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Furniture maker, Jan Lennon creates elegant and timeless pieces which are made by hand. Each piece is unique by nature and designed to become a perfect heirloom for its owner.
Beginning her career as an Industrial Designer, Jan’s love for problem solving and the visual arts soon led her to the world of 3D animation. After ten years as an artist working in the visual effects industries, Jan decided to go back to her greatest interest: furniture making. After completing training with the prestigious Williams and Cleal Furniture School, Jan launched her own furniture making business and continues to make stunning designs today. Jan kindly spoke to AUTHOR about her work and inspiration.
Where do you find inspiration for your pieces?
Absolutely everywhere, to be honest, although Bauhaus architecture and 1950’s graphic design are great loves of mine. But everything from landscapes, wood grain and growth, rocks, music, buildings, packaging, paintings, ceramics and fashion can spark a curiosity in a particular shape, line or surface detail. They all get filtered through my brain and they do seem to get distilled into a somewhat recognisable style in the end though.
What is your favourite wood to work with? You mostly work with oak and walnut, what is it about these timbers that make them your materials of choice?
I absolutely adore working in Walnut, particularly English walnut, when I can find it. It’s my favourite tree and my favourite wood and it’s such a pleasure to work with and is capable of holding a really silky finish. The grain is so rich and varied it never fails to have character and the colours can flow from creamy white to dark chocolate in the space of a few millimetres. It looks and feels luxurious…almost edible!
Oak is also great to work with. It’s fantastically strong and, depending on the wood used, can be subtle enough to blend with other timbers, or a stand out show stopper when brown on burred. It’s also such a distinctively British timber when used in furniture making that it can be used to, in a way, tell a story through its interaction with the design.
Are there any other timbers you love to work?
I try as much as possible, to use British and European wood. Sustainably sourced timber is a priority for me and, to this end, lately I’ve been using a lot of timbers that have been felled from British and European woodlands as part of woodland management programmes. There are many beautiful timbers that were once widely known but have fallen out of use due to larger manufacturers demanding large amounts of particular timbers for production. This means that stunning native timbers such as sycamore, ash and sweet chestnut have been underutilised, or worse, used as firewood, in recent years.
I’m currently using all of these timbers at the moment. Sweet chestnut is a lovely alternative to Oak. It has a more flowing grain than oak but with all of the lovely burrs and pippy character. Sycamore is pale, almost white, and when rippled has the appearance of flowing silk – It’s incredibly beautiful. Ash is a great vernacular wood. It’s very springy, great for hard wearing pieces, and is very quick growing which makes it a sustainable alternative to oak and beech.
What is your favourite aspect of being a maker/designer?
Pretty much the entire process of designing and making an object is pure joy. Working with your hands and getting that physical ache at the end of the day for weeks on end, only to stand back once the piece is finished and see something that was once just a thought is now a fully functioning object of its own in the real world. That’s pretty special. I can’t think of another job I’d prefer to do.
In your opinion, what makes a good designer?
Coming from a background in Industrial Design, I’m pretty keen on the idea that any good design needs to look good, work well and feel good to use. For me, it has to have all three. They might be subjective qualities but the user has to feel like the designer has done their job in all of these aspects. A design which fulfils one or two of those might be interesting but just not quite finished yet.
What do you think are the benefits of designing and creating in Britain?
Britain is one of the best places in the world to be a craftsperson. It has a very long tradition with design and craft, especially furniture making, and is unrivalled anywhere for quality and skill. People come from all over the world to study craft and design here and it shows. The community of makers and designers, both traditional and pioneering, is extensive and very supportive. That, along with an appreciative and discerning market who value good design, make Britain a really great place to be a maker.
I happen to be an Irish maker working in Somerset countryside so I think I probably bring a little bit of Celtic influence into the way I work too.
Who are your design heroes or is there any other makers out there who inspire you?
Sometimes I’ll admire a piece of design and think about it year on year without ever finding out who’s behind it. Though there are a few designers and architects whose work I always seem to spot in a crowd, such as the industrial designers Marianne Brandt and Christopher Dresser. Brandt was a Bauhaus educated designer whose work is synonymous with modern 20th century design and Dresser was basically the father of industrial design. Architects Tadao Ando and Erich Mendelsohn created buildings which, though very different, are jaw dropping and never fail to make me sigh. Finally, of course, the furniture designer Hans Wegner. Think of a chair you like and Wegner probably designed it, he was that good.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now I’m in the middle of several projects. I’m working on a range of chair designs based on the exmoor chair which will have the same flowing arm element. I’m also designing a series of lights and a large wall hanging mirror. That’s along with some fitted cabinetry work I’m building for a very lovely living room.
I’ve recently finished a commission for a large sideboard made from rippled sycamore with European walnut veneer. It’s an ambitious piece and demanded a lot of very technical hand work and attention to detail. But I’m very proud of the resulting piece… it might even be my favourite yet.
Anything else you’d like us to mention?
I really like creating bespoke pieces, working with clients to deliver their dream piece and also showing people what’s going on around the workshop. So if anyone should find themselves in Somerset and would like to come visit, just drop me a line.