In a world of flat-pack furniture, Tom Cooper couples traditional craftsmanship with fluid design to make desirable furniture that will last for generations. Here, he shares his approach to creating a bespoke piece…
I was always very artistic as a child, so I chose to do an art and design foundation course after
I left school’, Tom explained. ‘After graduating, I was torn between taking a degree in furniture design in Edinburgh and studying sculpture in London, but I was dissuaded from a life as a penniless artist!
‘After my degree, I worked for a timber merchant, but was made redundant in 2004. I set myself up as
a furniture designer-maker and now have my workshop in the beautiful grounds of Newbattle Abbey in Dalkeith.
‘I make all types of furniture, from tables, chairs and cabinets to fully fitted wardrobes, kitchens and book shelves, as well as smaller bespoke items such as jewellery boxes and turned bowls. Most of my pieces are made in locally sourced Scottish hardwoods, such as oak, elm and sycamore but I also use more exotic imported timbers such as walnut, wenge and rosewood.
‘The customer is closely involved in the design process. Together, we explore what they want the piece of furniture to do, how they want it to look and how it will sit in its environment. This gives us key words for the design and notes covering the shape, colours and mood of the space and a rough budget for the piece. From this I will produce a hand drawn artistic impression of the piece, giving the customer a couple of design options as well as showing them timber samples.
‘Once a design has been agreed, I’ll produce a scaled technical drawing or sometimes an exact scale model using the same timber to help the customer visualise it. Then full scale working drawings are made. Every aspect of the making is carefully considered, from the preparation of the timber to the final sanding and finishing, which can often take as long as making the piece. I’m particularly pedantic about the details and construction quality of the furniture I make, I will not sign the piece until I’m completely happy with every aspect.
‘My customers are encouraged to visit the workshop while the piece is being made to check over the details and timber selection and to establish a completion and delivery date.
‘When you factor in all the money an average person would spend on mass produced furniture compared to a hand crafted piece, buying bespoke probably works out cheaper. It’s something that is unique to your family and can be passed down through the generations.
‘I work about 60 hours a week, with it taking me about four to six weeks to make a dining table and six to eight weeks to make a sideboard. It depends on the complexity of the design, because there’s a certain amount of invention and experimentation involved, but I love the challenge’.
Several of Tom’s pieces can be seen at Teasel and Tweed on Rosemount Viaduct in Aberdeen or in his workshop. He also exhibits at the Aberdeen Art Fair, Peebles Wood Market and the annual Scottish Furniture Makers Exhibition.
Tel: 0131 663 4844 firstname.lastname@example.org