Ross Samson came into the world of furniture making by accident when his computer broke down. Originally an archaeologist, he was publishing books and academic papers in the early 1990s when his old IBM computer crashed, leaving him unable to work until his ‘trapped’ journals and books could be recovered from a hard disc. To pass the time while waiting for the return of his computer, he sanded a floor for a friend, and immediately was asked to sand another floor. From that moment, everything changed.
With a life-long interest in archaeology, social history, architecture and particularly castles, it did not take long to establish a new career for himself. Based in Glasgow, Ross had a love of Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement which turned out to be crucial to his future. He began buying and repairing furniture, which led to him becoming involved in the antique trade. Finding that he had a flair for working with this sort of furniture, he was soon given workshop space. However before long, the workshop owner hinted that a workshop was not merely for repairing…it was for making too!
Nowadays, Ross designs and makes furniture from scratch. His company began by making bookcases for archaeologists, and from there, progressed to tables, chairs, beds, cupboards, sideboards and more. Using innovative tooling and working with a variety of materials, in addition to furniture, Ross also designs doors, windows, stairs, banisters, built-in furniture, fire-places, radiator covers and even kitchens and conservatories. Often he incorporates stained glass, copper, pewter, and ceramic, always working within the spirit of whichever style has inspired’ each design. All ‘Samson’s Joinery’ furniture is bespoke, and therefore hand-made. Most of pieces are made using oak, the traditional wood used in Arts and Crafts design, although he does use alder, Douglas fir and some other woods to suit a client’s needs. Business is flourishing and he says he is often looking for help from other skilled people.
Ross gains particular satisfaction from finishing a piece of furniture, and makes his own varnish and linseed oil paint from natural plant sources in order to do so. He has three other people in his workshop who help to make his designs, a set-up which he feels reflects the manner and ethos of a traditional Arts and Crafts workshop.
Glasgow is a good place for a furniture maker working within this tradition to be based. Whether or not a client’s home has Art Nouveau, Edwardian or Arts and Crafts elements, the style fits the city and continues to be popular. Ross can cater for a client’s taste and can design a piece to look typically ‘Glasgow Style’ or more International, Viennese, or American. However, he feels that those who purchase Scottish furniture often do so because they like to own something local. Being ‘local’ is key.
He does not believe there is any such thing as one particular ‘Scottish style’ regarding furniture, but senses that the numerous designers and makers of furniture throughout Scotland can only benefit from being aware of how others work and the products, ideas and designs they produce. With this in mind, Ross founded the Scottish Furniture Makers Association fifteen years ago. He strongly feels that more openness and awareness amongst those involved in the profession can only be useful. And as he says, this sharing of knowledge is helpful to clients too…if his company cannot meet a client’s needs, he probably knows somebody who can.