‘Design is the key.’ So says Angus Ross, a furniture maker who has been running a successful business from his workshop in Aberfeldy for over twenty years. This commitment to good design is vital to Angus as he believes a quality piece of furniture must offer something unusual, something that is not only practical, beautiful and clever, but unique too. The context of a commission can be vital to a design where function, space, location, and history can provide a starting point which ultimately inspires the final concept.
With his own woodland on the banks of the Tay, Angus is fortunate to be able to harvest his timber himself. This timber is predominately oak, but he also has alder, ash and hazel. Being able to manage a woodland from which to select timber, he believes that using local wood for making furniture inspires new approaches to sustainable mixed native woodland. He is interested in the vernacular aspect of furniture and the regional differences that have occurred over time…the Orkney chair, Fife stools, high-backed chairs from Aberdeen.
However, while this interest in the vernacular may inform him, innovation is essential to creating useful pieces within a modern context. Angus specialises in bending solid wood, using the ancient art of steam-bending, a technique which allows him to use local green (not dried) oak to create his pieces. In his workshop wood is bent, moulded, sculpted and folded using both traditional craft techniques and the latest technology. The results have brought him many awards and a high profile across the industry and beyond.
As a small company which likes to offer personal service, there are now four people involved in the business. An apprenticeship scheme is run and every year two or three interns gain experience with Angus and his team. With a background in product design, he retrained in practical furniture making and is now committed to education, keen to pass on skills and knowledge to the next generation of furniture makers.
As his business continues to grow, Angus believes it is vital not to stand still. Business is often won off the back of exhibitions, and he continues to exhibit across the UK and well beyond. He recently took his Whisky Cabinet to China, a piece that was specifically chosen to create interest in the Chinese market. It turned out to be a popular piece, and not merely because the Chinese associated Scotland with whisky. In a nation where good craftsmanship is highly prized, the norm regarding furniture in recent times has been mass-manufacturing of standard pieces. To see the use of solid timber and high craftsmanship in a piece of furniture was refreshing and greatly appreciated.
Scottish heritage is important to Angus in that not only is he using wood from a sustainable local source, but there is a Scottish flavour to the manner in which he works. A knowledge of vernacular furniture informs his design every bit as much as his intimate understanding of how timber performs and reacts to certain environments and treatments. He emphasises the fact that wood is natural, non-toxic and biodegradable, so that if damage occurs, hardwoods can be repaired and resurfaced. A piece of furniture of this sort is a long-term investment which not only lasts but improves with age.
Despite the fact that high-quality, hand-made furniture is a relatively specialist field, Angus is optimistic that Scottish furniture-making is set to flourish and grow. He sees new people coming into the industry who are not only well-trained but have a youthful drive that he considers vital to the long-term future of the craft. As long as Scottish furniture can have an edge and offer something different in terms of design, the future looks bright.