Makers in focus: meet ocean-inspired designer Erich Fichtner

Erich Fichtner has spent more than three decades in woodworking, establishing himself as a premier designer and maker. He worked initially in America and has exhibited in the US, Ireland, the UK and elsewhere in Europe. Much of his work incorporates the curvilinear forms associated with the boatbuilding industry of North Carolina where Fichtner was based for many years. He built his reputation making bespoke furniture for luxury yachts and designing pieces for residential clients. He learned techniques integral to boat building; steam-bending, curved and stack lamination, vacuum bagging and veneering. These became his signatures as he developed his unique approach as a designer; bringing the subtle, fluid lines of the nautical world to bespoke furniture design.
Artisan Alchemy home of British fine bespoke furniture in Birmingham Erich's Serendipity Chair in Olive Ash

Designer at work... the early years

“I worked mostly in wood, often in Asian Teak, while doing the occasional piece in fibreglass. It was quite profitable but there was a downside in that I was often dealing with an architect who had a big input into a design. I had my own workshop where I worked alone except for larger projects where I employed assistants or collaborated with other makers. Working in this way on yacht-related as well as residential commissions, I was kept busy enough so that I only rarely had time to make pieces for exhibition. “The work on boat furniture paid well but yielded little recognition. I rarely got a thank you from the owners, or even met them, although some of my work featured on magazine covers. I found the work on residential commissions more satisfying and enjoyed the interaction with owners and the more relaxed pace.”
Artisan Alchemy furniture gallery at the heart of Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter Jewellery Box in Irish Cherry, Walnut and Suede interior

Fresh inspiration...

Now living in the west of Ireland with his wife, painter Mimi Kern, his career has taken a new direction. Erich recalls how years ago when living aboard a sailboat in the Caribbean he would craft jewellery boxes for friends and family, often from offcut of larger pieces, and he now focuses on these and other smaller pieces.
“When we moved fifteen years ago, it wasn’t to further my career. I knew it would be a new beginning, working on a smaller scale, but I welcomed that... We live on the Shannon estuary, out in the countryside in a small cottage with a workshop for me, a studio for Mimi, a polytunnel for growing vegetables and enough land to accommodate the odd goat, donkey or pony from the local animal rescue association.”
Designer Maker Erich Fichtner is stocked at Artisan Alchemy in Birmingham Elm Freeform Box
His move to Ireland and subsequent discovery of locally sourced timbers such as Irish Elm and Olive Ash has led to new sources of inspiration as a designer.
“The choice of timber here has definitely had an impact on my work. I use a lot of Wych Elm, largely unknown in America. It’s a revelation, a lovely wood with exquisite colouring and grain. I go for timber that has character. Sometimes it can be hard to work with but I like the effect of the intricate grain patterns. More recently I’ve been working on purely sculptural pieces, using inks and dyes to enhance extraordinary grain patterns on solid timber and, lately, veneers."
Erich’s work with London Plane sourced from Lismore Castle led to a Best Use of British Timber Award for his Fluted Blanket Chest, characterized by dramatically sculpted surfaces. He has won numerous other awards and has exhibited throughout Ireland and in Cheltenham, Bristol, London and elsewhere in the UK and in the Netherlands. His work can currently be seen at Artisan Alchemy in Birmingham, his exclusive dealer in the UK.
Designer Maker Erich Fichtner is stocked at Artisan Alchemy in Birmingham Jewellery Chest - Irish Elm & Black Walnut

Visit Artisan Alchemy in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter

Buy furniture in Birmingham: Serendipity Chair by Erich Fichtner Artisan Alchemy in Birmingham: Serendipity Chair by Erich Fichtner
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.