Hugh Miller Furniture is one of the selected makers exhibiting at Collect Open
Our Directory Maker of the Week, Hugh Miller Furniture talks to us about getting into making, what inspires him and what he loves most about his work
Who or what got you into making?
I’m self-taught in furniture making, and I made my first piece when I was 15. I was quite academic at school, and so I decided to study architecture instead of a more practice-based furniture-making course. It was a really good decision, and I’ve never regretted it for a moment. Architecture is a perfect mix of intellectual rigour and hands-on design, drawing and making. It’s really good preparation for being a designer maker.
The other thing is that I love wood, and this is why there was never any other material that I would want to work with. Wood is the most amazing material. It has a dichotomy of properties; it’s strong and structural, but really light; it’s hard, but workable with hand tools; it’s stable, but organic and can move and distort with moisture and the seasons; and every piece is different and has unique colours, grain and working characteristics.
Tell us a bit about your work
I make studio furniture in British elm, with details in brass and Japanese bamboo. I like to explore contrast in my pieces, between texture and smoothness, hidden and visible, plane and lath and lightness and solidity. Being a Western designer, but being strongly influenced by Japanese design theory, these contrasts illuminate the duality of cultural inspirations that underpin my work.
What are your inspirations?
In 2015 I carried out a two-month research fellowship in Japan, with funding from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. My study was focused on the ethos of Japanese woodwork and applied wood arts, and what makes wood craftsmanship in Japan so special. It was a transformative experience which has changed me, both personally and professionally, forever. It led me to develop a set of three guiding principles that now underpin my work.
The first principle is 'an absence of noise', where extraneous details are removed to leave only those that elevate an idea’s essential intentions. It is achieved through a quietness in jointing and articulation.
The second principle is ‘a search for lightness', not only in materials and form, but also in a work’s impact on its surroundings. This lightness of touch demonstrates reverence for my material and the user.
The third principle is 'a contribution to harmony’, which means that a piece should not demand attention, but quietly await inspection, and thus contribute to the space it sits in, along with all the other pieces in that space.
What is your favourite part of the making process?
I love the speed of being a designer-maker. It’s wonderful to have an idea, sketch out the design, fine tune it during the making process, and come out after maybe only a few weeks or months with a completed piece. It’s really rewarding. I also love seeing the beauty of the timber reveal itself during the course of a project. It goes from a rough, dusty heavy block to a tactile, rich, vibrant thing.
What are you working on right now?
At the moment I’m working flat-out to finish a set of new pieces to be shown at Collect, at the Saatchi Gallery, in February. They follow on from my current collection of Japanese-inspired furniture and coffee sets.
The pieces aim to combine my three guiding principles through the overarching theme of 'ceremony'. Ceremony, in the context of making, is rejoicing in the confines of a prescribed process, perfecting that process through repetition, and drawing inspiration from its repeated performance. From my time in Japan, it seems that there are everyday ceremonies in life there, and this is something I wanted to try to embed in my pieces, in a British context.
In homage to the Japanese tea ceremony, my pieces use the everyday ritual of making coffee as a vehicle to explore ceremony. I’m making the apparatus of ritual, a cart that carries the necessary implements, a coffee table that forms the landscape on which the action takes place, and a communal bench, allowing participating audiences to take part in the ritual of making coffee.