Makers in Focus: Irene Banham, where engineering meets design

We have been welcoming a series of designer makers to write about their work. In the latest guest blog, Irene Banham talks about how she approaches each bespoke piece of furniture… My background is in civil engineering, specifically in the water industry. I tended to work on large structures and the design of large buildings. Although my work was creative in its own way, I was designing to a brief and to a set of standards. I decided I wanted to do something more artistic, and so I turned to a career in fine furniture design.

Freedom makers...

What I like about furniture making is the ability to create your own designs and make what you want. There can be certain constraints within commissions but I am free to interpret a brief. I aspire to design and make furniture which combines both engineering and art. My aim is not only to produce a functional item, but to create something that has elegant engineering simplicity, with artistic interest and beauty. I take my ideas from all sorts of places. I enjoy the fact that I also get to make the piece as well. My process involves a combination of decision-making, drawing, and seeing a piece come to life.

Prisma Console Table

I like using the engineering side of my training and I try to make each piece so that it functions really well. The legs of the Prisma Table are inset enough not to hit the skirting board, and you won’t trip over them. There’s a handy drawer, and plenty of aesthetic appeal. I enjoy designing things that don’t quite take a normal, or accepted, form. Tables conventionally have four legs on the corners… this one doesn’t.makers in focus irene banham

Cantilever Cake Stand

The first of these was made at furniture school. I drew inspiration from the cantilever you find in the design of a diving board. Balance is achieved in how the fixed end is at an angle – you get opposite forces, for balance. I put the post at an angle, and backwards, to balance the cake stand. Having designed it that way, you find your eye is drawn to the use of the angle.
This, I feel is the difference between bespoke, or fine, furniture and mass-produced items. You could argue that furniture is furniture. But in the better-made items, there will be something about the design that marks it out as individual and clever. That is what I am seeking to achieve in my work.
makers in focus irene banham


Having completed a full-time furniture design and making course, Irene Banham is now located in a workshop in the centre of Bristol designing and making bespoke fine furniture.

Visit Artisan Alchemy

Artisan Alchemy is a contemporary gallery in the Jewellery Quarter district of Birmingham. The area boasts the largest community of designer makers in Europe. The gallery is also host to Artisan Artemy fine jewellery. The Gallery fuses a long tradition of making with innovative modern design. As a result, it’s the perfect day out for design lovers. It really is an artistic hub. We are also dedicated to offering an excellent service so you can choose a special piece for yourself or a loved one. Our friendly staff will be happy to help you either in person or by telephone. Visit soon! The gallery also rents out workshops to local creative businesses. You can view the work national and internationally-recognised designers at Artisan Alchemy, 85 Caroline Street, Birmingham B3 1UP. Learn more about our opening times here.