Meet The Maker: Will Elworthy
Will used to work in TV. Now, he works with wood. Crafting unique, tactile items, Will turns wood like a marble artist, and builds beautiful pieces of bespoke furniture that we here at EJ are absolutely besotted with. So, we hitched a ride down to his workshop and got chatting to him over a brew
Beth: Take me back to the beginning, when did your interest in woodworking and furniture making begin?
Will: Well, I actually went to film school, and had a job in TV production, working on those comedy panel shows. And as much as I was enjoying that, I really wanted to do something a little more practical in my spare time, so I started an evening course in carpentry. Then, I fell in love with it. So, I looked into a local college in East London that was running a furniture making course, enrolled, quit my job in TV and switched over to making furniture full time.
Beth: So you could say it went from a hobby to a calling?
Will: Yeah, it’s strange. I just wanted to make something a bit more tangible. TV was great but I wanted to do something creative that you could stand on, sit on, or have your dinner on at the end of the day, rather than some nebulous thing where your ideas are pulled apart and amalgamated with other things. It’s the tangible nature of it, how with just a pile of wood you can make something. It’s produced by your hand, by yourself, in a space of time.
Beth: Do you remember what the first thing you made was?
Will: I made some stuff on the evening course – these sort of crude and quite naive pieces. But when I was in college I really started to have a consideration for design. The first thing I made was a coffee table – which would take two people to move, it was built like a tank.
Beth: You have a very crisp, distinct style – and it’s quite unique in terms of the handcrafted nature of it all. What is it that guides your style?
Will: I think with woodwork there’s always a temptation to put loads of flourishes on it, but I always like to keep things simple. There’s this quote, I think it was Chanel that said, “Before you go out, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” That’s what I keep in mind when I’m designing, I never want to over-do it. I try to concentrate on having a simple silhouette, focusing on the function of the piece. I find that the biggest part of designing is having that restraint.
Beth: How does your journey of design, production, and then finished product go?
Will: With the bespoke work, they’re all different. Sometimes, someone will come to me and say ‘I need a table’, but they say they don’t know what they’d like, and I sort of have freedom to go and cook it up myself and then I get to go back to the client and go ‘how’s this?’ Other times, clients will come in with much more of an idea of what they want, sometimes to the point of granule of detail. You create a relationship with them, and you work it out. So, with bespoke works, it’s often a case of they’ll come to you, you get a read of them – particular place, do they want something that’s large, imposing, strong? Or something that’s a bit more playful, lighter? This room can take that design, or no, it can’t. There are a myriad of factors when you’re designing for someone. As I said, it’s not a one fits all approach, you’re often taking many things into account
Beth: When you’ve made a product and it gets delivered to your client, how does it make you feel to see people putting it in their homes, sending you pictures, seeing something that you’ve created – one of a kind – actually in their homes?
Will: I think it’s great! I think it is – it’s a lovely feeling when someone’s got something. The thing that you forget dealing with wood every day, is how tactile it can be. Often, I’ll forget that I’ve made something for someone and they’ll get back in contact and tell me that they love the table and use it every day. I like that I’ve created a useful thing. As much as it is to create something that’s just appreciated for its beauty, I think it’s just as fulfilling and just as much of a noble endeavour to make something that’s beautiful and used.
Beth: It kind of nicely circles back to what we were talking about in the beginning, that sort of feeling of making something tangible. You could make a table that will last for pretty much a child’s whole entire life, until they’re an adult and in their own house, and they might end up with that table passed from their parents.
Will: Yeah, exactly. I’ve definitely sold bits of furniture to people that are going to outlive the client. I mean, it’s nice to think that they’ll be around after I’ve gone.
Beth: Have you found that working with wood has changed or altered your relationship with nature and the natural world?
Will: I don’t know if it’s me just slightly getting old and stuff, but I think before, I never really gave it much thought. Now, I do. I have a huge appreciation for trees. It’s definitely something that I think about. More, it’s just my appreciation for timber. Something growing from a tree, spending its life being a tree, collecting carbon, producing oxygen, supporting life, supporting the ecosystem, and then when it dies, and you plant another tree, it’ll then be produced to make something that’s non-toxic, that’s completely – it’s an infinite source of materials that we can then build out of. That furniture can also be mended and fixed. When it does get disposed of, it’s not a hazardous thing. Wood is a wonderful material. You can build bridges out of wood, you can build buildings out of wood, you can get species of wood that are incredibly bendy, you can get species of wood that don’t rot and sink in water – they used to build bearings for submarines out of a particularly dense kind of wood called lignum. You know, that’s what I’m fascinated by. These are just trees that everyone walks past and doesn’t give two thoughts about.
Word By: Beth Bennett
Photography By: Will Elworthy