Friday, 25 March 2011

The Automatic Earth

A few days ago I went to hear Nicole Foss, who, as Stonleigh, is one of the authors of The Automatic Earth blog, give a talk in Bridport. She is anxious not to be dismissive of the possible positive responses individuals can make to the depression she sees coming, but the upbeat, post-apocalypse reconstruction part of the message seems a little bit thin and pious. I'm surprised she doesn't link into some of the commentary on the social and economic collapse in post-communist Russia and how much less resilient to that sort of thing American and western European communities would be.

I also think that, like many blogging commentators, she seems too concerned in completing her interpretative model to take much interest in what people at the economic coal face are doing (though there is a lot more detailed stuff on the blog). It's as if they were writing a modern Gibbon's Decline and Fall in advance. I expect she would counter that the situation is well beyond the control of anyone at the coal face. That is probably true, but it still might not mean that they won't have some significant influence on the way in which it all falls apart. In Bridport a section of the audience actually found her talk quite amusing in a superior kind of way, and she slightly plays to that reaction. There are other blogs that I find more enlightening on the economic/social/political situation than Automatic Earth, or perhaps that seem more psychologically engaged.

In the end the judgement we make as people living in the world has to be about something other than understanding, or even knowing all the facts, and so it has to carry with it the recognition that it may very well be wrong.

Nevertheless I think her underlying analysis is convincing that an excessive and very uncomfortable economic correction is inevitable; that it will be what hits us first; but that energy and resource scarcity thereafter will prevent us ever 'getting back to normal'.

It's easy to fall back into thinking that, despite ups and downs, overall things will go on broadly as we think they always have done. But that is to ignore the very steep upward changes there have been over the past few decades - like thinking the rocket we lit a few minutes ago is actually a steady-state fixture in the sky. And, as another maker responded, the point is that we are all riding on the rocket rather than looking up at it in the sky.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Current Exhibition: 21st Century Furniture III

The Arts & Crafts Legacy
A Selling Exhibition of Today's Designer Makers

I am currently participating in this exhibition, which has now become an annual event.

What is it that we do when, as ‘designer-makers’ we make a table? What, through the table, do we seek to exhibit? Why do we define our exhibition by reference to furniture-makers in small workshops, in the southern English countryside a century ago, producing ‘wonderful furniture of a commonplace kind’? ‘Art’ and ‘Craft’ are labels that now we are comfortable neither to abandon nor wholeheartedly adopt. ‘Designer’, though now fading from its recent almost universally positive currency, was an offspring of Arts and Crafts through a Balhausian intermediary, where it acquired its renunciation of ornament. Ornament, not universally eschewed by the Arts and Crafts makers, troubles us still. Now that we can make in so many ways (the kind of technical virtuosity that got the Victorians into trouble) we are tempted (as always following the architects) to differentiate our work through form, which can sometimes be as much ‘applied’ as the decoration of the Victorians. Such thoughts are pursued elsewhere on this blog.

The Millinery Works
85/87 Southgate Road
London N1 3JS
020 7359 2019

20 March to 1 May 2011
closed Mondays and Easter


‘Decoration’ is a subject that calls forth the knives and cudgels. One group is brave enough to call themselves ‘Interior Decorators’, to the disdain of ‘Interior Designers’, those Squires to the Knights and Lords of Architecture. (Sometimes literally such – what was it in our generation that caused architects, historically for the first time, to be added to the ranks of those with Expectations of Honours? Was it just that New Labour wanted to show how switched on it was and couldn’t quite bring itself to ennoble the Gallagher brothers or Damian Hirst, or had the Fosters and Rogers simply risen to join the captains of industry?)

In fact the boot of disdain has been on the other foot in quite recent times in at least one context. In the 1930s and 40s, when the English country house aesthetic was being established (arguably our most successful cultural export, especially in the north American direction) as the National Trust struggled to rescue our ancestral aristocratic houses from the onward march of proletarian history, authentic clutter was preferred to any notion of period consistency. John Fowler, as Patrick Wright puts it in A Journey Through Ruins, “the advocate of ‘humble elegance’ and ‘pleasing decay’ who would become the trust’s favoured ‘decorator’ in the late Fifties, scorned the idea of ‘design’.”

But in our own times, a recent panel discussion by Designers about Decoration published in the design magazine FX (August 2010) might have got further if they could have brought themselves to step back more from the rather petty current turf war between interior ‘designers’ and interior ‘decorators’ – both terms now in considerable need of explication and demystification.

When did decoration become a sure sign of moral disintegration? In the second half of the nineteenth century, in reaction to the Victorian willingness to apply decorative effects of any provenance or quantity to manufactures. The Viennese architect Adolf Loos, whose private feelings about sensuality and morality were more than a little occluded, explicitly decried ornament as a source of degeneracy and crime. Yet that did not prevent him from bestowing a richness on his room interiors belied by the elegantly stern exteriors of his houses.

We forget now how outrageous, historically and culturally, is what came to be an aesthetic and moral ban on decoration. Until the nineteenth century all art and artefacts that could achieve and afford it were decorated – Anglo-Saxon, Islamic, gothic, Aztec, Chinese, classical Greek – what is the Parthenon frieze if not decoration? The purpose of decoration was to beautify and differentiate. No-one doubted it.

It was the Bauhaus modernists (great admirers, as are most architects, of Loos) who introduced much of the confusion by claiming there was an undecorated form of any object that was inevitable, pure and moral. But the urge to beautify and differentiate could not be done away with, only disguised. There is nothing inevitable about the form of a Barcelona chair. It is pure differentiation. As, too, is the cosmetic appearance of a Dyson vacuum cleaner, however much it may relate to its engineering function.

Since we forwent decoration, we have had to differentiate through increasingly promiscuous manipulation of form, especially where we have acquired the capacity to manufacture pretty much as we like – the kind of technical virtuosity that was the Victorians’ undoing. The classical Greeks had little choice in the way in which they constructed a temple: they had soon to turn to decoration to differentiate their creations.

It makes some sense to say that ‘design’ is sculpted, whilst ‘decoration’ is applied. Yet modern architecture is sometimes characterised by a kind of applied form (as much applied as any decoration of Victorian architects) with wilful and extravagant external forms, ‘organic’ freeform or anarchic geometry, that bear little relationship to the internal utilisation of space or the logic of construction.

Time to pull the baby out of the plughole?

Is it Art?

A furniture maker's lament

We furniture designer-makers are much exercised by contemplation of the nature of what we do (as this blog may demonstrate). We start from the recognition, often very reluctant, that it is certainly ‘craft’. We quickly add that it is also ‘design’. Since the 1960s ‘design’ has had almost totally positive connotations. (In 1960 the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, founded in the 1880s by Walter Crane, William Morris and others, thought it wise to change its name to the Society of Designer Craftsmen – gender politics seemed of less concern.) So we are ‘designer-makers’, thus distinguishing ourselves from those craftspeople who ‘think’ only to the extent of considering the precision of their joints, who read popular amateur craft magazines, and who have a distressing tendency to sell their work in village halls. Yes, we are certainly designers.

Yet, half a century on, the attractions of being a designer have worn rather thin. Those Bauhausian certainties may still work if you are producing a revolutionary new hand drier, but if it’s another expensive table they don’t seem to achieve the high prices and glittering press to which we aspire. What we would really like to be is artists, working in studios, showing in proper galleries; not the Crafts Council (ironically universally despised for jilting craft for art) but the Arts Council.

Or rather, we would like to create ‘art’ (taking our cue from T.S. Eliot’s sniffy response to the young man seeking his advice on how to become a poet, that he could not understand anyone wanting to be a poet, although he could understand someone wanting to write poems).

Is what we do ‘art’? That is not an easy question to answer unless we can say what art is, and people seldom venture a definition of art except as a stepping stone en route to arguing a further point. But such light footwork leaves the foundation of any claim shaky and we would be best to think a little about the nature of art outside our own activities before laying any claim.

What is it then that I do when I hang a painting of, say, a seascape on my wall? (A bizarre and useless thing to do.) What is the intention of art?

At the most workaday level one might say that the painting extends the viewer’s experience: shows them something they haven’t seen before. That seems a little inadequate, at least in the visual arts, which must be one of our closest desired fine arts bedfellows, although in narrative literature there is much, past and present, that feels no need to stake a higher claim to justify itself as art. But let us look beyond.

My seascape, Dutch master or Turner, may change the way in which I perceive the sea, not just the sea it portrays, but all sea. It changes my sensibility, changes my perception of the world: indeed great art may change the way I see everything, whatever the picture portrays, or does not.

It would be possible to argue that all fine art, even abstract art, is representational, or perhaps less contentious to say that all fine art centrally references something outside itself. That art achieves universality by being not self contained. Until one comes to Malevich’s painting in 1913 of a white square on a white ground, by which he looked to create purity of feeling, and Mondrian’s work a few years later, in which he aimed not at purity of sensation but purity of being, and thought that only by confining himself to right angles could he achieve it.

Somewhere here is our first problem as furniture designer-makers and would-be artists. It is not just that we start with (more or less) useful objects. When I design and make a chair I do not make a representation of a chair (or a locus of pure feeling or pure being), I make a chair itself. If I argue that my artistic enterprise is the representation of some ideal notion of a chair, I don’t really convince myself. People might also wonder why I confine myself to the more or less realistic representation of furniture, and whether I should not be relegated to a similarly lowly status in the artistic hierarchy as botanical artists and pet portraitists.

Yet, putting those worries aside, can I design and make furniture that changes the way people perceive a chair, or a table, if not the world?

Some designer makers have produced items that, one might say, do exactly that: in appearance or actuality challenging our assumptions of the qualities essential for a furniture type. A table is an elevated, stable, flat, horizontal surface, but Ian Spencer’s table gives the impression that as soon as you placed a feather on it all its end-grain components would drop to the floor in pixelated disintegration. Michael Wainwright’s Mutagen table bristles with spiky little growths that would make placing one’s floral arrangement and family photographs a little difficult.

Yet these pieces shake up one’s assumptions, rather like the child’s snow-storm toy, only to let them settle back in the old form, leaving us with a more vivid realisation that a table is an elevated, stable, flat, horizontal surface after all. Look, Ian Spencer is leaning on his table, it doesn’t fall apart. Striking though the furniture is, this approach, conceptually, seems rather a one-card trick.

Rather different is Gareth Neal’s ‘Cut and Groove’ series, where his Anne console table has a Queen Anne design appearing inside the ghostly slotted outline of a modernist table. It is undeniably striking, but neither design, considered on its own, has particular merit. It is the coincidence of the two, historically different idioms that gains the effect – and distracts us from considering the complete domestic impracticality of the piece. If one were to use the same concept with the historically anachronistic design as one element would it have the same effect? Once again, this seems something of a visual trick – original certainly; but is it transformational, capable of generating a new line of work, a recreation of tradition (it relies on notions of tradition for its effect)? I think not.

Perhaps we should look more to those designer-makers who avowedly aim to extend the range of expectation that people might entertain for a table, a chair. We didn’t think a table could look like this, we gasp in surprise and admiration. Is this art? Up to a point perhaps, but when Cézanne painted Mont Sainte-Victoire he wasn’t showing us a new kind of mountain. In fact, without Cézanne, it’s a rather ordinary sort of mountain. He was changing the way in which we perceive all mountains, perhaps all nature, all masses. The table extends our perceptions cumulatively; the painting does so transformationally. There may be (though there probably aren’t) limitless ways in which to make a table, and, once shown, they are all accessible to us. There certainly are limitless ways in which to perceive the mountain, but they are not all accessible to us: it takes the artist (what Eliot would call the man of genius) to show us how. If there were such a thing as an Aztec table we could probably create our own table in its spirit; but an Aztec figure carving, or an Ife head, though they move us, are not fully apprehendable for us. Their culture is no longer fully accessible to us.

So where next, in our search for greater cultural ’bottom’ to our work? Perhaps we should follow the architects: after all there never was one who didn’t think they could design furniture regardless of an ignorance of how it could be made. Yet they have an unfair advantage of scale over us. You can get inside their creations (even though the roof may leak). Getting inside a wardrobe doesn’t normally offer the same opportunities for the appreciation of spatial organisation as standing at the bottom of the staircase in the new Ashmoleum.

Architecture is of course, apart from sometimes incidental decoration, an abstract art, and it is interesting to reflect that, long before the prevalence of the abstract in modern western fine art, there was a historical period when art was not only abstract but there was an absolute prohibition on representation. ‘Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, not the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, nor in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth.’ One can further observe that the non-representational art that prevailed and achieved enormous sophistication in the east over a period of seven hundred years and spread its influence west was a decorative art. Over seven centuries it manifested no growth or development beyond the refinement of perfected formulae. Remarking on that, Ruskin concluded that abstract art, if long pursued leads to the destruction of both intellectual powers and moral principle. Mondrian apparently disproves him on both counts, but the relationship of the abstract and the decorative in non-representational art requires considerable discrimination.

However that may be, because of the limitation of scale and complexity in furniture, we are often tempted into decoration to give added interest or greater perceived value to our work. There is some hypocrisy in the prevailing design animus towards decoration. Even engineering-based designers are often deeply concerned with the cosmetic properties of their product, claim as they may to eschew decoration as such. The Arts and Crafts furniture makers were not opposed to decoration. Much of their work, as well as the historical exemplars they admired, is rich in applied decoration. Decoration can be an aid to spatial articulation and differentiation.

An architectural critic, who, writing of a church by the seventeenth-century master-builder Francesco Borromini, observed: ‘The effect of prolonged contemplation of this interior goes beyond logic: it produces a mental tension, an excitement, in which – as in a flowing piece of counterpoint by a great composer – everything fits miraculously together and it is impossible to separate intellectual from emotional pleasure.’ If we could achieve that we need not bother whether it is craft, design or art.

Perhaps, after all, we should be content as ’makers’, aspiring, like Eliot, to learn from and to be ‘il miglio fabbro’. (Isn’t all the best furniture Italian?) At the beginning God made heaven and earth: he didn’t feel obliged to explain that it was design – or art.

Between the Tides

Some thoughts on what distinguishes designer-maker furniture and its position in our economy and culture

Furniture designer-makers tend to be uneasy about the relatively high prices they have to ask for their work. They would like it to be widely accessible, not so much for commercial reasons but because of the relationship they would like to see themselves having to wider society. In that little has changed since the days of William Morris.

Mostly, our customers, although not without disposable income, tend not to come from the super-rich. Those who are serious about the acquisition of wealth have neither the time nor the stomach for the risks of commissioning individually designed furniture, unvalidated by the market or received opinion. Look at the pictures of the interior of One Hyde Park, designed by Lord Rogers for the Candy brothers developers and recently celebrated as the most expensive London perch at £6000 a square something or other. Luxury perhaps, but design originality no.

One Hyde Park: the cutting edge of design?

We should be grateful that our customers are people committed to individual engagement with small designers and makers, but they are not immune to the strains of the Candy-coloured economy that is enveloping us. In the US, economic commentary increasingly remarks on the trickle (or perhaps stream) up. Maserati sales are booming; Lexus in serious decline, as the company loses sales on what one analyst calls 'the lower edge of luxury'.

GM HQ Detroit: the lower edge of luxury?

Few now subscribe to the idea of the rising tide lifting all boats. The idea that we are distinguished by the size of our boats, but that otherwise we all bob around quite unconstrained on a pond of equal opportunity seems to me bizarre. We exist and operate in a complex network of circumstances, relationships and mutual assumptions – social, economic, political, cultural, material – that partly and unequally determines our ability to respond to changed external circumstances. One needs to examine and perhaps alter that network as well as try to influence or recognise the changes in external circumstances. Indeed the two are not actually separate.

Our work as furniture designer-makers differs not just in its individuality but in its type. Some among us produce collectable furniture, furniture without a back, furniture that might seem more comfortable on a plinth as a sculptural object than against a mundane domestic wall. Unsurprisingly, this is the furniture that gets noticed: it is within at least occasional hailing distance of that ‘unusable, unaffordable and, preferably, unmakeable’ furniture so beloved of the press and critics (and whose creators would not dream of aligning themselves with any of the restrictive categories of ‘furniture’, ‘designer’ or ‘maker’).

Indirectly, this collectable furniture benefits us all: in the minds of some of our customers it effectively validates what we do on a humbler plane. How many of us have not seen a questioner’s brow clear when they say, ‘So, your work is like so-and-so’s’, naming some more celebrated member of our ranks? Yet it is a mixed blessing: it brings us work but, unless we challenge it outright, we may find it difficult to distance ourselves far from it. We may feel we have to keep up, or at least not fall too far behind, as it moves towards ever grander plinths. It also brings some risk of squeezing out humbler work from publication, exhibition selection and so on.

Things are not helped by our collective unsureness as to what are the primary qualities that we are selling with our furniture: and the public falls back to the default option of ‘antiques of the future’. Is it an intimate relationship with wood; is it craft, design, art; or is it a ‘bespoke’ service to answer highly particular practical needs? They are all qualities that we frequently invoke, but equally they all have limitations against which we sometimes feel compelled to protest. In a crude and unrigorous survey of the catalogue to an exhibition in which I participated in 2010 I found the following frequency to some key qualities: ‘commission/bespoke’ 19, ‘unique’ 14, ‘craft’ 14, ‘design’ 12, ‘beauty’ 12, ‘wood’ 11, ‘awards/prizes’ 8, ‘heritage/generations/timeless’ 8, ‘environment/sustainability’ 6, ‘tradition’ 2. They were not always (but were mostly) the actual words used – I was surprised how often ‘beauty’ occurred. Maybe I’ve missed some: there were a few references to functionality, but no-one mentioned modern technology or its capabilities.

Is it originality and uniqueness that we aim for? It comes second in my survey and there are some very bold claims within the catalogue to the current Millinery Works exhibition, not so much to be pushing the boundaries but to be stepping right outside them. (But a severe critic might say that when we do step outside the boundaries it is more a matter of distance than new direction.) Do such claims stand up? Is that what we should be doing? The early 21st century would be an unprecedented period of cultural innovation if we were. Or are we working within and developing a broad cultural movement, as furniture-makers before us have mostly done? Are we truly developing, as the exhibition claimed, the ‘Arts and Crafts legacy’? Do we truly know what it is? 'Tradition', T.S. Eliot wrote, 'cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour.'

Eliot had much of interest to say about artistic or cultural tradition that provides a useful antidote to our tendency to regard ‘traditional’ work as simply doing what has been done before, and ‘innovative’ work as the more valuable the less it has any connection with anything that has been done before. Eliot regarded cultural tradition as something more complex and dynamic than an all-pervading ether that we inhale involuntarily. It makes little sense that art which we struggle to comprehend when new should by the simple passage of years become something that we can apprehend without effort. Eliot thought that cultural tradition could only be apprehended fully through creative or critical/appreciative effort and that, in making such an effort we do not simply repeat what has gone before, but bring our own individual variation to its realisation, so creating a living tradition and changing, to a degree, the work of the past as well as that of the present. By such changes he did not mean the kind of ‘boundary breaking’ innovation that we frequently extol, but he did recognise that a culture could at times become stultifying rather than sustaining to the individuals who shared it – ‘So positive was the culture of that age [the eighteenth century] that it crushed a number of smaller men who thought differently but could not bear to face the fact’. He recognised that, as changes in sensibility and circumstances accumulate or accelerate, a culture periodically reaches a point where artistic expression has to change decisively to maintain its functioning viability: ‘Sensibility alters in us all from age to age whether we will or no, but expression is only changed by a man of genius.’ That genius he thought lay in artistic skill, not in intensity of personal vision. In fact, perhaps for reasons peculiar to his own personality, he was intensely hostile to allowing personality any role in artistic achievement: ‘The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.’ He believed that any artistic expression was, by its nature, a collaborative enterprise, and he was surely right in thinking that if art is great simply according to the intensity and uniqueness of the artist’s individual vision it becomes of interest to the rest of us just as spectacle or the object of shallow emulation, precluding his concept of a creative tradition.

Arts and Crafts furniture is at least then potentially an enormous element in our cultural inheritance whether we acknowledge, ignore or reject it, but I see little evidence that we are carrying it forward in any recognisable form overall. Some pieces in an earlier exhibition that appeared at first sight to relate most to Arts and Crafts had some pretty un-Arts and Crafts construction beneath.

Yet, for a sign of our times, if one looks at the website of the Society of Designer Craftsmen, which makes much of its direct descent from Walter Crane’s and William Morris’s Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, one finds it proclaiming ‘Innovation, originality and quality are seen as integral elements of our work…we look for people who design and make original, beautiful, exciting, challenging works…we expect members to have a strong and innovative design sense…’ I’ve added the italics to point out the particular flavour of their advocacy. I’m in favour of those qualities myself, but is there not a degree of imbalance here? (How much excitement can one take in one’s dining table?) All that reiteration comes within a few sentences. It’s not exactly how Morris would have written: Morris, Gimson, the Barnsleys and others of the Arts and Crafts movement were innovative but were also keen to draw strength from aspects of tradition. Ironically the SDC goes on to say ‘We don’t accept work that is confined within the past tradition’. It’s not quite clear what they mean by that rather tortured phrase, or whether they’re referring to their own Arts and Crafts tradition – is that only to be invoked positively when considering the society as an organisation? Is tradition an in animate object? Perhaps it’s a polite way of saying ‘reproduction’; anyway, they don’t seem to have read much Eliot, and their words are, I think, symptomatic of the way in which we now give a reductive meaning to ‘tradition’ and regard it as excluding ‘innovation’, rather than seeing the two as interactive. It is also I think a little shaming that a society, descended from nineteenth-century artists and writers who thought deeply about culture and society, should show so little evidence of serious thought about artistic tradition but opt instead for something more akin to repetitive marketing-speak.

The curators of the designer-maker exhibitions to which I refer, struggle to give us a specific, positive identity as a group (far less write us a manifesto) and fall back to ‘it may not look like a movement but….’ Is our ultimate identity only a matter of superlatives?

Collectively, we seem able to ignore scarcely any furniture-making virtue of the past 150 years: the elegance of a Ruhlmann, the robustness of a Lutyens, the truth to materials of a Barnsley, the new materials of a Breuer, the simplicity of the Shakers, the decoration of a Bugatti, the flowing curves of a Guimard, the sculptural forms of a Gaudi, the linearity of a Gray, the innovation of a Rietveld, the tradition of a … well, there I’m lost for an immediate recent exemplar. But what other quality does our work not seem to lay claim to somewhere?

Are we, in the terms of one exhibition catalogue, striving to imbue our furniture with ‘expressive existence’ or is the creative process less singly driven, so that it attains its end when it embodies a state where intellectual and emotional satisfaction are indistinguishable? A large demand on a small canvass, but I have encountered a few such pieces of furniture (including a Barnsley piece). Perhaps it is a possible defining quality of ‘applied’ art that it seeks to resolve tensions, whilst ‘fine’ art need not.

If, in search of common ground beneath all our work, we say, as this catalogue does, that ‘workmanship’ is a ‘given’, although it words and places the idea carefully, we run some risk of again reinforcing that ‘antiques of the future’ preconception; for the public is able to appreciate not so much the inherent skill which can be found unostentatiously in work of many types, but the particular expression of skill that is only possible by taking many hours: high finish, complex jointing methods and detailing, unconventional construction, extravagant forms, wide variation of materials. ‘Ah! So that’, the public thinks, ‘is why it is all so expensive.’

Is there still, in the full sense of the word, a place for ‘respectable’ furniture any more? Are we still able, in our culture, to respect something that is not innovative? If tradition has a specific, realisable meaning for us now we should be. Yet we inhabit a growth-and-progress culture which finds it almost impossible to regard embodying the future as anything but the highest virtue in a new artefact, and, although we can just about consider the possibility of cultural deficit in our obsessive contemplation of the character of each new decade, successive centuries are invariably regarded as inevitable advances, so that ‘21st-century’ glibly replaces ‘20th-century’ as a term of approbation and new hope. The hollowness of our collective cultural analysis is perhaps illustrated by the fact that, at the same time, the revered artworks of the past achieve astronomical monetary values, and, although price levels fluctuate, the work of any individual is hardly ever evicted from the financially approved canon by changes in cultural values and interests – but individual works can be admitted or removed by attribution or de-attribution almost regardless of aesthetic appeal, in something akin to financial re-engineering. It is the function of the ‘criticariat’ to translate the new, the ‘work of the future’ as rapidly as possible into the collected, valued, traded, sanctified ranks of our cultural ‘heritage’. That process is now brought to such a pitch of efficiency that it can be completed within a few years, rather than having to wait for the passing of a generation or the gradual shifting of sensibility (from future to past with minimal lingering in the present), and selected living artists simultaneously (it would seem) both challenge and embody our cultural assumptions. Eat your heart out, Van Gogh. This, in more rarefied form, is the mechanism of ‘antiques of the future’: in our case it works rather more slowly and uncertainly.

We maybe have to accept as designer-makers of furniture that we survive at the margin and sometimes in odd, though possibly moderately comfortable, niches. I hope not, but there are worse fates.