Saturday, July 11, 2009

David Savage

David Savage, British designer and furniture maker, gave a seminar at the Black & Decker University in Maryland today. B & D hosted the free event, where we attendees gave opinions on prototypes, test drove tools, ate pizza, won giveaway items (I won a 17-piece drill bit set) and heard some engaging presentations.

According to David Savage:
Speed + Skill = Craftsmanship.

He also believes designs should be understated—that details should be discovered, not blatantly obvious.

His is a shop with several craftsmen, some teaching and some being taught, and all making one-of-a-kind projects. If David needs to build a small production run, they construct a prototype and one final piece in the shop and then enlist the help of nearby workshops, with whom David has a close relationship, to make the remaining pieces in the order.

As you might notice in his designs, David likes movement—fluid, lively, rhythmic, "calligraphic" motion. He also uses nature as inspiration, as shown in two of his tables: one that resembles petals on a flower and the other resembling a sunflower, with the chairs representing the petals.

The second photo shows how one of the apprentices shaped a wavy table apron. By using shims as fences for the rounding plane, he was able to control the path of his cuts.

David loves to meet with his clients, preferably in their homes, where he can see where the piece will be used. This way, he ensures that the furniture fits perfectly in its final environment, complements surrounding pieces, and interacts with light sources.

He discovered that clients would rather view his pencil sketches when he presents designs rather than computer-generated ones, which they view as too mechanical. Sketches, they say, represent craftsmanship.

David said that sycamore, ash, cherry, oak (on its way back into popularity), and yew and walnut (both difficult to acquire), are common species used in British-made furniture.

He relies mainly on polished shellac or oil and wax for finishing. However, he also uses a technique called a "scrubbed" finish where hot water, bleach, and a bit of soap are used with a heavy bristle brush to scrub the tannins away from the wood, leaving a pale-colored, lightly-textured surface.

David showed us slides of work from other British furniture designers/makers, including John Makepeace, who he believes is the most influential craftsman in Europe.

It was enlightening to see how things are made "across the pond" and I was delighted to witness a friend from my woodworking club, an insufferable heckler, being put in his place by our speaker. Good on ya, David!

You can view much better photos of David's work on his site. The above shots were taken of the slides he presented, so are not the best quality.


will said...

Cream rises, doesn't it.

His definition of skill is so true. I think it was Toshio Odate who told me, 'anyone can cut a dovetail but a master does it quickly and better.

Mitchell said...

Wow, Kari. Each and every piece here is an amazing.

Could you imagine sitting down at that flower table every day for your morning coffee? Talk about starting each day with a smile.

I would question the staying power of some of the other designs, though. Lines tend to evoke emotions and there is a point where their undulations go from being calming and serene to excited and agitating.

For me, much of David's work crosses that line. While beautiful to behold and technically amazing to witness, there are enough things in life that jar your senses without surrounding yourself with more at home.



Kari Hultman said...

Bill, I had never thought about it until he said it, but it makes perfect sense.

Mitchell, interesting viewpoint! One person's calm might be another person's boring. I prefer old, primitive furniture but others might find it too chunky or even ugly. And who defines beauty and staying power? Must ponder this....

I imagine his clientele is largely comprised of art collectors/appreciators, and people with oodles of money and extravagant or eclectic taste. People who would find Shaker and Mission furniture too ordinary.

Thanks for your comment!

rfrancis said...

Do you really shill for drills?
The work is silly and pretentious and his website and newsletter absurd.

Premodern Bloke said...

This is the stuff that gives studio furniture the bad name that it deserves. Pretentious is an understatement.

The Dovetail Kid said...

Hi Kari,

Thank you for another great post, although I don't agree that Speed + Skill = Craftsmanship.

Let me try to elaborate:

To me craftsmanship is the combination of various skills that together make for an excellent result.

One may cut dovetails by hand and be able to do it fast, but that doesn't mean he's a good craftsman. Does it?

On the other hand, if you master various stills: design, woodwork and finishing (to name a few); then you may indeed be a good craftsman.

A good piece isn't good because it has hand cut dovetails that were all cut in 5 minutes, it's good because it's well designed, well built and well finished which result in something that is pleasing to the eye and evoke some emotion when you look at it.

Take care,

Kari Hultman said...

rfrancis, I don't shill for anyone or anything. I don't sell anything, and in fact, I've turned businesses down that have wanted to advertise here. My blog is just for fun, not for money. I have a WWIA box in the margin because I believe in what it's bringing to the ww community and I want it to be successful and continue. I will write about products I've tried or books I've read that I have found to be worthwhile, but no one has given me a penny to do that. I went to this event because I was interested in hearing the speaker. I did not know that B&D was planning to have giveaway items and in fact, I did not enter my name in their drawing. They pulled our names from a stack of papers that we filled out when we gave our opinions on their prototypes. I post things that I think will be interesting or funny or thought provoking or helpful and I will always welcome others' opinions. You are even welcome to criticize me, but your criticism of me in this case is way off the mark.

Jeff, thanks for your opinion. I'm learning quickly that studio furniture provokes some strong reactions.

Luis, you raise some very good points and David may have meant all those things when he used the term "skill" (design, finishing, joinery, etc.). I suspect he did, but I don't really know for sure. His work however does seem to evoke some emotions!

rgdaniel said...

"He also believes designs should be understated"

He really said that with a straight face? The guy who made that wing chair out of Dick Tracy thinks it's understated?

I personally find most of those pieces very cool and fun, if not entirely practical. But "understated" is not a word I would use...

will said...

Kari, you've hit a nerve - the demarcation line between hobby and art. Not exactly a Mason-Dixon Line, but close.

I recall a series of questions after a lecture - one person wanted to know what kind of chisel I used and other wanted to talk about motivation.

Two worlds. Oil and water.

Kari Hultman said...

Rgdaniel, that's a good point. I was writing notes so furiously, I didn't catch that.

Bill, I've never studied studio or modern furniture, nor discussed it with anyone, so I had no idea how disparate the two worlds are. Obviously I hang with the "chisel" crowd. ; )

Woodbloke said...

Kari - I knew that David was coming over to your neck of the woods and am chuffed that you've had the chance to meet one of the foremost designer-makers on this side of the 'big wet' Whether you like his stuff, is of course, entirely subjective. Personaly, some of his stuff is fabulous...but only some. The tortured and twisted forms that seem to be his trademark do absolutly 'zip' for me and I wouldn't even consider giving them house room, let alone paying both arms and a leg for a piece! In my view, David's work is out a limb and not representative of the mainstream work being produced in the UK. Barnsly and Makepeace (to name two) both produce wonderful furniture which is far more to my liking.
The scrubbed finish you refer to was first documented in Alan Peter's book (another great maker and his book 'Cabinet Making - the Professional Approach' has just been re-published...I have a hardback copy from the '80's. The book comes very highly recommended as well!) It's a really fantastic 'non-finish' for table tops in both soft and hard wood - Rob

Kari Hultman said...

Rob, modern furniture isn't really my cup of tea, but I do respect the engineering and thought that goes into making it. And it's always interesting to listen to people who think outside the box. That scrub finish was news to me--it appeared in the slides to be bleached.

David Barbee said...

Studio furniture isn't for me, but I certainly applaud the woodworking and artistic skill. Studio furniture generally leaves me with either formal and cold, or a comic book feeling. I did get quite a chuckle when quoted him as saying that "designs should be understated." Beautiful, artistic, fluid, whimsy even...but his designs certainly aren't understated. I would love to attend a lecture by him. I think the a creative influence like this would be do great things for my work. Its easy to fall into a pattern with your designs.

David B.

The Dovetail Kid said...

rgdaniel, I'm totally with you!

Understated is not a word I'd use to describe his work, not event when I think about it.

I had to look it up in the dictionary to be sure:

[adj] exhibiting restrained good taste; "the room is pleasant and understated"

Synonyms: in good taste(p), tasteful, unostentatious, unpretentious

A Maloof rocker could be considered understated, the chair on Kari's post is clearly not so.

Kari, David's pieces do raise some emotion and show great craftsmanship but I don't think his million dollar table was finished in a rush... It must have taken a considerable time.

That is why I find it quite strange when speed is added in the craftsmanship equation.

Kari Hultman said...

I'm only surmising, but David might have been comparing his pieces to other studio furniture makers when he used the "understated" phrase. He showed us slides of some other peoples' work which was more elaborate than his.

I do think that some of his pieces, when only viewed in the context of studio furniture, could be considered understated. Like the table that has a "heartbeat" down the center. It's just a flat slab of wood but for that. And the table with the black legs and pearwood top--it's pretty simple except for the one leg that has a ripple effect.

But compared to Shaker or Mission furniture—definitely his work is not understated or simple. It looks playful and artsy in comparison.

Luis, I totally get your meaning about speed and craftsmanship. But I can see where someone like Frank Klausz, who can cut a row of perfect dovetails in 3 minutes, would be considered a higher level craftsman than those who need a half hour to do the same thing. But I do see your point about fine furniture makers taking more time to build and finish a piece to ensure the highest quality they can achieve.

kees said...

Years ago David went bankrupt. So go your own woodworking way and don't bother this fancy stuff.

Although he had some nice articles in fcm in 1997- the magazine of the late Paul Richardson- about handtools.