Furniture design: a chance for graduates to change tack

Nov 15, 2013 by

Woodwork rooms have all but disappeared from UK schools, but the country is still home to some of the world’s most respected furniture-making courses.

Buckinghamshire New University and London Metropolitan University have well-established furniture departments that attract postgraduate students from across the globe.

They offer furniture as part of a suite of design courses aimed at art and design graduates, as well as students from other disciplines – such as architecture and engineering – who want a change of direction.

University design courses in the UK have become increasingly dependent on international students since woodwork, metalwork and needlework disappeared from the school curriculum, to be replaced by the more theoretical subject of design and technology. But there are signs of a resurgence of interest according to Lynn Jones, MA furniture design course leader at Buckinghamshire New University in High Wycombe, a town famous for furniture making since the 19th century.

“Universities are affected by what is taught in schools and there is no subject called furniture design. However, recently we have seen a flood of students into product design, which is a GCSE subject,” she says.

“We think the push is coming from parents who want their children to do things that will lead to a job. We hope this will attract more home students to us because our design courses are vocational and most of our graduates get jobs or become self-employed.”

To boost the recruitment of UK students, the furniture industry is providing seven bursaries for home students on Buckinghamshire New University’s one-year furniture MA, two for £12,000, to cover fees and living expenses, and five for £6,700, to cover the fees.

The other centre of excellence for furniture is the Sir John Cass faculty of art, architecture and design at London Met, which has its origins in the London College of Furniture – which, in turn, grew out of an apprentice training institute in Shoreditch, east London.

The furniture students graduate with an MA in furniture, but are taught alongside postgraduates in jewellery, interior design, graphic design, product design, illustration and fashion and textiles. Interdisciplinary study is key to the design courses because students share ideas and discover the unexpected, says Christopher Emmett, deputy head of the Cass School of Design.

“We focus on research in action, so our students are well founded in theory and research methodology as they build up their portfolios. They are not just making models or virtual products, but designing things you can use and touch in our workshops,” he says.

It is not unusual for students to change direction, such as Vanja Bazdulj, an architect from Slovenia, who studied furniture at Cass and now produces quirky ceramic tableware in her London studio.

“I got to do everything – print, wood, fabric and paper – and that meant I am not burdened by what a certain material should look like,” she says.

From furniture student to award-winning designer

Harry Owen and his Joynt chair, which is now produced by Italian furniture company Lago Harry Owen and his Joynt chair, now produced by Italian furniture company Lago

Harry Owen visited Italy on a Buckinghamshire New University MA summer school and returned a successful furniture designer.

His project, the Joynt chair – a flexible chair with rubber joints integrated within the timber frame – was snapped up by Italian furniture company Lago and has since gone into production.

Owen’s work won him a place in the ADI Design Index 2013, the annual awards for the best of Italian designs.

Owen, 26, grew up on the Isle of Wight and enrolled on Bucks’ MA art and design practice: furniture design after graduating with a BSc in product design from Bournemouth University.

“The MA provided a creative opportunity to work on more of my own projects with great workshop facilities and tutors very closely connected to the industry,” he says.

“The great thing for me about the course was the chance to learn from fellow students from a variety of engineering and artistic backgrounds. Product design, fashion, engineering and art all overlap, and there are manufacturing processes and methods that we can learn from each other.”

After successfully presenting his Joynt chair concept at the summer school, Owen flew back and forth to Italy throughout the prototyping phase while the chair was prepared for production.

He is now a designer for Benjamin Hubert, the London design studio that came up with Ripple, the world’s lightest timber table.

via Furniture design: a chance for graduates to change tack | Education |

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