20 Minutes with Deborah Hart

Friday 6 July 2018

Deborah Hart of D A Hart Furniture explores the careful balance between form and function, combining elegance and style without compromising structure or strength. Individually handcrafting each piece of furniture from carefully selected timber, Deborah aims to produce simple, classic furniture that will stand the test of time as well as offering distinctive beauty.

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

Deborah Hart: I'm making a desk and matching cupboard for a home office in maple (Acer campestre), a wardrobe in oak (Quercus spa.) and starting the design of a 'pod' for a poet's installation project.

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

DH: I took the scenic route via theatre stage management and boat fitting. Furniture making ticks all the right boxes for me. It's creative and practical. You use your brains as well as your hands. It's something new every day and there's always something to learn. I enjoy the diversity of the job and there's a lot to be said for standing back at the end of the day and seeing something you are proud to have made.

F&C: What inspires you?

DH: Breaking it down to the fundamentals, I think part of what we do is to make beautiful shapes and they can be found almost everywhere, in the natural and the man-made environment. If you see something you like it's important to work out why you like it and log that away; you never know when it might inform your work. I like a lot of Art Deco pieces for their boldness and simplicity, William Morris's philosophy and James Krenov's use of timber. I'm not much of a fan of Rennie Mackintosh but found Hill House an inspiration. Seeing his attention to every detail and use of light and space was amazing. I'd also recommend looking at Edgar Brandt's metalwork and Edward Steichen and Lee Miller's photography. Not forgetting the wood itself, of course.

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

DH: Oh no, this is one of those weird questions. I'll go for Ani Difranco meets Aretha Franklin; modern indie-folk meets old style R&B.

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

DH: The wide range of styles and the quality of craftsmanship. There doesn't seem to be any overriding fashion going on and I think that's a good thing. Lots of individuality means that, hopefully, there is something out there for every customer and should encourage more people to have furniture made.

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

DH: Easy: Anthony Sibbick. I couldn't afford to train full-time so Tony trained me one day a week while I earned a living. He has taught me all the important things; the techniques, skills and attitude. He taught me the value of having integrity in your work and how to laugh at and then learn from your mistakes. I was blessed the day I met him and greatly value his generosity and friendship.

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

DH: Usually design, but I will change the design to incorporate proper techniques. I don’t see any point in making something beautiful if it’s weak and not fit for purpose in the long run. The challenge is to find a way not to compromise too much in either direction.

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

DH: In my opinion, it's about working in a way that is appropriate for each individual project. It's important to have as many skills and ways of working as you can at your disposal and be able to choose.

F&C: How or where do you exhibit?

DH: I did my first exhibition last year at the Celebration of Craftsmanship in Cheltenham. Making pieces to exhibit is a large time commitment but I enjoyed it and will probably do more in the future.

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

DH: Quite comfortable, although I haven't done it much. There is always a joy in the making.

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

DH: I find it hard to sit and design. I have to pop the requirements into my head and mull it over while working on something else. An idea or two will pop out after a while. Then I sketch it to scale and mess about with it until I'm happy. Any difficult details I draw up full-size to work out any problems. Then I'm straight into cutting wood. The design is never 100% fixed and I'll change little things as I go along if I think it looks better.

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

DH: Both, as well as designer, maker, book-keeper, wood machinist, marketing manager, polisher, tea maker and chief sweeper-upper.

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

DH: A friend of mine describes my job as 'cutting and sticking for grown ups'. Apart from that it's all in the planning stages. I realised early on what a mess you can get yourself in by not doing things in the right order. As I work on my own I also have to plan safe ways of doing things single-handed. Gluing up sometimes requires a friend's help, although I once did a particularly difficult glue-up with the aid of a car jack. It's all about finding your own individual ways of doing things.

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

DH: No, I think there will always be people with a love of the craft who enjoy it enough to suffer the difficulties of making a living. I hope there will always be customers for individually handmade pieces. Unfortunately, for most makers it comes down to the bottom line.

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

DH: Make sure you know what you're getting into. Plan a long game.

F&C: What irritates you about the industry?

DH: The wasted talent. There's a lot of skill and creativity in this country and it would be great if there were enough customers out there for most makers to reach their full potential, but that's wishing for a sort of Utopia that unfortunately doesn't exist. It's the same problem that William Morris was grappling with over 100 years ago. We just have to deal with what we are presented with and do our best with what we have available to us.