20 Minutes with Christine Layton

Friday 6 July 2018

Christine Layton decided to move into furniture making after being made redundant from her 30-year office-based career and has created an impressive catalogue of work in less than four years. After training with John Lloyd, she has become a bespoke furniture maker and hasn't looked back since.

F&C: What are you working on at the moment?

Christine Layton: I'm making a circular table top, in sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum), with marquetry on the top and a shaped apron with beading around the edge. This is a smaller version of one I made earlier in the year for the same client. My client has moved and found that her existing oval dining and side tables are too big for her new dining room, hence I am only making the table tops as she already has pedestals on which to stand them. Alas, I am not doing the marquetry myself; I have commissioned Heritage Inlay Design Ltd in Brighton to make a lay-on which I will veneer to the top.

F&C: What's the tool you can't do without?

CL: I don't have a workshop bursting with tools and machinery. Having only been a woodworker for a little less than four years, I haven't acquired the vast array of tools that others seem to have. However, this tool would probably have to be my bandsaw, a Hammer N4400. I don't have room for a tablesaw, so my bandsaw is used more than it might otherwise be.

F&C: What's the last piece of equipment you bought?

CL: A second-hand Festool Kapex KS 120 sliding compound mitre saw.

F&C: Why did you become a furniture maker?

CL: I was made redundant from my office job of 30 years in September 2009. I could have gone to work for another company doing a similar job, but for years I had had a yen to be a cabinetmaker. I have no idea why. Indeed, until I started my training I had never even picked up a plane or a chisel. I signed up for a 36-week course with John Lloyd. To begin with I felt like a fish out of water, but I discovered that I loved furniture making as much as I had thought I would and I seem to have an aptitude for it.

F&C: What inspires you?

CL: At this stage in my career just being able to make beautiful pieces of furniture is enough to inspire me, although I also adore beautiful figuring in wood.

F&C: If your furniture were music, what kind of music would it be?

CL: Something classical and familiar. Perhaps Rule Britannia – very traditional, but with no surprises.

F&C: What do you admire in the craft at the moment?

CL: I admire the wonderfully imaginative and unique pieces that are being created by some makers. Pieces that are both innovative and practical – I'm not keen on, and am slightly intimidated by – the ones that should be consigned to an art gallery! Some pieces are spectacular and require a very high level of technical ability in order to produce them. I would dearly love to have the opportunity of learning some of the skills illustrated by these pieces, but as I work almost entirely on my own, I'm unlikely to be able to.

F&C: Who has been your greatest mentor/role model?

CL: That's got to be John Lloyd. He's taught me everything I know and he still gets pestered for help when I am about to start on a new project that requires me to do something I've not done before. I recently joined the Southern Fellowship of Woodworkers where I met Francis Hallowes. He has become a very good friend and mentor.

F&C: What comes first, design or technique?

CL: Always design. One of the things I love about my new career is trying to figure out how on earth to do something required to make a piece of furniture. I hadn't realised that making furniture would require so much lateral thinking. I really enjoy the challenge of learning a new process or technique so I often take on projects that stretch me and give me a few sleepless nights!

F&C: Are we too obsessed with outdated modes of work?

CL: I'm sure that some people think that is the case, but I love the old-fashioned methods. It is a great joy to me to be able to use tools that have hardly changed for hundreds of years. I always feel I'm cheating when I use a modern piece of machinery to do something that I could do by hand. Having said this, I think that there is a need for both modern and old-fashioned methods of working.

F&C: How or where do you exhibit your work?

CL: I have a website showing images of my work. I haven't exhibited any of my work yet because everything I have made so far has been commissioned and has gone straight to the client. I anticipate that I will soon have to find somewhere to show and sell my work, as I don't have much commission work in the pipeline. I don't know where I can exhibit it, so any advice would be very welcome.

F&C: How comfortable are you with working to someone else's design?

CL: To be honest, I haven't done so yet, but I don't think I would have any problem working to someone else's design, largely because I'm not as creative myself as I would like to be. If it meant I could produce really unusual pieces, and learn some new techniques, I'd be very happy to do it.

F&C: What's your creative process like?

CL: As I have so far only made fairly traditional bespoke furniture for private clients, it normally starts with a visit to them to see where the piece will go and to discuss with them what they want and what they intend to use the piece of furniture for. Once at home I may look at images of similar types of furniture to see if there is anything I could incorporate into the piece which might enhance it. I then draw my design and revisit my client to discuss the design in detail.

F&C: Do you consider yourself an artist or a craftsman?

CL: I'm a craftsman/woman/person – take your pick! I have always wanted to be artistic and I envy people who are. I don't think I have an artistic bone in my body. I think that making my furniture is the nearest I could

ever get to being an artist.

F&C: What's the practical process you undergo when moving through the stages of a project?

CL: Having drawn the piece of furniture in detail by hand as part of the design process, I have normally given a good deal of thought to the process of making it at that stage. I find that most of the process is intuitive. Having said that, a great deal of the planning takes place in the small hours of the morning when I wake up thinking about what I need to do next.

F&C: Do you think furniture making is in danger of disappearing?

CL: I don't think so. There were a lot of people keen to do John Lloyd's course so I think it has a good future. There also seems to be a movement back towards having unusual, craftsman-made pieces, which should encourage more people into the industry.

F&C: What advice would you give to someone starting out?

CL: I don't think I've been in this industry long enough to give anyone advice. Ask me again in five years' time!

F&C: What irritates you about the industry?

CL: Nothing! I think I'm still in the honeymoon period.