Sunday, 14 October 2012

Maker of the Week - Christopher Burley

Christopher Burley is a designer-maker of bespoke fine furniture trading as Heliconia Furniture from Bermondsey, South London. Christopher designs and makes contemporary pieces of simple elegance using the 21st century technologies of CAD drawing and CNC along with traditional woodworking skills.  He involves the client in the design process from the outset and tries to encourage a sense of co-operation and mutual creativity that is beyond the usual shopping experience.  Christopher has also recently devised a range of furniture for selling through retail outlets and online stores. He will be showing his work at MADE LONDON.

Where did you train? What did training teach you and what do you wish it had taught you?
I studied at Williams and Cleal Fine Furniture school on Exmoor in Somerset, where I learnt the Arts & Crafts tradition of quality of materials and making, as well as an honesty of design.  In retrospect I wish that there had been more time to work with other materials, that might be complementary to wood but at the time woodworking was my focus.

Is being a designer / maker your only job?
I have no other employment.  After working in IT for 13 years I changed career to pursue my love of woodworking.  I am lucky, so far, that I have not needed to supplement my income with any unwelcome IT contracts.

One favourite living designer?
Michael Young because of his work across disciplines but particularly the beautiful folded leather on the ultra modern chairs in the 100 range, produced for Trussardi last year.  The ambition of his work demonstrates how quality can remain paramount regardless of the scale or context of the project.  It inspires you to think beyond your medium and embrace ideas and materials appropriate to the brief rather than trying to crowbar your discipline or experience into the work.  But I like wood and no one experiments more in wood than Joseph Walsh, who’s alien designs defy you not to be ambitious.

What is the most interesting / fun job you have had?
Agatha is a revolving bookcase I made in solid black walnut for a client to store Agatha Christie paperbacks. The novels, plays and short story collection required space for 94 books in total so I designed the cabinet to house all 94 snugly with shelves to display the book spines and apertures to display the book covers.
The design of this piece is influenced by the styles of inter-war years but with simple modern lines. The dark timber is complemented by the colourful covers of the new Harper paperback editions.

What is your most prized item of design / craft?
I live in South London and I have a limited edition print by local artist Reuben Powell, instigator of Hotel Elephant Gallery at Elephant & Castle.  It’s a black ink drawing depicting the London Hotel, a now demolished Victorian work house, which was famous for being one of the places George Orwell stayed whilst researching for ‘Down and Out in London and Paris.’ I guess its my favourite because it was local and very familiar to me.  I saw the building everyday, to and from work.  Its a familiar, if terrible, building to all who live in the Elephant & Castle area.

What item of design / craft do you covet most?
Hans Wegner’s Round Chair.  A set of these would be fantastic.  The horseshoe shape of this chair from the late 1940s has a comforting embrace but a businesslike majesty to.  It is most famous for being sat on by JFK and Richard Nixon in the televised Presidential debate in 1960.  You can buy repros now but I have not seen any that successfully use the timbers natural figure (ash or cherry) or with the hand-woven cane used on the original.

At age 16 who most influenced your style?
I wish I could say I thought about design when I was 16 but I just thought about music and girls.

Last book / film that blew your mind?
AS Byatt’s ‘The Children’s Book’ is an all engrossing saga for creative types.  It depicts Victorian crafts people as social radicals, living for their craft but also interested in everything around them and mixing with artists and political activists.  Its not mind blowing but it makes my nostalgic side happy without my modernist side feeling too guilty.

What music are you currently listening to?
Fleet Foxes, Faust and always Nick Cave.

How many hours do you waste on the internet each day?
The advantage of spending 60% of your time in a wood workshop is it is far too dusty and hot for a computer so the internet has to be used with focus when at home on the PC.  However, how many hours I waste playing with my iphone is another matter all together.

If you could live anywhere, where would it be and why?
I live in London and at the moment I can’t think of anywhere that offers the same diversity of distractions (or as many tool shops and timber yards).

Where and what is your studio?
My wood shop is in a council workshop complex just off Tower Bridge road.  The building has seen better days and is a little rough around the edges but my workshop is just the right size and has large windows and skylights providing a helpful amount of natural light. I share the workshop with other makers who are an inspiration as well as a daily source of advice and good humour.

Do you have a good work/life balance?
When you have changed your career you are so happy to be doing something you enjoy I think you pay less attention to your work/life balance than you should. I get lost in my work during the planning or early construction phases of a project as there are always interesting problems to resolve. It can be difficult to leave it alone. 

What one word would describe your feeling of doing your work?


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