20 Minutes with Timothy Hawkins

Friday 6 July 2018

Timothy Hawkins of Fine Furniture Ltd is a designer/maker working in both contemporary and traditional styles with a passionate awareness of the material he has spent his life working. He is much admired for the sensitive approach he takes to commissions as well as the innovation displayed in the pieces he creates for exhibition.

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

Timothy Hawkins: An outdoor piece: a free-standing hammock support in oak (Quercus robur), designed to look rather like a Viking long ship; a contemporary interpretation of a Wellington chest in black walnut (Juglans nigra) with yew (Taxus baccata); a large dining table in maple (Acer campestre), yew and glass and two swivel-top breakfast bar stools with pierced backs, in oak.

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

TH: Woodwork runs in the family, my maternal grandfather and great-grandfather were ecclesiastical woodcarvers and I grew up with examples of their work around me and tools to hand.

I began making furniture professionally after leaving art college and started my own business in 1980, working initially from the cellar of my parents' house.

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

TH: The incredible variety of styles and approach by different designer/makers.

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

TH: For me, design comes first. Over the years I have at times designed beyond my technical abilities and have then had to invent or research a way to actually make the design. To always keep the technical limitations of working with wood in the forefront of one's mind is a challenging and fascinating process that will continue for evermore!

F&C: Are we too obsessed with outdated modes of work?

TH: There aren't any outdated modes of work in my view; it's just about what technique is most appropriate for the design in hand and being open about how you've made something.

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

TH: I am lucky to have a decent sized showroom just outside Hereford, a website of my own and a place in the Makers' Eye online gallery. I regularly exhibit at The Celebration of Craftsmanship & Design exhibition and so far this year have exhibited at the NEC, Westonbirt Arboretum and Hereford's Hampton Court Gardens. In November I'll be exhibiting at The Courtyard Centre for the Arts in Hereford.

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

TH: Perfectly comfortable. As a designer/maker of bespoke furniture if someone already has a notion of what they'd like it's my job to turn that vision into a piece with which they'll be happy. It may be possible to create the exact design which a client has in mind, or it might be necessary or desirable to make some amendments in order to give a piece a more pleasing appearance or greater longevity.

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

TH: Ah, the labels of the world, I've struggled with this conundrum for a very long time! I have in the past been nominated for a Turner Prize for various pieces of my work shown at a series of art exhibitions, but have also had work refused by other exhibitions because the pieces concerned have been deemed by some on the panel to be functional objects.

If you're able to define art, then I could answer the question, so good luck with that one! I would call myself an artist-craftsman, as at least some of my work would fit that description.

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

TH: That's up to the world in general – if people decide that what they want is cheap, throw-away items that will only have a comparatively short useful life then we are certainly in trouble.

So many people readily spend several thousand pounds on a second-hand car that will depreciate and be gone a few years later, but baulk at buying themselves something decent in terms of furniture!

If folk choose instead though to invest in high quality, unique pieces that will last for generations and appreciate in value, then we'll be OK.

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

TH: Start your business in 1885! Seriously though, unless you absolutely know that this path is your calling, your raison d'etre, then don' embark upon this as a profession.

Being a professional means it is your living, not simply that you're qualified to do the work. You'll need sawdust for blood, it's unrelenting hard work and you cannot expect to be rich.

F&C: What irritates you about the industry?

TH: Lack of integrity in some instances, designing just for maximum profit using particular materials because they're cheaper than others rather than necessarily being those that would be best suited to a piece.

Designing simply to be able to incorporate a new 'widget' of hardware, rather than because a design has actual merit. The limitations put on some talented designers, either by themselves or others, by feeling that they must use a computer as an aid to their imaginations!