Meet contemporary furniture makers Hinton Workshop

From time to time here on the blog we want to shine a light on up-and-coming creatives whose work we like and admire. First up are Midlands-based furniture makers Hinton Workshop.

Pete Dale and Rafe Dunn have known each other for years and worked together on a number of musical projects. After Pete studied furniture design and Rafe began making instruments as a luthier the two decided to move from the rehearsal room to the workshop. Just over 18 months ago they began collaborating on bespoke woodworking projects for clients, and now they have launched their own range of contemporary furniture.

We got in touch with Pete to find out more about how their partnership came about, how they moved from music to furniture and what other exciting projects they have in the pipeline...

Shipshape: Tell us about your work?

Pete: With our launch pieces we have stripped down the forms and silhouettes of designs and shapes that we are used to seeing, like our Wingback armchair for example. We took the basic shape of this chair and broke it down to its key elements to provide a very modern look with a hint of nostalgia in the fact we have the upholstery studded, similar to that of an old traditional wingback chair.

We like to exploit plywood, real wood veneers and bold quality laminates.

As a guitar maker and trained cabinet maker, plywood was usually a material that would facilitate another piece of furniture, i.e. making a jig out of plywood to help create a section of another piece of furniture. In our new designs we celebrate this material and hand finish it to the same standard of a bespoke piece, paying careful attention to sanding by hand and finishing the piece with natural oils and waxes. This makes for a luxurious finish not often found in other design-led plywood pieces.

The construction is simplified to show off how we make the pieces and to add subtle detail to the furniture to add interest. I personally have always been fascinated by seeing the workings of any object, like an engine, or a building in progress. I wanted to convey this in these simple joints and panels.

When did you start making furniture together?

We started making furniture together about a year and half ago, just taking on bespoke pieces made to order and designed specifically for the client. It was very enjoyable and helped fund the prototypes for what we really wanted to do, which is what you see on our website.

How did the transition from music to furniture design and making happen?

This is a hard question to answer but here goes…….

At the age of 21 I studied furniture and product design at Nottingham Trent Uni, but after my second year I got signed to a record label and jetted off to the USA to play drums in a band from Nottingham. It wasn’t a hard decision back then, I just thought it was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down. This then led to moving to various other musical projects/bands over a period of 10 years. I always had the desire to make furniture and always sketched designs on the tour bus or the plane, but the music came first back then.

The opportunity to play music and travel the world playing with artists and performers such as The Kaiser Chiefs, Happy Mondays and The Flaming Lips was amazing and I have seen and been influenced by the cities we have played and recorded in. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had these experiences as the music industry is a tough nut to crack, so I look back on these awesome times with a huge amount of gratitude.

Rafe and I have been playing music together since we were kids. I think we wrote our first song together when I was 16 or 17. Rafe has also been part of many different musical projects over his music career which led him into making classical guitars. We still write music together as I don’t think we could ever deny ourselves that pleasure, it’s just in our blood to make noise!

We find that the relationship between creating music and creating furniture is very similar, if not the same. When you write a song, usually someone in the group will walk into the practice room or studio with an idea. You then jam it out which can be a noisy affair. You have other people's musical influence interpreting what they hear, and they try and make sense of it by starting to work with what everyone else is playing.

Finally you reach a point where everyone is playing comfortably, letting the key elements of the song shine through. For example; If the guitarist wants to play a solo, now is not the time for the drummer to let loose and flail on the kit doing his own solo because the two sections would smash together and make no sense.

This applies to furniture too. We start with an idea, realise a prototype and then carefully break it down to its key elements, so the eye doesn’t get confused and the entire object can be understood and appreciated as a whole.

After recording the third album with my last band I decided it was time to move on to pursue my other love, design. I enrolled in a cabinet makers course in Devon working alongside what can only be described as wood ninjas. The tutors there were capable of making anything and worked on extremely high-priced projects. This allowed me to get hands on with the basic tools like hand planes and chisels and have my work be scrutinised by excellent craftsmen. I never thought I would have the patience for it, but ended up loving this way of working by hand and fully appreciating the skills it takes to create a beautiful piece of furniture.

When the course had finished I set up shop in Nottingham and I contacted Rafe as a friend to help with a piece of furniture that required some very intricate detailing. Being a guitar maker he excels at this. One thing led to another and because of our history writing music the process of making furniture was an easy transition to make together.

Can you describe a typical day at the workshop together?

The day always starts with FRESH POTS!!!! We love our coffee. Check this link out to see why we call it that.

Depending on what order we are working on during that day it will usually involve a lot of sanding. We love to finish everything beautifully and this is the only way. It’s a kind of love-hate relationship with sanding. You love it when you start sanding, during you’re not so happy about it (usually some extremely loud upbeat tunes help with this), but when you have finished, applying the first coat of oil lets you see instantly why you spent all that time sanding. Very satisfying.

We usually experiment with shapes and materials to keep the juices flowing and to provide inspiration for current or new designs and have a few in progress designs lying around so we can subconsciously take them in and think about them whilst making other pieces.

To be honest, we have only just launched our products and so most of the time at the minute we are working on our next batch of products which I will talk about later.

What’s been the hardest thing about setting up your own business as a creative?

The business side! I had no experience whatsoever with this and I found just being honest with people and asking questions even when you think you are going to sound ridiculous really helps. I find that being kind and honest goes a long way when dealing with a situation you are not too sure about.

A lot of help came from our friends Joff and Ollie. These guys have established a great business as graphic designers, product designers and web designers. They helped us with our market research, branding and the website. Their insight into the design world we were entering into was invaluable and has helped us understand where we sit in the market. I can’t thank these guys enough.

Money! I put in a substantial inheritance into the business and still have had to ask my family for small loans to get going. I think if it wasn’t for my exceptionally patient girlfriend and an understanding family we wouldn’t exist. I consider myself very lucky to have had this help and I find it part of my motivation.

Who or what are the major influences in your work?

I find that having done a lot of touring inspiration can come from anywhere and anything. Music has influenced us a lot. Not necessarily the songs themselves, but an attitude of a song. It inspires us to go ahead with the slightly more crazy designs, colours and shapes.

I found when I was designing the Hinton lounge chair the issue of space was a big influence too. In England the majority of us live in old houses. Old houses with chimney breasts, alcoves and other period features that break up the space in our homes into sometimes an awkward shape making it hard to find furniture to fit into these little nooks and crannies. I always try to see the piece inside one of these homes.

Materials themselves are a huge influence. When I was training I loved veneering. People’s perception of veneering is unjustified I feel. They associate it with cheap furniture, but in reality a hand veneered piece of furniture can take just as long to produce as a solid piece. Also, you are not constrained by the limitations/rules of working with solid wood allowing you to create patterns and have the grain direction going the “wrong” way along a piece of furniture. This, I find liberating and allows me to express myself while still retaining the beauty of real wood.

Any exciting plans in the pipeline that you’d like to shout about?

YES!!!!! LOADS!!!!!! But, I will just mention one that is in progress right now.

We are currently working on storage units for the home that have a heavy influence from old analogue recording equipment.These units will be designed to hold vinyl as it is a subject close to our hearts. We are working with a local screen printer / artist on these to make some very bold designs. He is also an established DJ so the love is shared between all parties.

We can’t wait to release these pieces as prototyping them is amazing fun!

There are plenty of other ideas we are working through as well, but this is the one I am super pumped about.

For more information about Pete and Rafe's work head to www.hintonworkshop.co.uk

A huge thanks to Pete for answering our questions and providing such a fascinating insight into the process of creating their beautiful pieces.

Thanks too to you for reading, and if you're a designer, artist, maker, musician or other type of creative person who would like to be featured on our blog, get in touch! Just drop me a line at anders@shipshapemarketing.co.uk.

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