20 Minutes with John Galvin

Friday 6 July 2018

The Manolo Lounger, featured in F&C 184, has just been honoured with the Outstanding Craftsmanship Award at The Wood Awards. There's not a single 90° angle in the entire piece, and John admits that it's, “Without doubt the most challenging but satisfying piece I have ever attempted to produce.” We wanted to meet the man whose furniture makes our Deputy Editor drool.

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

John Galvin: At the moment I'm working on two private commissions: The first is one of my floor lamps, which was originally launched at the Saatchi Gallery as part of the 'Collect' exhibition in May. The first lamp was made from purpleheart (Peltogyne) wood, but for the commission the client has requested the use of a very unusual wood called jacaranda (Jacaranda copaia). The grain is spectacular; it's part of the rosewood family (Aniba rosaeodora), and the grain is absolutely beautiful.

My second project is the production of a Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) library and corner-seating unit. The library is for a Victorian sunroom in the west end of Glasgow.

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

JG: My mother was very interested in collecting and restoring antiques so I was always around beautiful, well-made pieces of furniture. I loved building from a very young age and my favourite toy was Lego (and still is). I would spend hours and hours up in my room, creating multi-coloured sculptures. Timber is an amazing medium to work with; no two pieces are the same. There are so many different species, and the colours and textures really are endless. Unlike other materials, wood gets better with age and every piece has a story to tell.

F&C: What inspires you?

JG: Art, architecture, music and travel. I tend to find inspiration in the smallest of details. I like to take endless amounts of photographs when I'm out and about. Especially when visiting new places or countries, much to the annoyance of my

fellow travellers!

There has always been a place in my heart for Scandinavian design, and I particularly love the interior set design of the slick American TV show Mad Men, which is set in the 60s.

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

JG: Nina Simone comes to mind. Smoky, sophisticated with a

quirky undertone.

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

JG: I would say my parents. They taught me that hard work reaps rewards and that it's always important to maintain a sense of humour no matter what!

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

JG: I think it's impossible to separate the two. They go hand-in-hand, and are equally important to me.

F&C: Is all your work made to commission or do you produce speculative pieces?

JG: For me it's pretty much 50/50. I like it that way, I like the variety. It's a very interesting process – working towards a client's brief and presenting them with a finished product. In contrast designing and making my own pieces has been immensely rewarding and so exciting.

F&C: Arts and Crafts countryside or urban industry?

JG: Urban industry.

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

JG: I don't believe quality craftsmanship can ever be outdated. I like to blend the old with the new to create well made, well designed pieces with artistic functionality.

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

JG: I like exhibiting at galleries – the anticipation of opening night always excites me, and it's wonderful chatting to so many varied and interesting people. It gives me the opportunity to explain my work, what's behind it, what inspired me and what it's all about. The feedback I get is invaluable, and helps me to develop my work further.

F&C: Are there any elements of your work that you out-source to others?

JG: No, everything is designed, made and finished in-house. It's really important to me that I have full control over every aspect of my work. This way quality control is kept to the highest standard.

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

JG: I start with sketches, a collection of ideas that I develop further. When I'm happy I begin the model-making process, and then this leads on to a half scale mock-up. It's at this point I can really tweak my design and make sure that I'm 100% satisfied with the over-all look of the piece.

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

JG: A furniture artist. I want my clients to own a beautiful piece of furniture that stands out, but is also functional, and tells a story unique to their home. I try to make my client appreciate what it’s like to live with a handcrafted object in which there is a union between maker, object and owner.

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

JG: Absolutely not.

Organisations like Craftscotland and Scottish Furniture Makers have really helped to boost awareness.

Not only of traditional furniture making, but also by showcasing the talents of other craft disciplines.

F&C: What advice would you give to young makers just starting out?

JG: Be 100% committed to your designs, believe in your products, and remember that it's a long and sometimes difficult journey. The most important tools a man has are

his hands.