As I sat down to do some research for possible blog posts, I turned to my copy of Modern British Furniture: Design Since 1945, and, can you guess what I noticed? There were only two female names listed in the contents page, both of which featured alongside their male design counterpart: Sylvia Reid (with John Reid), and Tomoko Azumi (with Shin Azumi).
This made me reflect on design partnerships, and why might it be that there are so many husband and wife design duos. Collaboration is such a good tool for design, and as it does in any industry, it allows individuals to work to their strengths, whilst learning from each other. Although they weren’t part of the British furniture industry, the Eames are a good example of two individuals working cohesively, despite their contrasting backgrounds.
Sylvia Reid incidentally trained under another male and female design duo, that of architects, Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry. As with several industries, disciplinary marriages tend to happen: doctors marry doctors, and furniture design being so niche, it seems that designers marry makers. Charles and Ray Eames were described to have “wanted a life where love, life and work all blended together”, and as the track record for famous male and female partnerships shows, it is often the case.
A contemporary example is Byron & Gómez, alumni of the Williams and Cleal Furniture School (again, another example!) After crossing paths with María (the Gómez of Byron & Gómez), I was able to ask her a few questions about her experience entering into the British furniture industry.
How did you come to have a job in design and making?
Since I was 14 years old I knew I wanted to be a “carpenter”, I don’t think I understood the term designer-maker back then. I have always wanted to make things, I remember always being so interested when my grandfather took things apart to fix them. I did my bachelors in architecture in Puerto Rico, because in that time there was not a school of crafts or furniture making there. After finishing my bachelors degree, I decided I had to find a place to learn furniture-making. It was England that attracted me the most, fine craftsmanship is a tradition that is very much appreciated here and that instantly drew me.
Is there anything within the industry that you find a set back? If so, how have you overcome it?
There are some aspects of the industry that are definitely a set back as business owners. I personally find it very difficult to exhibit our work amongst hobbyists. Not everyone prices their work correctly, some makers don’t even know how much a piece has taken to make! This becomes a problem when you are pricing your work correctly and in comparison to makers who don’t, it seems that our work is over-priced. How to overcome this? By educating people about craft. Social media is a great tool for this, showing processes and talking about how long things take to make. It’s amazing how people who are interested in design and furniture have no idea how long things take to make. Unfortunately IKEA has given everyone the wrong idea about how much furniture costs, it happens that people want bespoke furniture for IKEA prices.
How is it working as a partnership?
Amazing. Definitely a huge learning experience, we are both good at different things and it has taken time to understand that and use our strengths to help the business move forward. Best time is at the workshop, being creative together and having fun making.
Have you ever received a piece of good advice that you would wish to pass on?
It is the business part of it all that will allow the making”. No furniture maker is in this business for the business, we just want to be at our benches. Important to quickly understand that only the business will allow the making, if not it’s just a very expensive hobby.
How do you stay motivated?
This is something that we struggle with almost everyday. Being self-employed is a roller coaster all the time. We stay motivated by working, trying as had as we can, having a plan. Most importantly by networking with other makers who are in the same boat, very important to have maker friends.
What do you think the future of the furniture industry looks like?
Very bright. There are so many talented makers out there and people are getting more and more educated about craft and the processes of making. Making is definitely “in”, people want to go back to using their hands with purpose and I think that is a beautiful thing.
*At the point of editing, the author wrote ” When will come the time that we have a renowned, solely female design duo?”, however since publication, the author has discovered the collaborative work of Kay + Stemmer (Sarah Kay and Andrea Stemmer). Read more: www.kay-stemmer.com