We interviewed furniture designers Tim Evershed, who set up Brook Studio to sell his hand-crafted furniture, and David Winter and Natasha Kurth, who established their collaborative, multidisciplinary practice Winter and Kurth.
Tell us the story behind you and your business. How did you become interested in design?
Tim: I first become interested in design as I was drawn to CAD modelling. I enjoyed having the methodical approach and attention to detail that is required for this kind of work.
Natasha: At the time we met, David was working in the luxury market, designing bespoke furniture for the Superyacht industry and I was running a furniture renovation and upholstery business whilst undertaking a design residency at Staffordshire University. Despite our different backgrounds, what united us was a joint passion for combining surface and form. We were always interested in each other’s work and often imagined how one day it might come together.
Where did you study and what was the most useful thing you learnt from / best things about your course?
Tim: After studying Product Design I went on to do an introductory furniture making course with Marc Fish and continued to study furniture making at Chichester College.
Natasha & David: David trained in product design at Middlesbrough University and Natasha studied visual communication and specialised in graphic design at the Glasgow School of Art.
What inspired you to start your business?
Tim: It was during the hands-on training I received at Chichester that many of the design skills I had learnt at University began to have context. I suddenly felt fulfilled creatively in a way that I hadn’t before and I knew that to carry on I would have to start up on my own.
Natasha and David: During our MA studies at the Manchester School of Art, we collaborated on our first major project “For What it’s Worth”. The project was very well received and led to our Graphite Side Table being bought by Manchester Art Gallery. It was the success of this collaboration that inspired us to start the business. Through this process we learnt to identify and value our individual skill sets and the benefits of what can be achieved through collaboration across disciplinary boundaries.
Give us an insight into your thought process to design your work – where does your inspiration come from?
Tim: I’ll start with the material. Most often wood; occasionally wood in combination with something else. I’ll study the figuring of the grain and make some decisions about the direction of the piece. I want to create work with a sense of balance – harmony between the material, the function and the form. Some of my favourite furniture is made by Ercol and I am a subscriber to Ercolani’s declaration of core design principles: Fitness for purpose, Proportion, Materials and Form. I also admire his notion of upholding values of craftsmanship through mass production.
Natasha: My inspiration lies in materials and objects which embody traces upon their surface, evidencing the process by which they are made and the history of their use. The inspiration behind the “For What it’s Worth collection” was a vast collection of macramé textile works which were knotted by my late father. An important part of my creative process is the deconstruction and archiving of my source material as a way of preparing for the next stage.
David: With my practice being heavily influenced by original source material, I saw the potential to elevate this artisanal craft using my knowledge of contemporary marquetry processes. Together we became fascinated by the tonal quality of veneer as it caught the light at different angles, and the like for like translation of the tonal graphite drawings into a new material form.
What materials, methods and tools do you use to make your products? What one technique, material or tool could you not live without?
Tim: I tend towards natural materials like wood, leather and river rush. They have their own vitality, warmth, familiarity and bear the markings of age well. I use old joinery techniques as well as modern ones. I’m not particularly romantic about hand tool work but it has its place, especially in a modest workshop like mine. Learning how to properly flatten and sharpen chisels is one of the best things I have done. If you can get these things right, you are starting off on the right foot. The tool I constantly reach for in the workshop is my extremely useful 15cm ruler. I become very stressed when I misplace it.
David: Between us we work from hand to machine and back again. Natasha has a very hands on approach to design, combining drawing, cutting, collage and print making to develop ideas. I’m very much a problem solver and quite technically minded. I heavily rely on drawing but also digital technology to work through ideas. We certainly couldn’t live without a laser cutter for our marquetry pieces! It is an ancient craft made easier with CNC technology, however the only way to assemble it is still by hand!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? / What piece of advice would you give to this year’s graduates?
Tim: It’s not advice as such but Jacob Van Der Beugel who spoke recently at the Hothouse session “Designing your future” asked the question: “Why would you choose something as insane as Craft for a living if you aren’t going to do it on your own terms?” This really resonated with me. It caused me to re-evaluate certain aspects of my business that didn’t sit well with me, and I refer back to this whenever in doubt about whether an opportunity is right for me.
Natasha: “Follow your heart”. I can’t make work unless it connects with me on a personal level. Trying to maintain originality in the thick of everyone else’s work can seem impossible, so my advice would be to stay connected to self and make sure to instill your own values in your design. There’s no better feeling than making work that is true to you!
What have you designed that you’re most proud of? / What project are you most excited about at the moment?
Tim: I’m excited about my new collection of work inspired by shaker ideals of simplicity, purity and utility. Across the collection, the pieces draw on the construction of traditional farmhouse tables so the work feels nostalgic, yet sits well in a contemporary setting. Expect chairs, benches, tables and stools. When I use a favourite cup of mine as part of my daily routine I don’t just use it, I enjoy it for what it is and it feels grounding. I want people to feel like that about this work when they use it – now, in ten years’ time and beyond.
David & Natasha: It would have to be our For What It’s Worth Side Table which combines a single coloured black marquetry top and precision turned graphite legs. The side table celebrates equality of worth, combining the material quality of the tonal graphite drawings into a new context (marquetry). Currently we’re enjoying working on a new collection combining marquetry and machined aluminium which we’ll launch at ND OYO.
Where do you want to be One Year On from now?
Tim: I’d love to be collaborating with well known British retailers and manufacturers, as well as working on my own commissions.
David & Natasha: Here in Manchester! We’re really enjoying watching this city grow and are continually making connections with other designers and makers in our region. There are some really interesting spaces opening up for designers / makers and the wider community which we hope to become a part of. At the moment it’s all about survival and trying to make the business self-sufficient without having to do other jobs to pay the bills. We hope that New Designers One Year On will be a positive step towards becoming a self-sustaining business.