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Blonde & Noir, Special Edition Floating Benches for 2017

Friday, March 31st, 2017

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2016 was an extraordinary year for Floating Bench and our new collaboration with Sitting Spiritually. The bench and its new partner, the Yakisugi swing seat which form the basis of the Simon Thomas Pirie Contemporary Range had their first outing at RHS Chelsea, with Yakisugi ending up as a feature in the Raymond Blanc hospitality area – Le Jardin Blanc. Meanwhile Floating Bench was shortlisted for the RHS Chelsea Garden Product of the Year award and was part of two RHS Gold Medal winning gardens at the Hampton Court and Tatton Park shows. All this generated lots of magazine, TV, and social media coverage and a healthy order book!

There is little doubt the scorched finish and texture that we are at the forefront of was one of the big hits of last year, so much so that we are seeing it appear on other garden furniture manufacturers stands and within the garden design world more generally. So how have we reacted to this flattery? With the 2017 ‘Noir’ and ‘Blonde’ special edition floating benches…

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The Blonde is finished in natural oak with no scorching at all – pure and simple, exquistitly finished and detailed. In a way we are saying ‘”we’ve done the scorching thing and moved on”.

But that’s not entirely true, because we still love that texture and character that the burnt surface gives us. It’s a black like no other black, somehow deeper and more ephemeral; so we decided to create the ‘Noir’. This completely scorched Floating Bench has real presence, it’s a piece of sculpture as well as humble garden seating. As a statement this is saying “we are taking scorching to its visual and technical limits!” The result is a jaw-dropping piece of refined beauty, but with a real edginess.

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Burning timber to create a scorched surface is relatively easy, but creating that depth of finish, the texture and the stable surface has taken us many years to perfect. Actually it’s far from easy as the harshness of the flame shrinks the timber and creates an unstable brittle surface. We have to work hard though various processes to turn it back into a hard-wearing surface finish, but the end result is worth it.

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Playing the Blonde and Noir special edition benches off one another was fun in the photoshoot. We have always loved exploring what you can do by creating opposites. It’s an approach that we have regularly taken with our furniture over the years. Experience has taught us that a single design made in different timbers can take on very different personalities. Lighter timbers like sycamore or ash tend to produce more delicate, soft and sensitive, almost feminine characteristics; whilst darker timbers, walnuts, or burrs for example tend to demand more attention and make excellent statement pieces. The contrast between the natural mid tone oak and scorched variant on this bench do indeed create two very different beasts which just goes to highlight what you can do with a single product.

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Of course we shouldn’t forget the original two-tone Floating Bench here. It is still likely to be the best seller with that lovely balance between the two extremes of timber, texture and contrast. During the early development of the Floating Bench we did come across a few clients for whom the scorched surface was too stark or contemporary, so these clients were the impetus for the Blonde.

If the client for a Blonde is shying away from the contemporary, then the client drawn to Noir is positively embracing it. It’s a bold statement piece that will hold its own in a highly landscaped garden, or as a foil to some very specific foliage or planting. I can also see Noir as an inside piece, holding its own within a strong architectural interior.

We think these new additions to the Sitting Spiritually ‘Simon Thomas Pirie Contemporary Range’ will make 2017 as exciting as the 2016 launch year, broadening the client base and interest. Floating Bench has been shortlisted for 2 more very high profile awards this year. The first is for a B&LLA (Brand & Lifestyle Licensing Awards) as it now a Sitting Spiritually licensed product for Royal Horticultural Society. It is the RHS that suggested we all entered the bench for this award.

Even more excitingly from a design perspective Floating Bench has been shortlisted for a prestigious Design Guild Mark from the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers. Both these awards will be announced in late April, just in time for RHS Chelsea. Fingers crossed on both hands!

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Both Blonde and Noir Special edition Floating Benches will be on the Sitting Spiritually Ltd of Lyme Regis stand at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 23rd – 27th May 2017 (Stand RHW295).

You might may be able to get a pre-Chelsea sneak peak of the range at the Sitting Spiritually Open Garden Weekend, which takes place at their Lyme Regis HQ on the weekend of 29/30 April. For more information visit the Sitting Spiritually events page here.

The ‘Simon Thomas Pirie Contemporary Range’ of garden furniture is available exclusively through Sitting Spiritually. The images above are all of 2 seater versions of the bench, there is also a generous 3 seat version available in all finishes. For more details and pricing of all Floating Benches and Yakisugi swing seats visit the website by clicking here.

All Images taken by Double Exposure Photographic.

Perhaps the last word on Floating Benches should go to an RHS Gold Medal winning garden designer…

“It’s understated and simple, functional and beautiful. Inspiring.”
Sarah Jarman of Jarman Murphy Garden Design

Shows and Exhibitions 2017

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

As I write this, I am seated at my desk in our so-called office and showroom surrounded by towering piles of kitchen appliances, chunks of solid kitchen cabinets and units and sections of study shelving. A narrow path leads to my chair and looking back along it I can glimpse a sliver of the outside through the glass doors. You are always welcome to visit our ‘showroom’ but just at present, even a pre-emptive telephone call won’t help you to actually see anything – you can barely step inside, never mind make out the shapes, shrouded as they are in protective grey blankets!

All is not lost however as there are several opportunities for you to see our work at various different venues this year:

3rd – 6th May 2017 – ‘Inspired’ British Festival of Silver, The Goldsmiths’ Centre, 42 Britton Street, London EC1M 5AD

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This is the 3rd time we have exhibited in this prestigious show. Part of London Craft Week, ‘Inspired’ presents the work of the very best of British silversmiths, including our friend, Karina Gill, displayed in and on furniture by the country’s leading furniture makers. This year we will be showing a contrasting pair of our drinks cabinets: one in English walnut with burr American black walnut doors, the other in sycamore with burr ash doors. The show is open Wednesday – Friday 10am – 5pm and Saturday 10am – 4pm. More details available here.

23rd – 27th May 2017 – RHS Chelsea Flower Show London Gate, Royal Hospital Road, Royal Hospital Chelsea, London SW3 4SR

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Following the success of the launch of our collaboration with Sitting Spiritually Ltd at RHS Chelsea Flower Show last year, Floating Bench will be returning in a slightly different guise. This year, you will be able to see two new versions of the Floating Bench: Blonde and Noir. As the names suggest, Blonde is completely un-scorched natural oak while Noir is jet-black, entirely scorched oak. They will once again be accompanied by our Yakisugi Swing Seat. Look out for Sitting Spiritually’s stand – RHW295.

1st & 2nd July 2017 – ‘Making Dorset’ Wolfeton Riding House, Wolfeton, Dorchester, DT2 9QN

wolfeton riding house‘Making Dorset’ is an exhibition of fifty of the best 3-D artists and crafts-people based in Dorset and will include the launch of a new book called ‘50 Dorset Makers’. The show is a Dorset Visual Arts initiative and is curated by Professor Simon Olding , Director of the Crafts Study Centre and Simon Barber, Editor of Evolver Magazine. ‘50 Dorset Makers’ will be available to purchase at the venue and from each of the makers taking part.

As we get closer to each event, we will update these details so keep checking back.

If you can’t make it to any of these, then you are welcome to try your luck at the Courtyard Workshop, please though, do telephone first.

New Maker; Bradley

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

BradleyWe are pleased to introduce to the newest member of our team, Bradley Rowland. Brad served his apprenticeship at another furniture making company in North Dorset but, as the boyfriend of our landlord’s daughter, he was keen to find work closer to home – well you can’t get much closer than across the farmyard!!

In fact there is very little reason for Brad to ever leave the farm, with girlfriend, job, home and hobby in one neat package! Brad is a keen motocross biker and spends much of his spare time at Rogers Hill Raceway just up the hill from the workshop. We are always relieved to see Brad in one piece on Monday morning as he is developing into a talented maker and has been a welcome addition to our team.

We are very proud of our support of emerging furniture making talent, some of whom we have introduced to you before. Click here to read about ‘New’ Mike and Tom…

Case Study – The Rickyard Public Seating

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

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Our ‘Case Studies’ are an opportunity to take a more in depth look at projects from a design perspective…

In 2011 I embarked on a collaborative project called ‘Common Places’ with Adam Zombory-Moldovan of ZMMA Architects, to research ideas for public art in Shaftesbury, Dorset. That ended in a rather ignominious heated public debate with an ex Lord Mayor of London, a well-known television archaeologist and an array of characters who played tennis together closing ranks to ‘save’ the town from modern art. Although in the end the ‘Common Places’ project research did not lead to public artworks in Shaftesbury Town centre, the ideas did take physical form not so far away.

We had been approached by Persimmon Homes through the project sponsors, North Dorset District Council and the Dorset Design & Heritage Forum, to look simultaneously at a site on the new East Shaftesbury housing development. This major expansion of the town had been contentious as they often are in rural locations. One of the many conditions of planning permission had been to integrate public art in various open spaces within the development to give the scheme more local character and individuality.

Initially we were asked to look at The Rickyard, a small open green space in the middle of a cul-de-sack of new 3 to 4 bed houses with a footpath running through the middle from corner to corner. This was part of an existing public footpath that connected the town to a network of roads and trackways (some very old) linking to other settlements and features in the landscape. It was partly this enforced juxtaposition of the new houses and the ancient landscape we were interested in exploring, but also use of local materials and the links to Dorset myths, sacred places and sight lines. We were really playing with the idea of sense of place and time.

The Rickyard had been ‘landscaped’ in the way that new developments are planted – rather contrived; but all these developments have to start from something – and it doesnt take long for these new spaces to become imbedded as ‘place’ to the people who live there. So our job was to add some intrigue, meaning, focus and of course, somewhere to sit.

When the project included the wider remit of potential sites in Shaftesbury town centre the plan had been to make links using public art between these old and new communities, highlighting the old trackways into the market town with objects, markers and words. Now as a stand alone site these resonances are more obscure, but nevertheless The Rickyard is still hopefully a place to pause and contemplate old and new, time and place.

In the world where cars transport you from your new home to work, or the supermarket, or a day out with the kids in comfort, arriving at a place is all too easy. The Rickyard is probably best experienced as a surprise encounter on a journey by foot, from the Saxon origins of the market town’s streets, through estates of houses from the post-war building boom, though the 70s low lying bungalows, the 80s red brick, the 90’s brown window frames, then finally into the latest offering from Persimmon Homes: The new ‘mini town’ with a ‘village’ feel and its patches of open public space (at least it has them), and this one has something rather different, even ‘unusual’ in it.

Perhaps what is here has resonances with an even more ancient landscape that is all around but is not always obvious; the hill forts, burial mounds, ditches and features that are prevalent in this part of the world.

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‘The Rickyard’ installation seen from the corners of the cul-de-sac where the public rights of way emerge into the space. The scorched oak uprights serve to mark the way across the space. Our proposals also incorporated a hard pathway through the seating but this element is yet to be completed by Persimmon Homes.

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These public space projects take time to come to fruition. For various reasons 4 years past from the initial ideas to final installation. The completed benches remained at my workshops for 18 months before finally being transported to site in late 2015. Apart from the lack of resolution on the surface of the pathway through the seating and uprights (it’s not mean’t to be grass) The Rickyard is very much as Adam & I envisaged it in the early concepts.

This kind of work is very different to the precision high-end bespoke furniture, kitchens and interiors that we normally design and make. But my first degree was in sculpture, so in many ways this work takes me back to my artistic roots. It is also a bit of an escape from worrying about getting a 1.5mm gap around a door perfect. This is chunky, organic and a bit brutal – split, scorched, bent, twisted and heavy! You have to work with the curves and the material – the oak logs are what they are in terms of size and shape and the design of the whole installation is defined by that. We had a lot of fun making these benches, but it was technically challenging and very hard physical work at times…

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The Rickyard is maturing nicely now from the stark and barren site it started out as. The trees and shrubs have already grown significantly and the new build houses look lived in and loved. As modern developments of its type go, it looks like a nice place to live. I can imagine that when visitors come, the seating and uprights in the middle of the green come up as a topic of conversation. The residents I have spoken to really like their unusual centrepiece. It is part of their ‘landscape’ and their ‘place’ now.

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Textures of natural weathered oak logs against the stark scorched uprights. The benches are tied together with a beautifully engineered and vandal-proof stainless fixings.

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Like other public seating and artworks we have done I really enjoy going back occasionally, seeing it mature and if i’m lucky seeing a bunch of kids playing around it or a family chilling out for a moment on a walk through the development.

Part of the challenge Adam and I both enjoyed with this project was working with a major house builder. It would be fair to say they were engaged in a rather ‘arms length’ way and would probably not have chosen to put public art works on the site if it had not been a condition of planning. Indeed on the other site we worked up proposals for on the development, Mampitts Square, nothing has happened! I suspect the outcome there may be rather ordinary and ‘off the shelf’ in the end. Despite everything though, the Rickyard project got built and we helped create a new ‘common place’ for Shaftesbury where an ex Lord Mayor of London, a TV archaeologist, a couple of tennis players and I could partake in a good chinwag!

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Children defiantly get it! It’s something interesting to climb on or play around.

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If you’d like to talk to Simon about a public art or seating project please get in contact, initial conversations and ideas cost nothing. To view our Tudor Arcade Public Seating case study click here.

To find the Rickyard yourself and explore old and new Shaftesbury click here for the Dorset Explorer map.

Most images in this Case Study were taken by Double Exposure Photographic