Proving that furniture making is alive and well in the UK and Ireland, a new show at London's Millinery Works in Islington is celebrating the work of over 40 designer-makers producing handmade furniture across the British Isles.
Based on the Southgate Road in an old hat factory, the Millinery Works has been used as a furniture showroom and exhibition space since 1996 when Brian Thompson and Derek Rothera commandeered it as a gallery space for their Arts & Crafts furniture business that had been operating out of the nearby Camden Passage since 1970.
Their latest exhibition, timed to coincide with last week's London Design Festival, is the fifth in a series of biannual shows curated by esteemed British furniture maker Martin Grierson that celebrate modern day designer-makers who are keeping the spirit of the Arts and Crafts movement alive. Inaugurated in 2009, the Millinery Works' '21st Century Furniture' exhibitions not only showcase new designs but also provide visitors with a chance to buy the pieces.
'I first discovered The Millinery Works about seven or eight years ago when they had an exhibition of Arts & Crafts furniture at the Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute and got talking to Brian,' says Grierson, recalling the debut show. 'I then visited the gallery and found that they let their space for different art exhibitions and one man shows. Brian and Derek responded very positively to my suggestion that they might consider an exhibition of contemporary designer-makers. Over a period of six months I assembled work and, with a great deal of help from Derek and Brian, arranged the first show.'
Now six years later and the exhibitions have grown to include pieces by both established names such as Grierson himself (who was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by The Furniture Makers Company earlier this year) and younger talents such as Design Guild Mark awardees Young & Norgate.
'There is a growing interest in UK design and a disastrous loss of design education in universities,' says Grierson, reflecting on the state of the industry. 'I believe that among the designer makers fraternity there is a strong emphasis on craftsmanship which results in designs that express this. These pieces are made to last and become our heritage.'