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Posts Tagged ‘scorched oak’

Floating Benches in Two RHS Gold-Medal winning Gardens!

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

It’s been a busy summer for the new Sitting Spiritually ‘Simon Thomas Pirie Contemporary Range’ after its launch at the Chelsea Flower Show. The Floating Bench was shortlisted for the RHS Chelsea Garden Product of the Year which gave it a very high profile, and although we didn’t win the public & press reaction was terrific. Needless to say we have been busy making them to fulfil Sitting Spiritually orders ever since.

The new range, and in particular ‘Floating Bench’ has also gone down very well with garden designers; hot on the heels of success at Chelsea Flower Show a pair of Floating Benches featured in the Gold-medal winning CCLA ‘Summer Retreat’ garden at RHS Hampton Court. Designers, Amanda Waring and Laura Arison of Catfoot Garden Design were inspired by the ethos of the Arts and Crafts Movement; the garden embracing its values of simplicity, elegance, style and craftsmanship. The Floating Benches beautifully illustrated the quality of contemporary British design and craftsmanship whilst their ‘barely-there’ appearance allowed the planting to be viewed virtually uninterrupted. CCLA-A-Summer-Retreat__1088x612-04

Catfoot Garden Design’s ‘CCLA Summer Retreat Garden’ which won a Gold-medal at RHS Hampton Court incorporated two 2-seat Floating Benches in the design.

The garden and the benches featured prominently on the BBC TV coverage from Hampton Court with Joe Swift talking about the medal wining garden at some length on and around the benches…

There was hardly time to catch breath until the opening of RHS Tatton Park (from 20th – 24th July), and once again a Floating Bench is in another RHS Gold-medal winning garden! This time it subtley makes its presence felt without dominating the ‘Waiting List’ show garden. Designed by Alison Galer, once a transplant nurse, this uplifting and calm garden has been created for patients who are waiting for a kidney transplant. The Floating Bench provides somewhere for patient and nurse to sit and talk surrounded by the beautiful planting and tranquility. The-Waiting-List-01__1088x612

A single 2-seat Floating Bench at RHS Tatton Park. Florence Garden Design’s ‘Waiting List’ garden was also awarded a Gold-medal by the RHS.

Not sure if the Floating Bench has become a bit of a garden designer’s lucky charm or whether Martin Young of Sitting Spiritually has a sixth sense to just back winning designers. Whatever it is 2016 certainly has been quite a year for the Floating Bench!

The story of how the Simon Thomas Pirie / Sitting Spiritually collaboration came about is featured in a previous feature on this blog. Click to read more. But you can also get a feel for the collaboration in our latest short film – from design, though the making, steam bending and scorching right up to when Martin from Sitting Spiritually delivers the furniture into the clients garden.

For more information about Floating Bench and the Yakisugi Swing Seat please visit the Sitting Spiritually website who sell both products exclusively. Click here…

Dating Games – The Sitting Spiritually ‘Simon Thomas Pirie Contemporary Range’

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

Does internet dating really work? Well every bone in my body tells me it won’t; it’s a world full of odd balls hiding behind in their screens, an affliction of a generation who have forgotten how to interact normally – face to face. But then increasingly I come across happy people who have meet exactly this way, and yes I’ve even been to a wedding of a good friend who met his partner on-line.

It seems the internet and social media are a perfect means of putting like-minded souls together then and this is very much the story of how the collaboration between Sitting Spiritually and Simon Thomas Pirie came about.

“Having been saying to Martin for quite a while that we needed to be working on a more modern range, inspiration had yet to hit us. I’d been social networking with Simon Pirie for some months when I came across his Floating Bench. I was completely blown away by this striking and innovative design and knew instantly that I had found “our man for the job”. Luckily for me and Simon, Martin completely agreed”. Siobhan Lancaster – Sitting Spiritually

I had been aware of Sitting Spiritually and their swing seats for many years, but they were very much on the periphery of my focus as they were entirely emerged in the world of gardens and our work was almost entirely interiors based. That said, I’d always had a desire to make outdoor furniture and felt that some day an opportunity would come along. When it did it came in the form of a piece of dynamic public seating in a semi-covered shopping arcade in Dorchester, Dorset.

STP Public Bench 021 lowThe Tudor Arcade project in Dorchester is a 12 metre long snaking curved seat with single chairs, 3 seater benches and side by side ‘love seats’ as well as areas of open 2 sided seating

We had been approached by a firm of London Architects to design a long 12 metre curving bench which would form the visual centre point of the face-lifted Tudor Arcade, this needed to be a place for people to sit, talk, rest and meet. Of all the projects I have designed it’s probably the one that gives me the most simple pleasure – because I pass it often and see people eating their lunch there, kids pretending it’s a bus and dogs tied to it waiting for their owners to return after disappearing into Waitrose. The Tudor Arcade bench has now become a well-known landmark within the town but it is also the start point for a strand of work that leads directly to the Sitting Spiritually Simon Thomas Pirie Contemporary Range.

It’s purely as a result of this project we ended up designing our stand alone Floating Bench, a piece very much designed for the garden. It used the same contrasting timber colours and the scorching and steam bending techniques we used in Tudor Arcade but in a much purer way. In the very public environment we had compromised on the original idea of the ‘floating’ arm and back, but were able to reinstate this important visual detail for the garden version.

Floating Bench 005 copyThe Floating Bench in scorched and natural oak. Photographed with ‘Isis’ by Simon Gudgeon at Sculpture by the Lakes

At its original launch Floating Bench got lots of attention and was featured in magazines like Wallpaper, House & Garden, Grand Designs, Homes & Gardens and the Garden Design Journal. It was hailed as a ‘design classic of the future’ by the Independent Weekend Magazine and was included as part of Liberty’s ‘Outdoor Living Collection’ in 2013. But it was the reaction it got though social media that really convinced us we had designed something special. I remember one of the many positive reactions we got at the time was from the Sitting Spiritually team.

What I couldn’t realise at the time was the dialogue that was going on behind the scenes at Sitting Spiritually – about wanting a more contemporary swing seat to complement their existing product ranges and to attract a new type of client who were commissioning garden designers to ‘design’ their outdoor environments – very much in the way people have done with interiors for many years. So, in short they remembered the Floating Bench and contacted me – via Twitter at first of course!

Needless to say you can’t build a good working relationship (or design a range of furniture) via Twitter alone and the conversations moved through emails to telephone conversations and eventually led to Martin, Siobhan and the rest of the Sitting Spiritually team and I meeting up to scope out what a Simon Thomas Pirie designed swing seat might look like.

Chelsea 2016In some ways the brief was rather tricky because although they did want something contemporary and striking in the way Floating Bench is, it also had to fit next to their current product range in terms of using similar materials, hardware, delivery and assembly regimes. It was a fine line to walk, especially as this was the first time Sitting Spiritually had asked a designer ‘in’ to design a piece. Previously their more traditional ‘organic’ swing seats had been created as a collaboration between Martin and his daughter Lucy, who is a talented fine artist.

I got told afterwards that Martin asked Siobhan “what happens if I hate it…?” Luckily he didn’t, he loved the designs and we agreed at that stage to proceed to a first full prototype to see what it would look like for real, but also test for stability and comfort. The new swing seat would use that two-tone scorched and natural oak combination again, which was one of the key elements that drew Martin and his team to us in the first place.

My other great wheez for that meeting was to bring a Floating Bench along so they could see it in the flesh. Although it had bubbled away nicely through 2013/14 in terms of press attention, sales had been modest and we realised that we had no profile in the garden furniture world, and that we’d have to work very hard to create one; we were known for our bespoke interior furniture. We decided to ‘float’ the idea past the Sitting Spiritually team of taking on the exclusive rights for the Floating Bench and the reaction was immediate and very clear…

end grain detail low copy“Simon had rather cleverly nipped out whilst I was in my office and when I emerged, there it was, sitting in my hall ….. The Floating Bench. My overriding impression was simply Wow! What a fabulous piece. He’d certainly done the trick!” Martin Young, Sitting Spiritually

It made perfect sense to link the newly named Yakisugi Swing Seat (the act or the art of scorching wood in Japanese) with the Floating Bench and start developing the Simon Thomas Pirie Contemporary Range – to be exclusively available through Sitting Spiritually. The collaboration is very well balanced – it’s a great way for our name to get into this market and for Sitting Spiritually get a range of contemporary products they would not have designed in-house. There is plenty more to come as well, but let’s leave that for another time!

So by Christmas 2015 the whole Sitting Spiritually team were standing in my studio & workshop looking at the fully detailed second Yakisugi Swing Seat prototype. Unlike the first version this was a full pre-production version complete with it’s new A-frame, hanging cables and two-tone scorched and natural oak details. That scorching gives the oak incredible deep texture and a colour which a stain or paint just can’t recreate. Everyone who sees it just wants to run their hand along it, Martin included.

The other big change visually was the use of high tensile stainless wire for the swing supports instead of the chains that been had utilised on all their previous swing seats. This again sets the new Yakisugi swing seat apart but also makes it look more contemporary. It has more in common with the use of cable in modern architecture or marine sailing applications.

Yakisugi side view low copyYakisugi has a much lower back than any of the pieces in the existing Sitting Spiritually ranges and does engender a very different way of sitting, you tend to open your arm along the back rail of the seat which naturally turns you towards your seating companion in a quite subconscious way. As we are talking about the subconscious and furniture, another thing I feel really strong about how the arms feel in hand. There is something about the shape at the end of an armrest that needs to be really considered; the way your hand wraps around it needs to ‘earth’ you as the sitter so we avoided sending the suspending cable up through the middle of the arm detail as is traditional on most swing seats. Our cable is guided around the outside.

Although our focus was on designing something very crisp and modern in appearance I’m also obsessed with comfort, as is Martin. We both strived to create a swing seat that you would want to sit all day in, so the way it looks has not compromised the way it feels.

Visually with its lower back and very clean slats lines (we were very particular about not breaking the line between the scorched slats with any rails) the new swing seat is purposely very horizontal in appearance. It’s designed to echo the landscape and we hope will attract use by garden designers in more contemporary settings and the hard landscaped garden schemes which are so popular in current garden design.

Yakisugi Floating Bench Bugg GardenThe Yakisugi Swing Seat and Floating Bench, both part of Sitting Spiritually’s Simon Thomas Pirie Contemporary Range

The initial response from high-end garden designers has been very encouraging with items from the Simon Thomas Pirie Contemporary Range appearing in show gardens at both RHS Hampton Court and RHS Tatton Park this year.

“It is understated and simple, functional and beautiful. Inspiring.” Sarah Jarman of Jarman Murphy – RHS Gold Medal Winners (Tatton Park)

Of course the big launch will be on the Sitting Spiritually stand at RHS Chelsea this May, that’s when we will get the real sense of how much the public and garden designers really like the new range.

The collaboration continues to go from strength to strength because there is a real mutual respect despite both parties coming from very different furniture directions. It’s a shared vision of the road ahead – one-off striking contemporary swing seats and benches that are very different to anything else on the market.

So is a Floating Bench or Yakisugi swing seat your perfect partner? Probably, you just don’t know it yet. Don’t be as sceptical about new ideas as I was about internet dating; you really just never know what’s around the corner.

The ‘Simon Thomas Pirie Contemporary Range’ is exclusively available through Sitting Spiritually. For further details and prices click here.

The range will be officially launched at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show – 24 to 28 May 2016. You will find Sitting Spiritually and a friendly welcome at Stand RHW 369.

Photo Credits
Images of Tudor Arcade Bench and Floating Bench at Sculpture by the Lakes by Double Exposure Photographic.

All other Images by Maisie Hill Photography.

Around the Workshop – The New Year

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Blimey, it’s been a while since I’ve done one of these! The past 4 months i’ve been talking about little else than the English walnut kitchen that we have just completed near Bath. That’s partly because it was a truly amazing job and partly because we have done or seen little else!

January is never a month to set the world alight and generally it’s a time of year when we make speculative projects, tidy the place up and sort out loose ends. I’m also designing projects and trying to muster up new work. Lots of what we do now has a bearing on the rest of the year. The two things going on in the workshop right now; well we are making a dressing table, a speculative piece aimed very much at trying to get magazine coverage. It’s a ‘pretty’ piece looking to wow a female audience who read those magazines and to a large degree write and edit them. It’s an idea that came out of a discussion with our PR team, in effect they are being our client on this. A very different way of approaching a project!

It is also the female counterpart to the desk we made last year. It shares some of its look with that piece, but that was very male, square and dark – in English walnut. The dressing table is softer, more curvy and in a light bleached ash. I’m still playing around with mirror shape right now. It is a really exciting shape though, looking forward to getting it finished.

Our other thing running through at the moment are the first of the ‘Floating Benches’ bound for Liberty’s in London. We are making a small batch to see how they go in store (from March onwards). This is our first serious adventure into retail, it’s all new and exciting at this stage. We won’t make our fortune, the margins are tight, but it is a great opportunity nevertheless.

So we have been getting the steamer up and running again, as well as gas touch to do oak scorching (both very good things to be doing on a cold January day). We have got these processes down to a fine art now following the Tudor Arcade project where this design theme originated. Click here to watch the Scorch and Steam Video to see how we made Tudor Arcade, we use exactly the same techniques on the ‘Floating Bench’. It is funny looking at that video now, we make it look like really hard work bending the 2 inch oak back rail – turns out the steam pipe was partly blocked so it was much harder than normal. Typical it happens on the day with the film crew in!

This time it all went much more smoothly with a lot less grunting and sweating. It’s a really elegant process (when it goes right) and you’d be surprised just how easy it is to bend a piece of oak 6 inches wide and 2 inches thick.

We have also been playing with our routed logo again. Our counterparts Cameron and Talbot have a small CNC set up ideal for doing intricate work, including lettering which looks really effective in the blackened oak. On Tudor Arcade it was on the outside of the rails, on our garden benches for Liberty it will be also there, but subtley hidden on the inside of the rail. I really like the fact these benches use both modern technology in the form of the CNC’d logo, but also the age old art of steam bending.

Apart from that I’m designing dining tables, side tables, cabinets, a quarter round tray and talking to a number of clients about much larger projects for 2013-14. The quiet start to 2013 won’t last long!

We are in the build up to a couple of shows – Millinery Works ’21st Century Furniture IV’ in Islington is approaching fast in February, then we have open workshops during Purbeck Art Weeks in May and the Dorset Art Fair in June. More details on all these events can be found by clicking here.

Our other news is that sadly our apprentice, Connor Clark-Short is no longer with us. Connor started with us back in August but has had to relocate further West for personal reasons. We wish him the very best. We will be looking for a new apprentice cabinet maker again soon.

“We’re out in the Garden”

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

STP Garden Bench 18-05-12_019
For years I’ve always wanted to make garden /outdoor furniture, now I have finally got round to it. I guess it’s another one of those ‘monkey off the back’ things – like getting public commissions. It turns out it was the Tudor Arcade project that was the catalyst to both.

I bought 3 logs of Dorset oak for Tudor Arcade, and knew if all went well we would be left with enough timber to make some other pieces (that’s never a given using native timber!) I’d planned to design a couple of pieces using the details, finishes and principles we had developed for Tudor and even embrace some of the details I’d not been able to use.

STP Garden Bench 18-05-12_009

So our first two garden pieces are called the ‘Floating’ and ‘Thinking’ benches – made of scorched and natural oak with steam bent elements.

‘Thinking’ is the slightly more challenging piece visually with a seat at each end facing away from one another and open bench in the middle. I can see it on top of a hill somewhere looking out at distant views. Perhaps this is more of a public space piece, rather than something for a private garden. Although for the right kind of garden, who knows… It won’t be easily find it a new home but it may be the piece that gets broader attention.

STP Floating Bench 18-05-12_003

The other piece is called ‘Floating’ bench. It’s the one that will fit in a domestic garden situation. Like ‘Thinking’ is also a direct offspring of Tudor Arcade, it’s just a bit more ‘garden bench’ like and easy on the audience. Everyone is at least looking the same way!

‘Floating Bench’ has had an astonishing reaction, it’s ended up in various lifestyle and design magazines and to top it off it has been selected by world famous retailer Liberty’s of London as part of their outdoor collection, that’s quite an accolade. They clearly recognise it as a piece of iconic design! It’s in store from March 2013.

The key detail to both benches is the floating arm and back detail – hence the name. It’s a detail that the original Tudor Arcade proposals contained but we just didn’t have the confidence that in the public realm it would be robust enough. So I needed to do these benches just to get that purity of design out of my system. I love the fact they make people do a double-take. Emily who works for Watershed PR described them as ‘Esheresque’ (after the artist Esher who did those mind bending architectural drawings) which I thought was a lovely way of describing them.

STP Garden Bench 18-05-12_017STP Garden Bench 18-05-12_005

These shots were taken by the guys at Double Exposure Photographic on site at Sculpture by the Lakes, the gardens owned by Sculptor Simon Gudgeon. A great location to get a sense of landscape and drama. Just so happens I’m off to watch Stacey Kent play there next week as part of a 3 day Sculpture by the Lakes Jazz Weekend. Can’t wait. We already have the prototype Tudor Arcade bench on site there.

I’m hoping garden designers will also see the potential in these pieces and bespoke designs related to them. The possibilities seem endless – from single chairs to curved pieces round trees to… well give me a call!

‘Thinking’ and ‘Floating’ are both priced at £2950 including VAT in natural and scorched oak. To see the steam bending and scorching processes that go into the making of these benches watch this ‘Scorch and Steam’ video.