Young Furniture Maker’s Exhibition 2016

Last week I got the opportunity to visit the Young Furniture Maker’s Exhibition at Austin Friar’s, London, hosted by The Furniture Maker’s Company. As my first experience at the venue, I tried to not be overwhelmed by its traditional décor, and was in fact humbled by the friendliness of its exhibitors. I was glad to see a range of ages, with entrants from both college courses and universities, as well as a diverse selection of design tastes and styles. I would be confident in saying there was something for everyone, which I feel is integral to a successful exhibition.

Although a majority of the awards went to male exhibitors, it is merely a result of design and make courses being favoured by male students, and those girls who were exhibiting weren’t just making up numbers, they had real skill and talent to show. Throughout the course of the evening, I managed to catch up with a few of them and found their projects, personalities and backgrounds completely individual from one another.

Having just successfully graduated from her MA course at The Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design at London Metropolitan University, Abigail Butler grabbed my attention with her seductively shaped chair sculpted from a mix of materials. Exploring the role of consumers within the homeware industry, Abigail investigated how furniture could be made more desirable to a young, female demographic. As well as informing me of this new perspective of the furniture market, I walked away from our conversation learning that The Young Furniture Maker’s Company offer bursaries as part of their new Royal Charter Scholarship Fund, towards students wishing to pursue higher education in furniture design and making, and that this is just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of the Young Furniture Maker’s. Although as an article in this year’s September edition of Studio Magazine pointed out, “it does not have any initiatives in place that focus on encouraging women to enter the sector”. But, could This Girl Makes be about to change that?

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Jennifer Finnigan seemed reserved when we spoke to each other, but I suppose that was because her piece did the talking for her, being awarded multiple prizes. Her interesting technique of removing timber, to inlay it with wire of different metals, before flushing off the surface for a smooth and decorative effect, is the result of an artistic background and an unrestrictive course at Cardiff University. I joked about how her use of wire may have been inspired by her father’s job as an electrician, but ultimately Jennifer proves that to be a successful furniture designer, there is no required family history within the discipline or specific background; one just needs creativity and a passion to create beautiful and useful objects.

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As one of the younger exhibitors, Indira Esser-Dunbar, did not seem out of her depth at all, and she seemed excited to explain to me her coffee table design, which showed experimentation with scorched Ash; a sustainable and cost-effective alternative to using darker timbers. As we spoke further, I was impressed to learn that she has recently become an apprentice at Sebastian Cox’s workshop in Greenwich; I found this reassuring that there are prospects and opportunities for young furniture designer-makers; even for the girls!

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