There’s something magical about old wood, and it’s this quality that designers such as Adrian Swinstead are seeking when they search for pieces of old and discarded wood and transform them into things of great beauty.
Swinstead has a stockpile of more than 200 pieces (over 50 trees’ worth) of old wood from all over the country, all of which will eventually be turned into striking pieces of furniture. He has used yew trees that came from Aston Hill in Buckinghamshire which were uprooted by the great storm of 1987, as well as a maple tree from France which he rescued just before it was consigned to a bonfire, and a sycamore retrieved from a raging river (which he turned eventually into a table top). He also uses bog oak formed from wood that was growing up to 8,000 years ago.
He takes unusual and strangely-shaped pieces of wood and designs a unique piece around that singular trunk or plank, which gives his work an organic feel. He’s attracted by “the unusual, signs of rippling or textural beauty which I know will tell a story later on”. He takes great care to season the wood, which can take up to four years, but when it is ready he devises something that taps into its shape and character.
Almost all his pieces are made to special order, and each piece is unique. There are, for instance, weirdly-shaped tabletops, and a cabinet with doors that beautifully play on the grain of the wood. Some large pieces make really interesting doors, a fitting entrance to a grand house or entrance hall.
He makes smaller pieces, too, such as bowls. A bowl of burr oak, made from trees planted by Capability Brown at Houghton Hall in Norfolk (first picture), costs £2,600, while a cabinet made from bog oak and burr oak (second picture) costs £6,000 and a bog oak and glass bench (third picture) is £4,600. It’s worth visiting his studio in Bedfordshire, where all the woods are on display, but in November (9-14) he will be having a special exhibition at The Gallery in Redchurch Street in east London.