Sunday, 30 October 2011

Flat pack hunter gatherer

  Apparantly part of Swedish furniture giant IKEA's success is that it appeals to male hunter gatherer instinct. Insert four scan bolts in pre-drilled holes and hey presto I've made the wife a piece of furniture.
Despite IKEA being a Global innovator the concept of flat pack furniture probably dates back to at least the English Tudor period in the gateleg table. Well, it packed flat enough to be freighted on a horse and cart! The one common link is the use of oak, probably the most durable of timbers. Of course durability and IKEA are never mentioned in the same breath but you would be surprised how attitude towards a piece of furniture makes a difference. The testing of IKEA products is not only vigorous and extensive, but if looked after many of the products do actually last.
   Discovering my passion for furniture design as a young man I would have preferred to design for a company like IKEA but I was working 20 years before they dared come to Britain (we were too backward looking for the company who by 1979 operated in 26 other countries).  Some of my designs in the 70's could easily have sold in IKEA stores since the 90's but my only career option was to become a solo designer maker as the UK furniture industry was so hidebound. Faced with the choice of creating designs at a reasonable price that give pleasure to many people or making very expensive one offs for an exclusive market my preference still remains the same 40 years on. There shouldn't be an either or choice but the market tends to dictate.
   It is highly unlikely my own furniture innovations will ever sit in museums such as the V & A but I can take great personal pride that my High backed rocker in particular has found hundreds of homes worldwide, is usable and accessible to ordinary people and some are now being handed down (see image in 'My beautiful hands').  I did produce a plywood flatpack version in the late 70's which was turned down by a local furniture retail shop. 'The public don't like plywood' the shop owner declared.

   The Early Tudor Gateleg Table - forerunner to flat pack furniture?

An IKEA room set photographed by Jeremy Broun in 1979 on his visit to 
the original Stockholm store as part of a Churchill Travel Scholarship.

A sturdy oak dining chair from IKEA in 2006. The main downside of pack flat furniture
 is the failure of the consumer to tighten the bolts a few months after the furniture has
 settled into the room environment. Solid wood shrinks and expands.

A flat pack ash rocker designed by Jeremy Broun (1980).
Don't forget to tighten the scan bolts.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Furniture Today

   I am working on 'Furniture Today Part Three', a DVD project I began in 1998. At that time it was mostly furniture 'yesterday' as Britain was drowning in its heritage through fear of the looming Millennium. Of course the title demands frequent updates as the first production was in 2006 and especially now as furniture 'today' has truly come of age.  It is a mammoth task as the field has expanded so much in just the last decade and there is fantastic work going on that is outside popular culture. It is a self-funded project, (the usual suspects rejected my requests). Nobody asked me to do it and unlike Parts One and Two when makers I approached were very responsive to submit material, I am struggling to get makers to respond. I suspect some might fear I will be too outspoken! Yes, I will be outspoken but objective and analytical. If an extremely expensive piece of furniture has technical flaws somebody should surely comment on that?  Be thankful my name isn't Jeremy Clarkson!  It is bizarre to think that conventionally film production involves a team of specialists and I am doing everything single-handed!

Self-taught film maker Jeremy Broun using a Super 8 cine camera in 1984

   There is virtually no serious in depth debate about furniture. The last broadsheet newspaper critic was Peta Levi who passed away (since I featured her in 'Furniture Today Part Two'). I suppose furniture design and woodworking is a passion of mine.
   I am struggling today to work on the project - endless hours of editing film footage, promoting the work of others, when depression drains energy. But I know, despite the struggle, I will make a good job of this update of what is a unique visual document of the best contemporary furniture being made in the British Isles (indeed some of the very best in the world) and placing it in a historical context dating back to the Magna Carta. As Churchill said 'History will be kind to me as I intend to write it'!

   The Zigzag Table by Jeremy Broun. First designed in 1978 this example made in 1984 and the last one commissioned in 2007. Each one is slightly different in size, material and detail.

'It exploits the markings of traditional manufacture, as seen in the wood joints where the top meets the legs, and it is innovative in its centre joint. Limited edition designer furniture provides the closest link between maker and user, and often results in the most interesting products'.

from 'An Encyclopedia of Tables' by Simon Yates (The Apple Press - Quintet Books) 

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Come back when youre famous

   I think it was the year of 1973 and I was working in a converted cattleshed workshop on the outskirts of Bath. The rent was £5 per week. I called myself 'The Bath Carpenter' and took on a variety of work ranging from trimming the bottom of doors (fitted carpets had made their debut then0, to building fitted wardrobes and kitchens which paid the way for me to speculate on my individualistic contemporary furniture designs. I used an anonymous title as I felt good design should sell on its own merits rather than rely on a name, a rather naive view.
   There were no outlets for my furniture. It was too modern. I did manage to persuade the owner of a local Persian Carpet shop to put one of my rocking chairs in front of one of his expensive carpets in the window and he took just ten percent.
   There were two craft galleries in Bath at the time; Coexistence and Centaur Designs. I remember the tall female owner of Coexistence looking down on me and asking whether I had been to the Royal College of Art. I had more breeding in my little toe! I politely withdrew from her exclusive gallery and walked across the road to Centaur Designs with my portfolio. I showed a picture of my rocking chair and said it had been selected for a major London exhibition called "Wood". In his put down I recall the proprietor saying 'Let's wait and see what happens from the London exhibition' which in effect was code for 'come back when you are famous'.
   A few years later a gallery owner in the north of England telephoned me invited me to show my work at an exhibition. I asked her didn't she want to see my portfolio. 'No she said' reassuringly 'That's not necessary, we know your work'.
   2011 footnote: Was this licence to put in a Grayson Perry type appearance?

 The converted cattleshed workshop in Milton Avenue, Bath

A short extract from 'Missing Jean' by Jeremy Broun