I’ve found that the way I design furniture and the way I restore buildings are unusually similar.
When I design a chair, cabinet or workbench, it’s a subtractive process. I usually begin with something quite complicated and then remove bits and pieces until the thing looks right. I’m not looking for a design that excites me (the building part is exciting enough). Instead I’m looking for a quietness or peace in the design. (For more on this process, see the chapter titled “Seeing Red” in “The Anarchist’s Design Book.”)
With old buildings, the process is much the same. Typically they are festooned with the detritus of the 20th century, including oodles of wiring, layers of silly wallboard, paneling, tile and buckets of fossilized “Great Stuff” foam.
The first step is always to subtract. A lot. And keep going until the builder’s original intent begins to emerge.
That’s where I am with the Horse Garage. We finally pulled down a lot of ridiculous cripple studs that served only to hold up the butt-ugly ceiling tile. Then came down the obsolete pipes for the wiring. This afternoon a very early 20th-century garage began to take shape. I could see the original structure. And though it is astonishingly straightforward and plain, it has finally brought me some peace.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of blog posts by Richard Jones, who has written a generous and detailed book about trees and their structure, and how this affects the work of furniture makers. As you’ll learn from this post, Richard is an incredibly skilled designer, woodworker, teacher and writer. Part of his genius is in the ability to take a technical matter and present it in a way that makes it easy to pick up his book for casual reading. At the same time, the charts and information within this tome on wood technology will quickly become invaluable to the work you do in your shop, and will be a resource you turn to again and again. The book is written, and Meghan Bates is now working on the page design. The book is scheduled to be released in early 2018.
— Kara Gebhart Uhl
Hello. My name is Richard Jones, and I’m introducing myself to you at the invitation of the good people at Lost Art Press. The reason for this invitation is because I am a new author to them and they are transforming my manuscript on timber technology into a book which, at this stage, is still seeking a title that is somewhat different from my working title.
So, who am I to be writing about trees and wood?
I’m not a wood scientist. But I am a trained furniture designer/maker with British City & Guilds qualifications in the subject. I trained in the 1970s, working at the bench making craft furniture and joinery, gaining my qualifications in the early 1980s. Since those first steps I have worked continuously in and around the trade and profession. The early years consisted of gaining experience in a variety of workshops, primarily for smaller businesses, making furniture, repairing and restoring old furniture and antiques, and working as a joiner with jobs that included securing pay stations, and making panelling and architectural doors.
During the 1980s and early 1990s I worked as a technician in the Furniture Department of Edinburgh College of Art. It was the first time I was really required to take on a supervisory and management role within a workshop environment, and my work included overseeing other users, machinery maintenance, sourcing spares and materials, budgeting and other such tasks.
In 1993 I moved to Houston, Texas, with my American wife and became the temporary workshop manager for the Children’s Museum of Houston during the building of “The Magic School Bus: Insider the Earth” travelling exhibition. After this contract ended I started my own business, Richard Jones Furniture. I closed this business in 2003 to take up the offer to teach the Furniture: Design and Make undergraduate course at Rycotewood Furniture Centre, one of UK’s premier centres of craft furniture learning.
In 2005 I moved to Leeds, Yorkshire, to become Programme Leader of the BA (Hons) Furniture Making programme, a position I held for nine years until its closure in 2014. Throughout all these years in business and in my teaching roles I continued designing and making furniture for sale through exhibitions, galleries and direct sales to clients. Nowadays I continue to work in a number of part-time roles in furniture making and joinery on a freelance basis.
My next blog post? Why I wrote a book on timber technology.