The age-old techniques of adorning furniture with decorative veneer in figurative and geometric patterns are Marquetry and Parquetry. Traditionally, veneered Ivory, mother of pearl, Rosewood, and other exotic timbers are used to add value and create a luxurious piece. However, modern developments, such as laser cutting and manmade boards (like Plywood) have now been used to create contemporary, veneered designs. For more explanation, see: http://buzzonantiques.blogspot.co.uk/2009/01/whats-difference-between-marquetry-and.html.

This week’s discussion focuses on how this decorative craft is making a bit of a come back with the younger generation of furniture makers, and particularly some of the female talent entering into the industry. I spoke to Amber Bailey (http://www.abmarquetry.com/services)- who is trained in furniture conservation and restoration, and specializes in traditional French and English marquetry. When Amber is not in her own workshop, she is a Marquetarian in the lasershop department for a furniture company in Wales. And this week, I also caught up with Chelsea Lemon (http://chelsealemon.com.au), an Australian furniture designer-maker. Her artistic approach allows her to use timber to create unique pieces, by applying a modern twist to parquetry patterns.

Both interviewees told me that they pursued a creative career after studying in further education. Amber came to be a marquetry enthusiast after being exposed to it on her foundation diploma in art and design, and later specialized in it, as part of her BA at Buckinghamshire New University. Chelsea told me that after completing her degree at the Australian National University’s School of Art (ANU), she grabbed every opportunity that became present to her, such as exhibitions and a range of jobs, which allowed her to learn new skills and build her own practice in Canberra, Australia.

It is interesting to compare Amber’s experiences to Chelsea’s, and to consider whether geography plays a role. Chelsea explained that originally she thought furniture making was male dominated, and although it may be the case for trades, such as cabinet making, she soon found there are many amazing craftswomen. She no longer believes it is gender dominated, particularly as the ANU furniture course has an equal male and female presence.

Whereas Amber believes that the perception is still there on the surface, despite the ever-growing amount of female craftsmen in industry. She suggests that many of the job roles available in all crafts are so niche and often unheard of that she doesn’t think people are really aware of the level of female involvement. The lack of public knowledge as to available job opportunities is also an explanation as to why not more women are looking to pursue craft further than a hobby.

Between them, Chelsea and Amber spoke of some of the difficulties facing young furniture makers today, and some of the gender based issues surrounding the industry. From basic discriminations like suppliers not providing safety boots in small enough shoe sizes, to the great economic difficulties of funding your first workshop. However there is nothing stopping you from cutting veneer on your kitchen table!

Both girls offered some advice to other designer-makers setting out in the industry. Chelsea says, “It is hard to start a creative practice in the furniture world. Everyone should know this! And you need to stick in there, be absolutely passionate about what you do, and work hard for it. Eventually things will start happening, especially when you’re undertaking a range of opportunities, even if some may seem scary. It is also good to have a second income that has a steady cash flow, for me that is teaching”.

Amber’s advice is firstly, to always persist when approaching people for possible opportunities, and secondly, to know when to stop; some design and make processes can go on indefinitely, but you need to be realistic on a commercial and financial basis. Also, you can risk ruining your work!

To bring our discussion to a conclusion, I asked my interviewees to comment on how they thought the furniture industry could be better promoted to women. I am pleased to note that I fully agree with their suggestions of better promotion of the profiles of existing female designer-makers, particularly through the uses of social media to have a positive influence on the public’s perception. And I can definitely draw on my own experiences when commenting on the importance of there being a presence of more female educators in workshop spaces and design related areas in schools. This definitely encourages young women that you can pursue what you love. And perhaps most effectively, could be the opportunity to show girls how different art practices can be incorporated into a functional furniture piece, and how using a range of skill sets and having an open mind can lead to new and innovative design.