Homepage Nick Thwaites Profile Nick Thwaites Furniture Nick Thwaites Furniture Gallery Nick Thwaites Furniture Commissioning Nick Thwaites ContactNick Thwaites News Nick Thwaites links
Like our Facebook page See our Pinterest page

Nick Thwaites - Furniture

Designing

My interest in furniture started with design. Several years in Asia, particularly Japan, gave me time to explore ideas in craft and architecture that have inspired Western designers for generations. The Japanese place a high value on craftsmanship and even small things – a wall or a fence in an urban lane, the jointing of beams in a backstreet temple gateway – are done with grace and skill.

 

That influence has stayed with me, though the transplanting of vernacular style requires, I think, a very light touch.

 

Black walnut table - Click to enlarge
Table in black walnut – verticals, horizontals and gentle curves

Table in black walnut –
verticals, horizontals and gentle curves

In fact, the furniture I am drawn to most is nearly all English: the best of the Arts and Crafts movement, in particular the Cotswold school and their successors; Alan Peters, and some of the fine contemporary makers who combine apparent simplicity of design with immense technical skill.

 

I aim to make furniture which looks quietly wonderful. I think this is a matter of pleasing proportions, subtle treatment of line and surface, different woods and textures happily married, crisp honest execution and, above all, the beauty of the timber itself, brought out with hand plane and the lightest natural finish that will do the job. One of the great things about wood is that it will grow old gracefully, and I believe that a piece with these qualities will still be loved and admired by our grandchildren when more striking products of fashion have been despatched to the attic (or via eBay).

Drawer detail in sycamore - Click to enlarge
Drawer side in sycamore, just planed perfectly smooth and waxed

Drawer side in sycamore, just planed perfectly smooth and waxed

 

Whether or not furniture aspires to be art, it must perform its function to perfection. I devote a lot of thought to ensuring that every piece fits its purpose, whether that is seating six diners without threatening knees and ankles or housing treasured clothes uncrumpled. Furniture that demands attention and then doesn’t work seems to have the wrong priorities.

ebony drawer pull - Click to enlarge
One inch ebony pull for a small drawer: to be held between finger and thumb

One inch ebony pull for a small drawer: to be held between finger and thumb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It should also be a delight to use: drawers perfectly fitted to slide home against a cushion of air, handles carved to fit the fingers snugly, the light click of a handmade door catch, the smell of Cedar of Lebanon drawer linings.

 

Making

Cheery wood cabinet - Click to enlarge
Frame and panel back, made so that each cupboard in the cabinet has a single centred panel at the back
Frame and panel back, made so that each cupboard
in the cabinet has a single centred panel at the back

 

I make almost exclusively in solid timber. There are good reasons for using, say, veneered MDF or plywood, but the Arts & Crafts tradition that first inspired me is based in solid construction and it feels right: Rodmarton Manor in Gloucestershire, with its pre-eminent collection of Cotswold school furniture, contains only a single veneered piece.

Even seasoned wood moves over time, unlike ply or man-made boards, but techniques evolved to deal with this and these traditional construction techniques are what I use. Cabinet carcases are dovetail jointed – exposed or “secret” depending on the design – there is no stronger joint; backs are frame and panel – more labour-intensive than ply, but incontestably more satisfying for both maker and owner.

 

 

 

 

Nick Thwaites - Designer-maker of fine furniture - Click to enlarge
Chopping dovetails

I cut dovetails by hand – you can get a more refined appearance than you could with a machine, and it's not so slow once you develop a rhythm. Indeed, after initial preparation of the timber, for which circular saw and planer are indispensable, I use hand tools as much as possible. It is a more considered way of working and endlessly versatile. For the more sculptural work – compound curves on chair rails for example – there is no other way to get what I want.

curved chair back - Click to enlarge
Curves in all directions on a chair back: careful work with a spokeshave
   Chopping dovetails  

Curves in all directions on a chair back: careful work with a spokeshave

     

Arts and Crafts makers, in contrast to their Victorian and Georgian predecessors, sometimes liked to make a feature of the jointing, exposing dovetails for example, and pegging or wedging tenons in a contrasting timber. I like it too. It’s showing off, in a small way, but the exposure keeps the craftsman honest.

Plinth dovetails detail - Click to enlarge
Through dovetails on a cabinet plinth, standing proud on one side, they give the piece an architectural solidity
Chair arm detail - Click to enlarge
Chair arm post tenoned through arm and wedged: very strong, and something to look at when you’re sitting down

Through dovetails on a cabinet plinth, standing proud on one side, they give the piece an architectural solidity

Chair arm post tenoned through arm and wedged: very strong, and something to look at when you’re sitting down