Designer & maker of contemporary furniture and self-proclaimed materials geek, Laurent Peacock, is our Winner of this years' Colour in Design Award - Part 2. We asked him a few questions to get to know him a little better:
1. Name of course and College/University you originally studied in?
I originally completed a 3D Industrial Design degree (first class honours) way back in 2001, at what was then the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design, part of the University of Central England (now Birmingham City University).
More recently, in 2017, I completed a year of intensive training in furniture making and design at Robinson House Studio under Marc Fish.
2. What inspires you and what is your design ethos?
I find inspiration comes from all sorts of places. Sometimes it will be an overall form which crystallises and is then reverse-engineered into a structure than can be built. I often find it useful to have a conceptual starting point, which can provide all sorts of clues and suggestions for shapes, material combinations, textures and colours. The best example of my adoption of a conceptual starting point though is my Aesculus collector's cabinet, which was conceived as an abstraction of a conker in its shell. I viewed the cabinet as concealing, cradling and protecting its contents, whilst at the same time being able to crack open to reveal and display the treasure within. Material and colour choices in that design were directly influenced by the textures and consistency of the conker shell, pith and lustrous nut, although I like to think that the likeness is abstract enough to not be too immediately obvious.
For other pieces, my starting point for a design has been a particular material or technique, looking for the best or most interesting way to exploit the particular look, feel or mechanical properties. These materials sometimes emerge from play and experimentation. The laminated silky oak I used on my Sika table was used partly because I fell in love with the end grain pattern it produced, which in turn directly influenced the decision to include large exposed tenon joinery on the legs. The peppercorn surfaces as part of the Piper collection shown at New Designers were largely borne out of inquisitiveness and experimentation; a kind of "what would happen if..." approach to work which I have long found useful (although which can also feel very slow and wasteful if things aren't going well).
Overall, I seek to find ways of infusing my pieces with a mixture of traditional and innovative techniques, materials and forms. That may mean introducing something totally new, or it may simply mean applying something with which we're more familiar, but in an unfamiliar way. I love it when people see one of my pieces and say, "it makes me think of...". Even if these associations are unexpected (or even perhaps undesirable) the more my work triggers these kinds of thought processes, feelings or emotions, the more I feel like I've succeeded.
3. What has it been like building your business for the past year?
As seems too often to be the case, it's been reasonably slow progress, but it definitely feels like momentum is gradually building, particularly on the back of New Designers One Year In. Working on the collection of pieces for the show was really refreshing. It was a welcome departure from spending hundreds of hours on each individual piece, and a great exercise for me in demonstrating I can also design and produce simpler pieces which have, hopefully, the potential to appeal at the more commercial end of the market. The very pleasant surprise for me from chatting to all kinds of people at the show was the interest in the peppercorn resin as a standalone surface. Many people seemed very intrigued by it and threw out all sorts of ideas for potential applications which, if I'm totally honest, I hadn't even thought of.
At the other end of the spectrum I've just completed a commission for a very large dining table which is going into a stunning residential refurbishment of a South London industrial building next week. Once it's installed it will not only provide further material for my portfolio but also, hopefully, yield opportunities for word-of-mouth dinner party referrals.
I've also been getting to grips with managing a website and social media account, and these are already showing signs of bearing fruit. I've had a couple of commission enquiries from people who've been following my work on Instagram, and these seem like reasonably promising opportunities.
4.High point – Low point?
The high point of the last year or two for me has been receiving a Furniture Makers' Company Bespoke Guild Mark for my 'Sika' console table. Sika was the first piece of furniture wholly designed and made by my head and hands, so to receive this kind of esteemed recognition so early on in my career was a massive encouragement. In particular, the discussions I had with the two judges who visited to inspect the piece as part of the assessment process were invaluable and uplifting. They both, independently, went over the piece with a fine tooth comb and, even though they acknowledged that I had (deliberately) taken the most difficult approach to making almost every element of the design, found almost no flaws. That felt like a real validation of the skills I had developed and gave me confidence in my abilities to work to the highest level of craftsmanship.
My low point would be far less specific than that, and relates simply to the challenges of running a new business. I had been self-employed before, as a consultant to research agencies, but that was purely me charging out the time that I spent helping them. I had no costs to speak of, so cash flow was simple. A creative, furniture business is a very different beast, for which I've had to get to grips with balancing my workshop and overhead costs, project materials, tool investments etc. with project costing the somewhat unpredictable timings of client invoice payments. This is one of the main areas in which I still have plenty of room for improvement.
5. How important is colour in your work and how do you choose and narrow down colours and materials?
Colour has always been something I've been drawn to visually, although interestingly it hasn't always overtly manifested itself in my work. As I have tended to work a lot with wood my colour palettes have often been muted in tone and largely been variations on brown! Having said that, surface pattern and contrast - whether in tone, texture or figure - are key characteristics of much of my work which I feel help to elevate the palette to something more visually intriguing than colour alone. My newer pieces shown at One Year In, incorporating the peppercorn surfaces I've been developing, feature a more explicit use of colour and a broader range of hues. I feel like I'm only just scratching the surface with these new materials though and there's a lot of potential for further colour experimentation and exciting combinations.
I sometimes have mixed attitudes towards the use of colour in the design of furniture in particular. Too often it can be used, seemingly, as an afterthought, to 'jazz something up', rather than as an integral part of the design vocabulary of the piece. Colour and high-end furniture can often be even more awkward bed fellows. Bold, primary colours in particular, for me, tend to have associations with low-end mass-produced pieces in which adding colour can often have the commercially convenient side effect of concealing all manner of sins in the quality of construction or materials. My approach to the use of colour in my peppercorn pieces so far has been to use tones that still have some direct relationship to the raw materials being used. I may enhance the contrast in the pattern by using black or ivory resin tints, but neither looks incongruous with the black and ivory colouring of the peppercorns themselves. Even the green-tinged variant takes its colour from a chemical reaction with the real copper in the resin and the orange-pink colouring of the rock salt surface comes entirely from the crystals within. I definitely intend to experiment with other ways of introducing colour into these, and future pieces, and may even play around with bolder, punchier colours over time, but I will aim for these to ideally reflect a sense of honesty or affinity with the raw materials.
6. What’s next and where do you want to be in 3 years’ time?
I'm currently at different stages of design work for a couple of bespoke furniture commissions and am in the process of developing a collaboration with a pro-quality sound system company looking to produce high-end custom versions of their speakers for record company execs, recording studios, DJs and super yachts. I'm also following up on all the fascinating chats I had with people at New Designers and hopefully some exciting applications or collaborations will be spawned from that, so things are looking interesting for the near future.
I have two further exhibitions later this year - Celebration of Craftsmanship and Design in Cheltenham in August and Evolution of Tradition (a Guild Mark holders show) at Chelsea Harbour Design Centre in October - which have very different brand personalities and will, I expect, attract very distinct audiences, so hopefully these will help me to further grow my profile.
In three years' time I'd love to be making a sustainable living from my creative practice. In a perfect world this would be a mix of substantial bespoke commissions, a consistent base level of orders for selected batch-produced pieces and perhaps some interesting collaborations with commercial clients, architects or interior designers centred around the development and application of unusual materials or surfaces.
7. Is there one person during your studies/life who has really made a difference to your success? – maybe in terms of encouraging you when you were at a low point, pushing you in different directions unlocking your potential etc?
There are lots of people who have had a real influence on my journey so far. The most influential would have to be the time I spent training with Marc Fish. The culture which Marc has instilled at Robinson House Studio is one which promotes innovation, encourages experimentation and challenges traditional received wisdom where appropriate. This environment was exactly what I needed: a sort of safe space for trial and error, success and failure, all the while being pushed to critically evaluate every aesthetic decision, material chosen, technique employed and finish selected. It's not always comfortable to be challenged in this way, but I found it the best way to develop.
8. What is your favourite colour?
Wow, that might be the hardest question of the lot! I think this depends a lot on context but I do find myself most strongly drawn towards green-blues like turquoise and teal, which may explain why patinated copper and bronze appeals to me. I grew up in Devon and spent a lot of my youth and formative years surfing around the beaches of Devon and Cornwall, which I think must have something to do with my visual leanings. I think the closest I can get to a specific colour favourite would be the very particular green-blue colour of the Atlantic over the white sand beaches of West Cornwall (see attached pic, taken just a few weeks ago).