Kevin Gauld is a furniture maker based on the Scottish islands of Orkney, making traditional and contemporary furniture including the historic Orkney chair. Unique to the Orkney islands, the chair is a classic example of product design responding to the its local surroundings.
Having refined the technique of Orkney chair making, Kevin Gauld now runs his own workshop, collaborating with designer Gareth Neal on the ‘Brodgar Series’, an exclusive and celebrated modern interpretation of the Orkney chair.
Kevin Gauld is a furniture maker based on the Scottish islands of Orkney, making traditional and contemporary furniture including the historic Orkney chair. Unique to the Orkney islands, the chair is a classic example of product design responding to its local surroundings. Having refined the technique of Orkney chair making, Kevin Gauld now runs his own workshop, collaborating with designer Gareth Neal on the Brodgar Series, an exclusive and celebrated modern interpretation of the Orkney chair.
Coming from a family of Scottish woodworkers, heritage and provenance are key to Kevin’s furniture. He uses only the best quality materials, growing his own oats on his family farm (just as early chair makers on the island did) to create the woven straw backs on his own Orkney Chairs. Kevin served a very traditional apprenticeship to learn these skills, but is not a strict traditionalist. He believes that craft should not stand still. It's this approach, of adapting and developing for the times that we live in, which has ensured his place in the contemporary craft world.
1. What motivates you to make?
I take great comfort knowing that my work is appreciated by those who purchase it, and I enjoy the special relationship between maker and buyer. I love that my work forms part of people’s everyday lives. Knowing that I have made something that will be loved, cared for, and passed on, from generation to generation is rewarding in a way that you would not find from making something that is mass produced. Being creative and making something that has never been made before also motivates me. I have the need to be creative and I set myself challenges that further develop my skills and outlook towards my work. Knowing that the materials I use are sustainable also motivates me, I know that the work I am producing does not have a detrimental impact on our planet, and it will remain long after I am gone.
2. What and/or who are you most inspired or influenced by?
I have always been drawn towards traditional crafts and pieces of vernacular furniture made in Orkney. I lived in Orkney for 18 years before I left the islands for the first time, so when I started as a maker, I had not been influenced by anything outside my island home. Using local materials is personally very important, it gives me a greater connection to my work. The materials I use have been used for furniture making in Orkney for generations. My work can always be linked to my island home, both through design and materials.
3. What is your unique approach to your craft, and how have you honed your skills?
Making hand stitched, straw backed, chairs is a very unique craft that has developed in Orkney due to its location and the limited availability of materials. The design and making of the earliest chairs was purely functional, but as well as this, they are chairs of amazing beauty. Just as early chair makers did, I grow and harvest the oat straw that I use for my chair backs and stitch them in the same way that has been used for generations. Although I served a very traditional apprenticeship to learn these skills, I am not a strict traditionalist in my approach to my work, as I believe that craft should not stand still. It’s OK to evolve and develop for the times that we now live in.
4. What is your defining or proudest moment as a maker so far?
I’m really proud of everything that I have achieved with my business. I never set out with any big ambitions, other than to always do the best that I can and be happy in my work. The growth of my business has felt like a really organic process. All I have ever done is go to my studio every day and do what I love. Some amazing opportunities have come along that I feel really lucky to have been part of, however, as Mark Henderson (Chairman of The New Craftsmen) once told me, “you make your own luck”. Highlights include two royal visits to my studio; exhibiting my work in London, Japan and France; winning a Balvenie Artisan Award for starting a business in a traditional craft; being made a Design Champion of the V&A Dundee and taking part in events leading up to the opening; and last, but by no means least, having the Brodgar Chair acquisitioned by the V&A in London!
5. What is your dream project?
Having enough work to sustain me as a full time maker is a dream project! I spend every day doing what I love, what more could I possibly need?
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