As a child John Makepeace loved whittling wood with a pen-knife. Using it as a lever, he broke the blade then sharpened the end. When hammering it, the blade would fold and cut his hand. So, next Christmas he was given a chisel. At eleven, he found himself hugely impressed by the quality of a furniture makers work. After training for a career with the Church the death of his father prompted a change of direction. John Makepeace was awarded an OBE in 1988 for services to furniture design and in 2002 received the American Furniture Society’s Award of Distinction. But even more than those honours, it is his furniture which gives testament to his creativity and craft.
The Low Table with Oysters is a show stopper, Its made from Mulberry Oysters, Bronze and Gold Leaf. It is, as you can see, an object of great beauty. I’m not sure how I would feel about resting a wine bottle or a magazine on it. But that is rare for Makepeace’s furniture, most of it calls out to be used.
His Phoenix Chair, made from holly, elm and oak reflects his love and respect for wood and his understanding of the history and importance of the chair. As he says on his website “The chair, originally a mark of royalty, has become a universal right. With thoughtful design it encourages good posture, comfort and a sense of well-being.” And that’s key to his work, truly understanding and caring about the furniture he creates.
The Mulbery Table is one of a series of large ‘leaf’ tables. Made, of course, from Mulberry and also polished bronze. Just sitting at this table would make you feel special. It is both a thing of beauty and function. Nearly a hundred trees from sustainably managed English woodlands have been sawn and are seasoning in the purpose-built sheds beside John Makepeace’s design studio, so that timber of exceptional character can be selected for each commission.
Can the quality of furniture make a difference to the creativity and decision making of those who use it? I like to think so and, I assume, so do the good people at Boots plc who commissioned this table and chairs made from yew, bog oak, cast aluminium and leather as an informal meeting area for their Directors.
And in case you were thinking that there is anything conservative about John Makepeace and his furniture, this is his Trine Chair, made from Laminated 5000 year-old bog oak and yew, now residing in a Belgian Art Nouveau home.
Clearly inspired by the Oak they are made from, these Sylvan Chairs were made for a circular dining room in an English Hampshire woodland. It is worth considering Makepeace’s comments: “Artists draw constant stimulus from the beauty of the human form; chairs can reflect that. For me, chairs are about people so in a way they ‘animate’ a room when there is nobody there!” He adds “My designs are rooted in a long-standing fascination with our physical and psychological needs, the properties of different timbers and the way technology and individual craftsmanship enable new possibilities.”
“Artists draw constant stimulus from the beauty of the human form; chairs can reflect that. For me, chairs are about people so in a way they ‘animate’ a room when there is nobody there!”
If you are quick, and somewhere close to the English Southern County of Dorset on August 29th, you can visit John Makepiece’s gardens in Beaminster on the last of a series of open days to support the charity, National Garden Scheme.
If you are in the UK at some stage during the year, starting this autumn you can catch a landmark retrospective exhibition of the work of John Makepeace, (scroll down the page) co-ordinated by the Devon Guild of Craftsmen and sponsored by the Arts Council
The show will bring together prominent pieces borrowed from important national and private collections along with new limited edition works by John available for sale.
After its opening at the Devon Guild, the show will go on a national tour to spaces including the Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire, the Crafts Study Centre, Surrey and Somerset House, London.
If you have a client who is willing to invest in something extraordinary that will last for generations, John Makepeace takes commissions.