New Designers 2017 offered an exciting display of graduates work, and in particular, furniture pieces by Rowena Jane Edwards. Not only was her Rownd Cabinet awarded the Stand Out Design prize from online furniture retailer MADE.com, but also her TRI play set is shortlisted for the student category for the Wood Awards 2017. I caught up with Rowena at this year’s Young Furniture Makers Exhibition, as we were both exhibiting our work, following on from this year’s London Design Fair where we were again co-exhibitors. (Read more about this year’s New Designers: https://this-girl-makes.com/2017/07/10/notes-from-the-2017-design-graduates-shows/).
Where does your love for furniture come from?
My passion for furniture has stemmed from many different areas of my life – from where I grew up to the places I have travelled, along with previous education and jobs.
Why do you think you pursued art/photography prior to a pathway in design and making?
It was always art for me whilst I was growing up. I was lucky enough to be brought up in the beautiful countryside of North Wales which was, and still is the most inspiring environment I have found. Being in this surrounding I naturally started drawing and painting, which then lead to sculpture later in school and university. I fell in love with furniture whilst deciding how to develop my art work into a more functional and useful practice. To me art and furniture come hand in hand, without one there wouldn’t be the other.
How have you found the transition?
Very natural as my upbringing and experience in art school really prepared my creatively. Having also experienced the fine art world, I found the furniture environment much more comfortable, this was reassuring as I knew, whilst I was making the transition, that I was on the right path.
How did you find out about your course at the BCC?
I knew I wanted to learn about furniture making, but I also knew I wanted to combine that with my experience within the fine art world. I think I simply googled – fine art furniture. As the course is called Fine Furniture Making, it was one of the first things I found. I visited the college a few weeks later, and once I saw the workshops and facilities I was sold.
Did you have any apprehensions about entering into furniture education?
I was a little nervous, but once I started it was an easy environment to settle down in. I was also confident that I had finally found the right path and so was excited to get going.
What were your experiences whilst studying?
I had a very rewarding experience whilst studying at the Building Crafts College. I was incredibly lucky with the students in my year as we all varied in age, experience and gender. The previous year had an all male class, and I believe that the varied spectrum of students that I attended college with, really did contribute to an incredibly creative and productive two years. The year below also now has a varied range of people, this is hopefully something that will now continue to happen every year.
Have you had any set backs during your pursuit into furniture design and making, how have you overcome them?
I haven’t experienced much in the form of a set back yet, however I have definitely overcome some hurdles. Financing the course was a challenge, as well as funding my projects in terms of materials. I worked every weekend whilst studying at the BCC, it was a difficult two years but I grew as a maker and designer because of it. If you don’t have the finances in place, running that extra mile to fund what you can is hard, but extremely necessary if you want to be serious about the outcome of the designs you are producing.
What would your main piece of advice be for others pursuing a future in furniture and craft?
Furniture and craft is a great world to be a part of, everyone is eager to help and share their knowledge. However, if you can get any experience before starting a course it is an immense help. I worked within a CNC furniture workshop before starting at the BCC, despite it being a totally different way of working to the bench joinery that I learnt on my course, just having that experience of being in the workshop prepared me greatly.
What work have you found since graduating from the BCC?
I was approached by the American Hardwood Export Council after I met one of their members of staff at the New Designers exhibition in July. I designed and created a large display unit for them for when they travel to shows promoting their product. I have also been shortlisted in the student category of the Wood Awards for a design I made at the BCC, as well as having taken part in the Young Furniture Makers Exhibition. I also have been successful in getting a design into production with MADE, which will be in development over the next year.
How did you course prepare you for working in a practicing workshop?
The course at the Building Crafts College prepares you for a practicing workshop through the way they build up your making knowledge first, before you start designing. Your creative direction and making is certainly enhanced through the tutors, however upon starting the second year you already have a suitable set of skills to go into the workshop, which is a full working mill, independently. Despite every mill/workshop being a little different, you get a solid making skill set when you leave the BCC, which is incredibly valuable when entering a new workshop environment.
For more information on Rowena’s work, visit: https://the-dots.com/users/rowena-jane-edwards-211591