For our latest Maker In Focus interview we had the pleasure to chat with Laurent Peacock, an established furniture maker known for his beautifully executed designs. Laurent puts materials at the forefront of his practice and has a flare for combining them in often surprising ways. As Artisan Alchemy is the current proud home to Piper Credenza, Piper Mirror, Piper Side Table, Anta Side Tables, Cloven Candlesticks and Carré Boards, we were excited to learn more about Laurent and his work.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got into furniture design.
'I’ve always been interested in making things, and how things are made. Growing up, my educational background was heavy on maths, art and philosophy which later fused together to direct me into a degree in Industrial Design (in Birmingham no less). At the time, the subject felt like a path to job satisfaction for me but on graduating it instead felt like a route into modelling plastic widgets to be produced by the tens of thousands in some far off factory. So, somewhat disillusioned, I ended up taking a very different, more academic route instead, into research project management and consultancy in London.
After a decade or so, I yearned for a re-injection of creativity and a working life not sitting at a desk in front of a screen. A few part-time short courses in woodworking and furniture making gave me the taste for hands-on designing and making and I enrolled for the one year course at Robinson House Studio with Marc Fish to re-connect with the design world and learn new skills.
Furniture appealed to me because it exists at a very human scale (tactile, interactive, useful, approachable and familiar). I like to think of my work as drawing together elements from the extremes of the same scale though: occupying a space somewhere between jewellery and architecture.'
What is the inspiration behind your designs?
'My design inspiration comes from a wide range of sources. I tend to work mostly on commissions these days, so obviously am guided to varying degrees by my clients. When designing speculative pieces, my inspiration can come from myriad places. Sometimes my starting point is conceptual, for example my Aesculus cabinet design was based around the structure of a conker. Other times I have a particular form in mind, often influenced by shapes existing in the natural world, or I strike upon a particular material or technique that I feel has a place in my work and I design something specifically to showcase that.'
Artisan Alchemy Gallery is lucky enough to display a credenza, mirror and side table from your Piper Collection which features your award-winning surface material handmade with bio-resin and peppercorns. Tell us how this collection came about.
'The peppercorns surprise a lot of people! Originally this was never really intended to become a collection. I’ve always found it satisfying to experiment with techniques and materials. I had been using resin for structural techniques like lamination for a while and when you mix resin up you often end up with some left over. You can either let it go off and throw it away or, if you have an inquisitive mind, you might try pouring it onto something you have lying around, or embedding something in it, perhaps colouring it.
My wife had been asking me to make a spice rack for the kitchen so, in some downtime at the workshop, I played around with incorporating a few different seeds and spices into the resin. Most didn’t work very well; some were too oily, some were too big and obvious whilst others were too fine to give a distinctive pattern. Peppercorns worked the best because they are hard but dry, so sand well, create a semi-random abstract pattern when packed together, but aren’t immediately identifiable in the finished surface.
I like the fact that most people can’t guess what they are when they first see my pieces. The Piper collection later came about from exploring ways to showcase these surfaces with complementary timber tones and simple forms.'
In the age of mass production, why is bespoke handmade furniture important?
'Furniture is ubiquitous, but the vast majority of it is cheap, fashion-driven and made from poor quality materials, designed to have a short lifespan. As a society we need to be consuming less and using things for longer, in every area of our lives, so building and buying well-made furniture that can be used for a lifetime and then passed on is one small way of doing that.
But the environmental angle isn’t the only reason. Our daily lives are ever-increasingly absorbed by the digital, virtual, intangible. So many of the interactions we have, whether that be our contact with other people or when choosing the objects we want in our lives, take place in a remote way, separated by screens, engaging only one of our senses. There’s only so far this can take us though. After all, the world in which we live (unless and until Virtual Reality really kicks off in a big way) is still a physical realm and we still have to interact with real physical objects and these objects can either help to enrich our lives or frustrate and disappoint us.
Bespoke handmade furniture can engage a whole range of our senses and bring real satisfaction that is hard to find in mass factory-produced pieces. Ergonomic interactions, tactile surfaces and textures, pleasing visual forms, the gentle sound of a smooth drawer sliding, the smell of the wood, the wax, (the peppercorns!). I think you get the idea. I don’t recommend people lick my furniture though.'
Do you have any words of advice for aspiring furniture makers?
'It’s not easy, but it can be a very rewarding discipline to practice day in and day out. There are two skillsets (at least) that need to be developed and honed in order to be a successful designer-maker.
The first of these, the hands-on making skills, can be taught and acquired in a range of ways and most people I see entering this world can and have reached really good levels of making with the right teachers.
The second set of skills relate to the more creative design angle. This, I feel, is much harder to learn. It’s far more personal and subjective. So when prospective makers get in touch with me one of the first things I suggest to them is that they start to interrogate their own tastes and opinions about objects. To look at the world around them, whether that be furniture, cars, toys, home appliances, technology, art, etc. and evaluate their own opinions on them. By being critical and challenging themselves to break down what it is that draws them to or puts them off a particular item they can learn something new about themselves. Do this often enough and patterns start to emerge – a picture of what drives their tastes – and ultimately this can begin to form the basis of their own personal aesthetic to develop and refine.'
How do you see your work developing in the future?
'I’ve been fortunate recently to be commissioned to make pieces for private clients which have offered a great degree of design freedom. I found this has naturally led to me making pieces which are sculptural in form, such as my ‘Quill’ console table. This kind of making is something I really enjoy so I hope to be able to produce more work in that vein in the future.'
Describe your personality in 3 words.'Curious, conscientious, detail-oriented.'
Describe your work in 3 words.'Tactile, detailed, organic.'