Makers in Focus: Hugh Miller Furniture with a Japanese influence

Hugh Miller combines East and West in his stunning contemporary furniture designs. He’s exhibited with the Saatchi Gallery and been on tour with the British Council. For furniture to be gallery-standard it has to be of exceptional quality, by a designer we know to be sought after around the world. Hugh’s work appeals to lovers of beautiful craftsmanship. He has built up a base of loyal clients who enjoy his eloquent, poised works.

Fine furniture meets precision training...

Hugh combines his training as an architect with a craftsman’s skill. Time spent in Japan as a Churchill Research Fellow allowed him to develop his instantly recognisable style. Japanese tools and techniques afforded insights he couldn’t have gained in the UK. He produces timeless pieces, all made from hardwoods and solid timber. Each piece is totally unique. Working in the Baltic Triangle area of Liverpool, materials are hoisted up the outside of the dockside warehouse which houses his workshop. Finished furniture leaves the same way, and this was the case when the warehouse received and sorted goods 100 years ago.
‘It makes for a nice talking point, ‘ Hugh observes, ‘and in many ways the place could be seen as quite unsuitable, with limited access, but it’s such a beautiful space. It was once used as museum storage, housing a mask collection. We had to put in acoustic flooring and create an office space. Sometimes I think customers wonder where they are going, when they arrive, but it’s great actually up in the space.’
Hugh Miller Furniture stocked at Artisan Alchemy Gallery in Birmingham

Labour of love...

Each design is poured over at every stage, from preliminary sketches and drawings through to the finished piece.
‘My brother encouraged me to study architecture. It was great advice as it continues to inform my process today. Furniture design has the same sense of rigour. I explore every option and discount those that aren’t the best. You are left with an idea you can defend. ‘The process can be quite brutal as it is essentially a piece of yourself you are presenting. My brother and I occupy the same building, and every design we produce is passed through each other. Because we are brothers, we can have robust conversations. We are quite frank with each other.’

Having the right conversations...

Customers very much want a stake in the design process, Hugh finds, and this is a relationship built on trust. It’s the same at Artisan Alchemy, where staff take time and great care talking visitors to the gallery through the pieces on show.
‘As many designs in the fine furniture market are heirloom pieces to pass on, there’s a great skill and quality of work involved. ‘A table at John Lewis may command one price, but with bespoke, you are getting a handmade and finished design in solid hardwood, and you can see the difference. Once people know that, they do appreciate it, and they want to be able to tell the story of a piece, once it is home.’
Hugh Miller Furniture stocked at Artisan Alchemy Gallery in Birmingham Backgammon Coffee Table - solid walnut inlaid with oak and ash

Japanese influence...

When Hugh saw an advert for the Churchill Fellowship, he thought it may help him develop his interest in Japanese design.
‘I wanted to see what the culture was all about. When I was accepted I was able to put together a research trip. I was expecting to learn about tools and techniques, but it was more of a philosophical experience.’
Hugh’s time in Japan gave him valuable insights into a historic woodworking culture spanning centuries. More than that, he gained an appreciation of Japanese applied arts philosophy.
‘I was able to see how design over there is based on a fundamental philosophy of making. Once that emerged, I was able to make my own interpretation.’
The Three Principles There are three principles underpinning Japanese design: Absence of Noise – removing extraneous detail to get to the central intention of an idea Search for Lightness – a lightness of touch, efficient use of material, veneration of woodland Contribution to Harmony – where design becomes part of a whole, reflecting Japanese society Hugh has incorporated these into his work, and observes:
‘I may look at how the joints holding a person in a chair take centre stage and avoid unnecessary ornamentation… a coffee stirrer will be light and tactile, so subtle that the user may not notice, but the designer will absolutely intend ease of use. ‘To achieve contribution to harmony, a piece will await inspection and reward engagement. I view furniture as a constituent element of a room rather than something ostentatious. ‘There’s a quiet servitude to Japanese design.'
Biography Hugh Miller has produced pieces for Benchmark Furniture, the IceHotel, Swede, and a limited edition gift box for Savoir Beds. Hugh has collaborated with established brands and his inclusion in the Artisan Alchemy range also allows him to reach a wider audience. Heavily influenced by his time researching in Japan as a Winston Churchill Memorial Fellow, Hugh produced a book, Japanese Wood Craftsmanship, and he is a visiting lecturer at Osaka Institute of Technology in Japan, and timber design tutor at Newcastle University School of Architecture. Hugh’s book is available to buy in print for £12, and the full-text can be read here. Hugh Miller Furniture is stocked at our Gallery and his Browse the range online and then visit the Gallery soon to discuss options.

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.