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Spotlight on the Maker:
Hugh Parsons
Hugh Parsons

Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, Hugh Parsons is a cabinetmaker who originally studied architecture. As a trainee architect, he developed expertise in the use of CAD, model-making and 3D renders. Having grown up with a grandfather and father who introduced him to woodworking, he completed a woodwork course before going to University, then decided to work directly with wood and other materials.

Hugh creates stunning pieces ranging from chairs to cribbage boards, combining cutting-edge design sensibility with an authentic sense of place and presence. A respect and passion for history can be seen in his work, such as his luxury handcrafted cribbage boards. A room in Edinburgh Castle houses Hugh’s Monarch Chairs, including the first one in the numbered series.

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Recently Hugh has been employed by a long established cabinetmaking firm reconstructing and conserving a Charles Rennie Mackintosh tea room for the V&A Museum in Dundee. Hugh kindly sat down with us in the V&A Dundee to tell us his thoughts on his work and British design:

How did you learn to play cribbage and why did you decide to start making cribbage boards?

I was introduced to Cribbage as a teenager, when working with an ex-naval officer. 

It is a game that is played now mainly by older generations in pubs, and is also popular with sailors. I love playing it and wanted to bring it to a new generation. Traditional games are regaining popularity, with board game cafés opening in London and other cities.

What, in your opinion, are the benefits of designing and creating in Britain?

Design is at its best when it responds to people and society’s needs. When large companies produce goods for a global market this can lead to the erosion of culture. 

What are the features and aspects of British design that you notice and love?

I’m particularly attracted to our vernacular design. There is a joy in seeing a piece of furniture that is rooted to a place.

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What do you think makes a good designer?

I think integrity, a deep understanding of materials, and how the finished product will be used. Of course, the added ingredients of ingenuity and creativity are what can elevate something from being merely functional. A good designer needs to have the desire to understand history and society and have the motivation to respond to its genuine needs. A lot of design is discovery so you need to be open, curious and playful.

What is your favourite aspect of being a designer?

I love the endless variety of interest and inspiration to be found everywhere. I get so much enjoyment from appreciating good design. Living in Edinburgh, I’m surrounded by a wonderful blend of traditional and contemporary architecture. 

What is your favourite material/timber to work with and why?

I love oak, when I work with it the smell reminds me of freshly baked bread! Oak is a complex wood, it has open pores and medullary rays. The rays are exposed when the wood is cut in certain ways. I am always impressed with a great respect for the years and the seasons that have gone into forming this tremendous broadleaf tree.

I work with a lot of Scottish woods, it’s always very satisfying working with woods grown and sourced here locally.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on new designs, using a slightly different approach. Rather than focusing individual pieces, I’m designing a large fully furnished room. I have recently been inspired by the work of the Arts and Crafts designer Ernest Gimson. The centenary of his death is this year, 2019.

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Where do you see Hugh Parsons Design in five years’ time?

I am getting a lot out of part time employment for the time being, and alongside this I will continue to sell my work and I also aim to realise some new pieces. I am excited about a whisky cabinet project which I have been working on for a while.

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