Occasionally I run across something that defies description and leaves me grappling with words as one grapples with wet soap in the tub. Look at this chair:
It’s a piece of furniture. It’s a work of art. So lovely!
But do you describe it? For that matter, how do you describe much of what Tom Raffield produces in his workshop in Cornwall, England? The gentleman’s website modestly labels his product “steam bent lighting and furniture,” but there’s more to the story than that.
This is art.
Once upon a time the steam bending of wood was vital to the production of weapons, tools, and water vessels, among other items necessary to daily life. As technology progressed, the ancient practice was largely abandoned. With dedication and practice, Mr. Raffield developed his own tools and methods of using steam, which reinvented the traditional process and transformed it into something new. He can twist and bend wood as freely as other artists draw with pencils.
But let’s talk about his works. The lighting and furniture is crafted of locally-sourced, sustainably-managed English wood, of which the timber is left either unseasoned, green, or is air-dried (an alternative to the energy-intensive process of kiln drying). As the main means of production steam bending uses no toxic chemicals, only water, is a low energy method of manufacturing, and produces little waste.
Mr. Raffield takes care to use local manufacturers and suppliers whenever possible, which has the added benefit of directly supporting his community. Everything from his workshop is handcrafted and meant to last generations.
Some of the lighting designs are startling and seemingly chaotic, but then the design draws you in, and you perceive order, purpose, and beauty.
There’s whimsy to the furniture, which swoops and curves and bends in ways that are both unexpected and soothing. It’s brilliant.
But don’t take my word for it. Trundle over to Mr. Raffield’s site and look around for yourself. Have fun!