Another edition of the ‘meet the winners’ blog series with an interview from Rowena Edwards, who won the MADE.COM Award for Stand Out Design. Read on for an insight into her creative practice and first steps since graduating.
Tell us the story behind you and your design background
Welsh born designer and maker Rowena Edwards started her creative education as a young girl in the countryside between the mountains and sea. She continued this journey further to London at Chelsea School of Art and Design before travelling around the world and settling back in London, to complete the Fine Furniture Making programme at The Building Crafts College. This has all inspired the creative process and ethos that Rowena has refined and developed to produce innovative pieces of furniture. Her use of colour, materials and the concept of interaction generate a sense of depth and integrity. In particular, the relationship that she explores between her pieces and the consumer generates striking forms, and her innovative components reveal interesting ways of using and connecting with her furniture. Rowena has recently started a Masters programme at Kingston University on the Product and Furniture Design course, and is also currently working on a commission-based project for the American Hardwood Export Council.
How did you become interested in design?
I have always been creative, from a young age I started scribbling in sketchbooks and collecting interesting objects. This soon developed into a love of art, in particular interactive sculpture pieces. Whilst travelling and tree planting in Canada and America in 2012, I was fortunate to be surrounded by incredible natural beauty and was also inspired by the furniture industry I witnessed in both cities and rural areas. On my return, I decided that I wanted to continue with my creative journey, but within a more functional form, this was the beginning of my carpentry career which followed into furniture.
Where did you study and what was the most useful thing you learnt from / best things about your course?
I studied at the Building Crafts College in Stratford, London on the Fine Furniture Making course. The most important thing I learnt was how to make. Designing and making come hand in hand, at the Building Crafts College you spend a whole year learning the basic skills and using hand tools. Gaining this experience before entering the design part of the course was crucial, and definitely helped me on my way as I started to put my ideas and inspiration into form.
What inspired you to start your career pathway?
My first and main inspiration for my career pathway within the creative field is my home in North Wales. I was brought up by the sea and mountains and still feel incredibly inspired when I head home.
Give us an insight into your thought process to design your work – where does your inspiration come from? Who are your design mentors and why?
My inspiration comes from my surroundings, and I try to realise this inspiration even in the least likely of areas. Architecture from all decades has at some point sparked an idea, as well as art galleries and shows. My previous tutors at the Building Crafts College were all great mentors – Neil Austin, Tom Kealy, Rod Wales and Kate Payne all bring different experiences and backgrounds to the course.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? / What piece of advice would you give to future graduates or those thinking of studying design?
The best piece of advice was given to me at the end of my course at a talk with Sam Chan from Joined and Jointed. When asked at the talk, what would advice he would give to budding designers he said ‘ never give up ‘ . This is certainly something I had already put into practice throughout my life, but it really struck me how simple it was but at the same time so important.
Is there a particular social cause or need that you would like your design to respond to?
Furniture longevity is something that I am always aware of. Creating pieces that last and can be handed down through generations is always a goal. This addresses the issues behind how fast as a society we through items away, or how fast certain things break after lack of of making skills and knowledge by some companies.
How do you think other brands and institutions can help nurture design and creative talent in the future?
The Building Crafts College really helps to keep the traditional craft of carpentry alive. It is based in a beautiful college, and has an incredible inspirational feel to the workshops. It would be great if more furniture making courses concentrated on making first, this would certainly help nurture design and the makers of the future.