Both Ben Perkins and Alan Flannery are furniture designers working primarily with wood. Alan combines traditional techniques with a love for contemporary design in his work, and Ben has developed a range of space efficient and easy to assemble flat-pack furniture.
Tell us the story behind you and your business. How did you first become interested in design?
Ben: I first became interested in design helping my dad in his garage. He used to lay wooden oak floorboards when i was young. At the age of 13, I decided to design and make a shelf from the materials at hand.
Alan: I have been interested in design for as long as I can remember. Most of my childhood hobbies and activities involved design, whether it be sketching, making things from clay or breaking apart my latest Lego creation and starting again to see how I could improve on it.
Where did you study and what was the most useful thing you learnt from / best things about your course?
Ben: I studied BA (Hons) 3D Design at Camberwell College of Arts (UAL). I guess one of the most important things I learned through the process is to problem solve through observation and to always be visually aware of human behaviour. One of the best things about the course was the tutors’ continued support, and within the workshops the technicians were super helpful and intelligent.
Alan: I studied at GMIT Letterfrack, Irelands National centre of excellence in Furniture Design and Technology. Over the four years I spent there the course furthered my appreciation of Design and brought together many of my key interests in one place. An excellently equipped campus with relatively small student numbers provided an environment and atmosphere that was hugely conducive to creativity, as did its location in the shadow of mountains along the Atlantic coastline.
What inspired you to start your business?
Ben: To be completely honest, I never planned on starting my business this early on in my career. It’s just happened naturally over time. The support I have always received from my immediate family to follow my passion has been a big inspiration.
Alan: Starting my own business has been a long held ambition. The main driver for this was to give myself the creative freedom to design and produce pieces that progress and stretch my knowledge and abilities.
Give us an insight into your thought process to design your work – where does your inspiration come from?
Ben: The inspiration for my work initially came from depicting ideologies from Italian Futurism. This then, gradually through research, lead to looking at post-modernist icons of design, such as Joe Colombo. My inspiration comes from particularly designers of this era as I feel that their inventiveness isn’t seen enough in today’s society through transformable furniture.
Alan: Inspiration I find comes from all sorts of places, most of all when you are not looking. While studying at Letterfrack I was taught the importance of always having a notebook with you to take notes or make sketches when this inspiration comes along. I find it very useful to employ this same principle by taking photos of things which interest me which can be reviewed when working on a design project. Much of my inspiration comes from the natural world and I find this lends itself well to working with natural materials such as wood.
What materials, methods and tools do you use to make your products? / What one technique, material or tool could you not live without?
Ben: In order to make my products, I have two main materials which I use; white American ash wood and décor eco birch plywood. I use ash wood for its durability and weightlessness properties, along with its beautiful grain. The frames I create are made using mortise and tenon joinery. I constructed a simple template for my table saw to cut out the tenons so each one is cut exactly the same. I also am lucky enough to own a mortiser for the second part of the joinery process. I guess the one pair of tools which I couldn’t live without would be my mallet and chisel. At the beginning of creating my workshop space, I could only afford hand tools, as many designer makers starting out should look to utilise these fundamental pieces of equipment to their full potential.
Alan: The list of materials, methods and techniques used to make my products is long and varied and ranges from age old, traditional methods materials and techniques to ones which have been brought about recent technological advancements. The material I use most commonly and with which I am most familiar with is wood and this is an excellent material for bridging the gap between old and new. One project may include hand cut dovetail joints and the next may be laser cut or shaped by CNC technology. The tools I would least like to live without are traditional hand shaping tools such as rasps and spoke-shaves as I find their use a very enjoyable and useful exercise. Shaping a piece of wood in this way is very gradual in that you can see the piece evolve as you work. This affords you the opportunity to improvise and improve on the shape as you watch it progress.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? / What piece of advice would you give to this year’s graduates?
Ben: The best piece of advice I have been given is to ‘create your own design identity’. I guess this statement could be interpreted in many ways; I see it as being yourself and always try to speak your own visual language. The advice I would give to this year’s graduates would be to go with your gut instinct when decision making and try to create that ‘winning formula’ through your design process; work to your strengths.
Alan: I admire Henry Ford, not only for his pioneering work and creativity but also for his positive attitude. Two of his quotes especially resonate with me and I try to apply them to my work:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right”
“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking”
What have you designed that you’re most proud of? / What project are you most excited about at the moment?
Ben: I guess the best work i have completed to date would be the products within the PerkiFurniture™ range. I take pride in the way my products are constructed and hope to develop and create more pieces within the range during the remainder of this year.The project which I am most excited about at the moment is, although only in prototype stage, PerkiBed™. This piece of furniture is completely flat pack and can be assembled by people of all ages in just a few minutes, without the use of an instructional manual.
Alan: To date, the design I am most proud of is the Tephra Coffee Table. I am happy with the aesthetic of the finished product and also with the design ethic behind it. I consider this table and the inspiration behind it as a starting point for further exploration of the same theme. I am already working on the second and third instalments in the Tephra series. At present the project I am most excited about is a chair which I will unveil at One Year On. I consider chairs to be one of the greatest challenges in the realm of furniture design and this is one challenge that I am relishing.
Where do you want to be One Year On from now?
Ben: One year on from now, I would like to be exhibiting in New York and/or Tokyo. I think targeting major cities with limited space to showcase my works is vital at this point in my career. I believe within the design world it’s incredibly important to branch out and spread your wings, so to speak. Realistically, I would have almost completed the PerkiFurniture™ range of products and will be looking to develop a multi-functional piece of furniture for the domestic environment.
Alan: One year from now I hope to have built on creating a recognisable brand. My main aim is for this brand to be synonymous with well-considered designs executed to an excellent standard.