Head Hand and Heart

Hugh Miller

it's not linear, and I'll go backwards and forwards

My design process is a relic of my training as an architect, and I switch quite freely between thinking about a piece and ruminating on the details and form, to sketching and thinking about logistics and sizes and construction, to scaled and measured drawings, to modelling and full scale prototyping. It’s not a linear process, and I go back and forth between all these methods. There is a pattern with my best design work: I tend to think of an idea and draw it immediately. Then I let it sit at the back of my mind for a year or even two. When I eventually come back to it, it’s pretty much fully formed in my mind, and I start prototyping and making. This is how I developed the Coffee Cart, and the Folded Record Bureau, and I’m almost ready to make a drinks cabinet that’s been in my head for about three years. It’s quite an exciting process.

I think that making is a designing process in itself. This is especially true of furniture, as it needs to be sensitive to the human body. This can often only be judged through full-scale prototyping, where the design may change vastly. Inspiration for me nearly always comes from the material, or a specific way of processing a material. Seeing the way that bamboo was processed and worked in Japan was seminal for me.

The most intricate and involved work I do is probably the hand-carved texture on my furniture collection. It’s produced with a 3/8” gouge, and is taxing, both physically and mentally. But it is my favourite detail, because it’s impossible to fake. It is the essence of craftsmanship, because it can only be produced with skill and time. Carving the texture has become a meditative process for me – I do an hour each morning, and it’s something I look forward to.

I love my work and a moment that never fail to make my heart happy is when I plane up rough-sawn timber on the very first day of a new make. I never know what I’ll get from the timber – it’s almost impossible to guess what I’ll find under the dirt and water staining and saw marks. And then, a quarter of a millimetre at a time, this amazing, warm, beautiful grain starts to appear. It’s like magic, and it gets me every time.