One of the most satisfying aspects to making high quality, handmade furniture, is that every day is different.
As a furniture maker who is constantly creating new designs and working with new techniques, Gavin Robertson particularly enjoys this side of the creative process, an aspect of the business that comes about through engagement with clients, and this is perhaps the reason that the work is so varied every day. When a client seeks a piece of furniture that is not mass produced, Gavin feels his job is to work within the brief each project presents. His work is by its very nature ‘client-driven’ as he is creating pieces that are personal and specific, according to each individual circumstance.
However, with clients based around the UK and well beyond, one might assume a business based in the Highlands might not be ideally placed. Quite the opposite is true, according to Gavin. A commission may start with a meeting, but the design process evolves using electronic communication. This way of working allows Gavin to design and make pieces for clients anywhere in the world, albeit there is often a Scottish connection. For example, the owners of a company in Antigua had a link with Scotland and knew they could source exactly what they wanted, which resulted in Gavin making office, reception and boardroom furniture for that particular company.
Gavin’s interest in working with wood began in his final year at school in Inverness. He went on to study in Buckinghamshire, and later worked in London before going to make furniture in Australia. In 1993 he returned to Scotland and set up a workshop at Abriachan outside Inverness. After a few years, business was expanding at such a rate a bigger workshop was built so that larger pieces of furniture (boardroom tables, for example) could be created.
Nowadays, Gavin still produces domestic furniture in addition to corporate work. This corporate work continues to provide diverse challenges. He has recently been commissioned by a hotel to produce thirty-two chairs and fourteen tables, an unusual commission which sprang from the client’s desire to create interiors that were carefully considered and unique. Gavin has also designed furniture for a whisky company, producing a whisky cabinet for Harrods in London - in order to display fine whisky, he produced the cabinet from the finest Santos Rosewood with a contrasting white interior made of Scottish ripple sycamore.
Gavin says that while he often uses oak in his designs, the choice of wood is frequently inspired by the client and the setting. This can bring him to use ash, American black walnut, burr walnut, Macassar ebony, and many more. He uses imported wood that has been grown for this sort of purpose, but also home-grown timber where it is appropriate. For example, he used local timber in a commission for a church. He is always interested in trying new techniques, and often likes to incorporate veneers into his designs. He enjoys creating inlays using metals like aluminium, silver, copper or brass.
In addition to the workshop, Gavin has a shop in Nairn where the Interior Design side of the business is based. This space acts as a showroom dedicated to more affordable furniture, much of which adheres to an Arts and Crafts tradition. However, he believes that his business is primarily driven by word of mouth. In his case he feels it took five years to start the business and ten years before it was fully established. He used to exhibit at numerous exhibitions, but nowadays that is not as necessary as it was at the beginning.
While Gavin has created specific projects for corporate clients, he is keen to continue to produce domestic pieces too. He feels he designs within an Arts and Crafts tradition in that there is often detailing or elements from that style, alongside clean and simple lines, and good, honest construction. For a commission, he likes to personalise his work for each client…after all, in seeking out a master craftsman, the client is paying for ‘the very best.’Back to Members' Journal