Oli & Josh of Forge Creative make custom wooden furniture
As the pandemic continues to keep us all locked in our homes and socially distanced from our friends and family, it is also giving us plenty of time for reflection. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the kind of world I want to live in when the situation eases up. We don’t have control over the outcome obviously and for a massive shift to occur in the way we live, it would require the majority of the nation to get on board. But we can control any changes that we make to our own lives.
One thing I have realised is the importance of the small independent businesses and how vital it is to their survival that we support them. Now more than ever. Another thing that I’ve realised is that if we want to help the planet continue to heal after this is all over, we really need to make more conscious purchasing decisions rather than opting for the quickest and cheapest option.
Mass-produced, low-quality goods that are churned out cheaply by huge multi-national companies with no regard for environmental impact should not be the norm. I’ve written before about the circular economy and how we need to be more mindful of the goods we are buying, the manufacturing processes used to create them and what happens to those products at the end of their lifecycle.
This pandemic has only served to cement my view that we need to change our purchasing habits and create the shift ourselves with our wallets. We need to buy well-crafted, environmentally friendly products that are built to last. They may cost more, but it’s a better investment for all involved.
So with this in mind, I wanted to share an interview I did recently with a fantastic independent company that handcrafts the most beautiful and unique custom wooden furniture and home accessories. Meet Josh and Oli of Forge Creative.
Josh Kennard and Oliver Milne, co-founders of Forge Creative and designer-makers of custom wooden furniture and home accessories.
Can you please tell us about your background and how you met and ended up working together?
We have been friends for ages and pretty much grew up together. We actually met at a church youth group and quickly became friends due to our shared interest in skateboarding and heavy rock music. We went our separate ways for a while in terms of work (or so it felt at the time). Years later we would come to work together after chatting through some ideas at the pub.
When did you first discover your love of woodwork?
Josh – I completely fell into this! I know now that this is what I was made to do but up until I left sixth form college I wanted to go down a science route. It wasn’t until I completely flunked those years at college that I had to rethink a few things. Out of a kind of desperation I went to try a carpentry and joinery course at Chichester college and really got on with it, after a year of that, I must have caught the attention of one of the furniture making tutors as they encouraged me to give that course a go. I studied furniture making for three years there and very quickly fell in love with the craft. It’s strange that something that came so naturally to me and was so deeply rooted in me had never seemed like a viable option before that.
Oli – I’ve always been interested in making things and being creative. It’s something that is deep within me but like many creative people, I didn’t know exactly how I was meant to use this in my life. I studied 3D design at college and then communication design at uni which landed me a job as a graphic designer. After doing this for a while, it reached a point where I wasn’t really getting to be creative. At first, I thought I should find another graphic design job at a more exciting studio but then I thought what if there’s something else I could be doing.
At this point in time, Josh was in a similar place in his career. He wanted to continue making furniture but wanted to be working for himself and making pieces of his own design. We met up and over a pint and after a bit of a chat, the seed of Forge Creative was planted.
You started the business back in 2013. How has it changed and developed in that time?
Back in 2013, we established the business but it still had a long way to go. Building a business from scratch is really difficult and we didn’t really bring any money in at the start. At first, we were actually making regular payments into the business to be able to buy tools. We had to continue working at other jobs but managed to negotiate the gradual reduction of this work to increase the time we were able to put into Forge Creative.
Since then the business has grown, building our following, our portfolio of commissioned pieces and our collection of hand-made homeware products that we sell online. Of these products, our little turned wooden Tree ornaments have been very popular, and these have become a big part of what we do. The success of the Trees has really allowed us to grow as a business. They are our ‘bread and butter’, and it meant that we were able to take on an employee to help with the workload.
Trees by Forge Creative are hand-turned on a lathe and made from a wide variety of wood.
What can you tell us about your workshop in Sussex and the team that works there?
Our workshop is located in Halnaker, which is a tiny village not many people have heard of, just outside Chichester. The workshops are situated in a valley and we are sandwiched in between horse paddocks and forest. We really feel very blessed with where we have ended up. Our space is within a bigger unit shared with mechanics and other furniture makers. We have a great little community where we help each other with projects and spend our lunchtimes together.
Our Forge Creative Team consists of Josh, myself and Brandi (our chief Tree maker) and that’s it. I think a lot of the time people don’t realise how small our operation is. If you buy one of our products, it will have been hand-made by one of us. If you commission a piece of custom wooden furniture Josh and/or I will handle that project from start to finish. Quotes, designs, manufacture, and delivery.
Black Matter Coffee Table has some flat areas for mugs and a beautiful sculptural section in the centre.
You design and craft custom wooden furniture for your clients based on their brief. Can you tell us a little more about that process?
We work with all sorts of people. Most of our work is domestic but we have commercial clients too. Usually, clients come to us with an idea of what they want (“dining table in oak” or “sideboard to house my record collection. My budget is…”) but they want some of our design input. We usually come up with two or three different design ideas to choose between. Working from their initial request, our goal is to reach a design that they are completely happy with and fits their budget. We love this part, Josh and I usually have creative energy brewing and ideas floating around so it’s great when we get the opportunity to share some of our concepts for custom wooden furniture with a client.
Made from sycamore and walnut, the Dot table features legs that act as ‘through tenons’ which create contrasting dots on the tabletop.
You also create your own speculative pieces from your own designs. Can you tell us about those pieces? Where do you get your inspiration from?
Josh – Speculative pieces are always my favourite to make, it feels quite self-indulgent to spend time making a piece with no guarantee of a sale but it’s also so important for us as individuals and as a business to put our sense of style into these pieces. They also add to our portfolio and act as investments for our business, they give our clients an understanding of our style, direction, and quality.
I’m always fascinated by where inspiration comes from but I think it’s just everywhere. We’re always looking to nature as that seems to be an unending source. I have a collection of unusual, sculptural off-cuts from past projects that are regularly giving me inspiration and also at the moment just looking how we can be part of 21st-century design and staying current. There’s a mind broth of all this inspiration floating in my head which slowly gets formed into new ideas.
Oli – Just like Josh, I love working on speculative pieces, coming up with your own original idea and putting it together exactly as you have envisioned it. However, we try not to put too much time and resources into speculative pieces when we have paying commissioned projects to work on.
We have been very fortunate that we have had plenty of work coming in and that the projects we have worked on have by no means been dull, but, with commissioned work, you’re still working within the constraints of the client’s vision. This can slightly dilute our style and leave us with this bottled up reserve of additional creativity that wants to be put to use. So after a long stint of commissioned works we decided to treat ourselves and our portfolio to a few new speculative pieces.
The Bot bedside tables are made from solid oak with pippy oak drawer fronts and have been designed to have a mid-century/modern look.
Can you take us through your design process from start to finish? And also tell us about the materials that you use in your designs?
I don’t think our design process is the same every time. Yes, with clients there is a bit of a format but when coming to a design idea independently of a brief the inspiration/starting point could come from different places. It could be thinking about a new shape or form and how that could be applied to a piece of furniture. Similarly, it could be something like a wood texture that we think, “that would look great as cabinet doors”.
We also draw a lot of inspiration from pieces of wood. We’ll see a slab and think “that will be a great coffee table” and as we continue to look at that slab and think about it more, we develop a vision of how the legs should be designed so that they work with the character of the slab.
We are very passionate about woodwork and this is our main focus but we also don’t want to be fenced in and feel like we can only use timber. We experiment with other materials including metal, stone, glass and composites, giving us the option to include these in our work.
Piste is a modernist coffee table made from Maple that is reminiscent of the groomed slopes of the Alps.
What is your favourite part of the design and making process? Why?
Oli – It’s difficult to pick a favourite part of what we do. It’s a great feeling when the loose ideas that have been bouncing round in your head come together and you actually picture how that piece of custom wooden furniture will look. It’s also amazing when you finally complete a piece and can step back after all that hard work and see it for real.
In between these two events, is another really nice little moment when you have got back from the timber yard and you put a rough piece of wood through the planer-thicknesser and see the cleaned up surface of wood come out the other side. Beautiful timber is at the heart of what we do so this always feels like a significant moment.
Josh – I think for me it would have to be the initial moments when I land on a new design idea and the process of developing that idea in my head, then getting into the workshop and making it for the first time. When I have an idea that I’m excited about, it’s like an itch and until I have it made and physically in front of me it won’t go away.
Some of your more recent work is a lot more modern and sculptural. Can you tell us about this new direction? Who are these pieces aimed at?
We’ve always had an interest in sculpture and simple forms but until now had always channeled this into our smaller homewares. We had some time at the start of the year to develop our portfolio and it just seemed like the perfect time to explore a new direction, so we got hold of a big batch of timber and just allowed ourselves to get creative with it.
We never really hold onto future plans too tightly so we just kind of go with the flow and make what interests us at the time. It’s certainly the direction that we’d like to continue on as they were fun pieces to make and the sculptural elements make them an incredibly satisfying mix of furniture and art.
I think as people become more interested in having art and handmade items in their spaces they will come to appreciate these more modern takes on furniture. We want to show people there is a lot more we can do if given the chance. Furniture doesn’t necessarily have to look how they would expect.
The Cousins table is constructed from American Maple and English Sycamore and brings functional art into your home.
What is your favourite piece that you’ve made and can you tell us why?
Josh – For me it would be the Cousins dining table. It sums up what we are trying to achieve at the moment and it’s a playful, sculptural piece which I loved making. It was complex enough to challenge me during the construction but also the finished piece is visually clean, minimal and hopefully pretty original.
Oli – I made this keepsake/jewellery box from walnut and maple and on the outside it has these two different satisfying carved textures. I named it Corrosion as the inspiration came from corroded coastal rocks and I’m just really pleased with the way it came out.
Corrosion is a hand-crafted walnut and maple keepsake box with carved exterior textures.
Is there anything you haven’t worked on yet that you would love to design and make?
Our workshop is located nearby the Goodwood sculpture park. It’s always been a bit of a dream of ours to create a big spectacular sculpture to be displayed in this outdoor exhibition. Aside from that we would love to continue to develop our style and portfolio. Having worked on a very plush custom ping pong table a year ago, we’ve wanted to create a range of luxury games too, starting with a shuffleboard, so that’s always on the cards.
What can we expect to see from Forge Creative in the future? Any exciting projects or developments you can tell us about?
What we have done recently is a good example of the direction we are headed. We are really excited to see what comes next. We don’t have all our next pieces planned out yet, but with each new piece we make, there is a bit more of this modern, minimal style spilling out. We aim to have a more extensive range of products in the future, functional and beautiful items for every room in the house and beyond.
Play is a minimal statement coffee table inspired by simple wooden building blocks.
I honestly love hearing the stories of designer-makers and how they develop and craft their products. I hope that as we all reflect on the current situation, we pledge to invest in more pieces like this, that are designed to last the test of time and can become heirlooms that are passed down through generations.
Has the pandemic given you pause for thought? Are you planning to change your purchasing habits once this passes? What do you think about the custom wooden furniture and home accessories created by Forge Creative? I’d love to know so leave me a comment below.