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Heartwood and Soul

Updated: Oct 1, 2020


We pull into the rural yard with its assortment of barns and outbuildings, and park outside what might once have been a tractor shed. We call out and a cheery greeting comes from within - the huge barn door slides open to reveal a tousle-haired chap with a friendly smile. Meet Amanda’s friend Jamie, a talented joiner and cabinet maker, working in the heart of the Surrey Hills. We are here to discuss the making of a bespoke, collectors-style cabinet for the stand at Chelsea. Jamie ushers us into the veritable treasure-trove that is his workshop. The aromatic smell of sawdust, a confectionary of scents, pervades the air: the citrus of cedar, the resinous camphor of pine, the nutty aroma of walnut and something green, perhaps oak? The walls are lined with an array of intriguing objects; tools of the trade - set-squares, a variety of planes, saws, hammers and jigs. There are a few antique pieces of furniture, bearing the scars of a long life, but most are new - beautiful works in progress - with precision dovetailed drawers and doweled joints, the signs of a true craftsman. In the centre of the room stands a hefty workbench, large enough to take a huge dining table, with a circular saw at one end. My eye is drawn to a trio of organically-shaped chopping boards, which Jamie tells us are made from a tree that once stood in the client’s garden, felled in the Great Storm. The warm, honey coloured wood is set off by an elegant dark inlay of Purpleheart. The rest of the tree, now cut into planks, is stacked against the back wall of the workshop awaiting transformation. To know the provenance of the wood that your furniture is crafted from, particularly if the tree once stood in your own garden, is magical and is a special way of preserving the memory of the tree. Jamie’s passion for his trade is evident and, whenever possible, he enjoys the slow rhythm of working with hand tools to produce that unmistakable bespoke look. His material of choice is hardwood and he specialises in European oak, which he describes as ‘tough as old boots’ but beautiful and elegant, with a stunning grain.

We share our thoughts for the cabinet and Jamie grabs a pencil and a piece of ply (the carpenter’s sketch-paper!) and starts sketching at speed. He is full of ideas and our vision starts to take form. It is an exciting moment - having worried around this issue for a while, this feels right. The cabinet is to be a key part of the stand and needs to be both useful and yet earn its keep within the design. We exchange thoughts for a suitable wood; the colour and grain should not be too obtrusive; it needs to be robust and yet not too heavy as we have to transport it up to Chelsea…. and back. Finally, we are drawn to oak for the warmth of its colour, its straight grain and strength. Phew! Another decision made - we can relax….for now.

Artistry of this kind, whether it’s working with wood or with thread, is often a solitary activity. The artist becomes completely absorbed in the process; exploring different techniques, experimenting with a variety of materials, building up knowledge to bring their ideas to fruition. This ability is hard won, requiring many hours of practice, patience and pure determination. Just as it takes years for a tree to build up its concentric rings of heartwood, both Amanda and Jamie have perfected their skills over time and have scaled the heights to become masters of their craft.

It is reassuring to know that Jamie is part of the build team for Chelsea – we are lucky to be in such capable hands. The ‘To Do’ list is growing, Jamie!

Jamie Westbrook

Acornish Joinery, Shere, UK

IG: acornish_joinery

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