Appointed by Medway Council to work on the £4 million government funded Chatham Placemaking Project to help regenerate the route from Chatham Station to the Waterfront, we commissioned furniture designer maker Andrew Lapthorn to produce a series of benches to create a strong sense of place. The benches were the outcome of a collaboration with the project’s Lead Artist, Chris Tipping, whose base designs and concept of using granite and wood informed Andrew’s detailed designs for the timber elements of six beautifully crafted benches. A Member of the Society of Designer Craftsmen, Andrew Lapthorn, who creates unique designs, predominantly working in wood, from his workshop in the grounds of the Historic Dockyard in Chatham, completed his studies in Furniture, Fine Craftsmanship and Design in 1981 at Rycotewood College, Thame, having spent his early career at sea and working as a shipwright. He runs his own business making bespoke furniture, as well as lecturing part time at the Furniture Craft School, Scotney Castle Estate.
We spoke to Andrew about his creative process.
FK: What is special about working with wood that draws you as a designer?
AL: The multitude of textures, finishes and forms achievable through a wide range of disciplines and techniques using the same basic toolkit. Albeit architectural structures in oak or feathery inlays using fruitwoods, box or holly, once you have an understanding of the material it presents boundless opportunities.
FK: What role does research play in your work, and was this important in the Chatham Placemaking commission?
AL: Certainly, research is most important. It takes you to unexpected places and ultimately, therein lies the design. It defines the pathway of the design process while instinct and intuition is your guide as that pathway divides and subdivides. For me it not only informs the work and gives it meaning, but just as importantly, it is an education.
FK: Does the space within which the design is situated influence the form?
I would suggest it is the opposite. Though each bench is a condensation of a wider space, a memoir if you like, it is the form that influences the space around it. While the sphere of influence is ordinarily within range of the senses it is the intangible presence, the spirit of the piece, which permeates its surroundings, influencing them in incalculable ways.
FK: Thanks, Andrew, for sharing your insight. It has been a joy to work with all the artists on this amazing placemaking project. Collaboration and teamwork is what makes the role of a Public Art Consultant so exciting and satisfying.
For more information about the Chatham Placemaking project, including fascinating films, go to http://www.francisknight.co.uk/public-realm/chatham-placemaking-masterplan
Photographs by Andrew Lapthorn and Richard Gooding