particular job will throw up. Clever old Doug.
Jack Pawsey completed our twelve-month designer maker course in December 2016 with an amazing arsenal of furniture in his portfolio. His final major project (the sideboard pictured above) turned a few heads from visitors and gained well deserved praise from the tutors and his peers.
Soon after this project, Jack was commissioned by ex-student and designer James Morley to craft a high-end desk for an interior designer client in London. This was a fantastic opportunity for Jack to get some real-life experience working with fine furniture and we must say that he passed with flying colours. Not only delivering within the deadline but also making to a high standard.
If you would like to see more of Jack’s work be sure to check out his website here.
James Duncan came to us with his own ideas for his furniture and his company all worked out. All we had to do was to help him to make the furniture then get out of his way. This is one of the more impressive new biz startups from Rowden graduates that I have seen. Go have a look at his website, John Stuart John British Design.
Andrew Dominic came to Rowden in about 2007 and went on to set up the successful Andrew Dominic Furniture in Capetown in 2009. The brand is managed by his very capable partner Susie.
Tim Lovett is another Rowden student from the late 2000s. After his year here I was able to find him a place with a workshop in Hoboken New York. Here he flowered into a really capable maker working with Kalle and Tom Hucker two exceptional furniture makers. Then, with his partner, set up Rigbylovett.com in Oakland.
We spawn great making businesses all over the world.
When Dan Hill left his well-paid job in the city to become a furniture maker it was not all straightforward. Whilst working African hardwood making his bench he found out he was allergic to timber dust. During that job, he had to wear a dust mask and gloves. Not very pleasant. However, luckily it was only that species that he was affected by. He now works with his brother in business near Swansea in his Welsh homeland.