Dovetailors’ creative director, furniture designer and engineer David Wilson took some time out of his busy schedule to share his inspiration and experience in this Q&A interview.
How important is your engineering background to your role as creative director?
Being an engineer is important in the implementation of design. My engineering background therefore makes it possible for me to create realisable designs. That knowledge influences how boundaries can be pushed and “forces” reality checks.
Having an understanding of engineering makes my designs – even the most complex ones –achievable because I approach it from a problem-solving perspective. Take our Paschal Candle project for Mirfield Monastery as an example. This was a seemingly impossible challenge. Standing 2.5 metres high and comprising 45 different complex components, it was like a giant jigsaw puzzle. By breaking the task down into small blocks and structuring the assembly it became an achievable project with amazing result.
Do you have a favourite stage in the design journey?
I find arriving at a pleasing design really difficult. If, after the initial design, there is something there that I really like and that the customer is happy with, I can start to strip it down to make it work. This process involves making it achievable and accurate, so that it can actually be made by our master craftsmen in the workshop. When I have done that, I know I have something that is pleasing to look at and can be made exactly as it needs to be to function well.
Looking back on all the bespoke projects you have worked on, is there one that stands out?
The altar we made for Wakefield Cathedral is one of the highlights of my career. Every part of this project was made independently at a time when we didn’t have a CNC machine in-house. We used a lot of templates and jigs. Then each piece was brought together, which meant that everything had to be really accurate. It was hard work but incredibly satisfying and everything came together perfectly. Of course, the meaning of the piece and the fact that it is going to be around for a long time made it particularly special and it was a huge privilege to have been invited to design and make it and to work with such an inspirational team.
If you hadn’t been a furniture designer what would you have been?
I have a PhD in engineering so I would definitely have been an engineer of some kind and I would be using my skills creatively, because that’s who I am and what I enjoy.
Dovetailors works with a lot of entrepreneurial businesses to support prototyping and small batch production. How important is this area of the business?
It is a very important part of our business. This is where we do a lot of learning, pushing the boundaries, exploring and experimenting in technologies both in design and making. We are developing and making high quality bespoke prototype which can be replicated and reproduced at high volume. The work is challenging, there is a lot of learning and changes we need to adapt to. It is also incredibly satisfying to work with up and coming businesses and individuals to help them bring their ideas to life and share some of our own knowledge and experience.
Is there a design era or period in the history that particularly inspires you?
Primarily the Regency and Art Deco era for the flamboyancy and exploration in design – and the feeling that anything is possible.
Latterly I have really come to appreciate mid-century modern for its restraint, being the “new” modern.
How would you describe your style?
My style is geometric. I like to play around with geometry, maths, take things away until you can no longer get a coherent design
Dovetailors has developed something of a specialism for church furniture. What is the appeal of this type of work?
It is some of the highest quality work we do. It will be seen by a lot of people and will last a long time. It is superlative work with a lot of constraints: the design has to last a long time and yet be relevant now. Something that is in style now may not be later so we have to focus on longevity and elegance. They are very challenging projects but rewarding and creative.
Are there any designers that excite you at the moment?
I really like working with the very talented designers from naughtone, who we work with regularly, as well as the smaller designers whose work we help to develop. They are full of creativity and fresh ideas. It is really exciting to be part of their journey.
I remain influenced by Charles Rennie MacIntosh and the Scandinavian designers such as Arne Jacobsen and Mies van Der Rohe.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to embark on a bespoke furniture project for their home?
Focus on functionality, what do you want that piece to do? We design primarily around functionality. Then think about what pleases you, the styles you like and also think about practical things like whether you’d like the piece fitted or freestanding so that you can take it away if you move.
Above all be brave, be yourself. For a bespoke piece to be value for money, it must be created outside of what is easily available.
“Crazy” designs, ideas are perfect!
What phrase would you use to describe the essence of Dovetailors?
Really well thought out.