I met Richard Hardy at Clerkenwell Design Week and was immediately impressed with his playful approach to sustainable design, pairing ‘waney-edges’ with bright primary colours to create responsible furniture with mass appeal. I couldn’t wait to find out more about what makes him tick…
What’s the most important thing to know about you?
I’ve done a lot of different jobs. I’ve sold jewellery, worked in a vineyard, been a copywriter, a bricklayer, a caretaker, project managed interior design projects and built websites. I think this variety of experience has given me a pretty rounded view of the world, and certainly an eclectic approach to designing and making furniture.
What inspires your work?
Lots of things – people, trees, dreams… people are fascinating beasts, aren’t they? When someone asks me to make them something, I try to work out what makes them tick. Someone’s predilections and eccentricities can all inform the design in interesting and unexpected ways. Trees are a fundamental inspiration for me. When you get hold of nice timber, you can still see the tree in its shape, texture and patterns. This wood, this tree, inspires you to work carefully and sympathetically with it. I also get inspired by the dream-like thoughts that run through my mind just before sleep, or when I’m running in the hills. At those moments your mind can disengage from the strictures of the world and thoughts flow in an unimpeded, somewhat chaotic way. A lot of my best ideas come at these times – from letting my mind flow free.
Talk me through your design and making process.
I do a lot of informal, scribbled sketches on scraps of paper, sometimes over a period of months, before I have a coherent idea to work with. Then I like to draw it up on my computer as soon as possible to accurately specify the form and dimensions. I print out lots of copies and draw over them by hand to asses variations of line, angle, proportion and so on until I feel it’s right. Then it’s into the workshop for a prototype. I think with furniture you really need that prototype; once you see your idea occupying space, everything changes. When I start making the final piece I like to have everything quite tightly specified, but I’m still ready to embrace the inevitable happy accidents and unforeseen problems!
What’s your favourite part of the process?
Applying small details using hand tools. It’s often the little design details that define a piece, and when you’re working with hand tools you are intimately connected to the making process. There’s something very satisfying about the potential fallibility of working wood with hand tools.
What’s your favourite tool and why?
An old wooden mallet my wife’s grandfather gave to me. It’s in a right state, battered, scarred and battle-hardened. I don’t know what he did with it, but I like the fact it’s clearly seen a lot of action. It makes me smile when I use it, thinking of all the bashings it’s seen. Then I give it a few more.
Why it is important to you to use sustainable wood sources and “waney edged” wood?
Aside from the environmental impact of sourcing wood responsibly, I like the narratives you encounter, the stories you tell through the quality and provenance of the materials. When I buy wood locally, I visit the timber yard and turn the planks, stroke the grain and get a real feel for the materials. I talk to the merchant and find out where the tree came from – a local farm or landowner. I take my time, choosing to work in a more careful and sustainable way to get the right materials for the job – or sometimes finding wood that dictates what I do with it. And when I make a piece that features the waney edge I’m perpetuating this narrative, this tree that lived for hundreds of years in the local landscape, preserving it and allowing it to continue telling its story.
Tell me about a really good day and a really bad day in the life of Richard Hardy.
A good day starts with a sunny morning bike ride through the lanes to the workshop. Then I’ll be working with hand tools all day so I can hear life go by, just immerse myself in a few fine details – shaping with a spokeshave or fitting some inlayed details. Those days go by much too quickly! A bad day? Rain, so no biking. Machining some heavy duty timber, so lots of lugging, plenty of noise. Some supersize splinters. And a few mistakes. Switching frantically from task to task. Some invoices to pay. Can I go home yet?!
What defines good design?
Well lots of things, but I think I’ll choose being rigorous. I have a degree in philosophy, which amongst other things taught me to question things. To question everything. And that’s important in design – to interrogate every assumption and decision you make. If you rigorously question your ideas, the chances are you’ll eliminate the dodgy ones and refine the good ones. This may well result in a satisfactory final product!
What are you most proud of?
Giving up a more lucrative career to become a poverty-stricken but happy furniture maker. Running a small business is often hard, but designing and making things is certainly the most satisfying way to live my life.
What advice would you give to an aspiring designer?
I’ve had no formal training in design, so I’m certainly not qualified to dispense advice. But following what seem to be whimsical and pointless ideas can often be fun, and sometimes surprisingly productive.
And finally, what’s your favourite colour?
Yellow. The colour of the sun, lemons and egg yolks – what’s not to like?!
Further reading for the especially geeky:
Having established confessions of a design geek in 2010, Katie Treggiden has gone on to a career in design journalism, writing for titles such as The Guardian, The Telegraph, Elle Decoration, Stylist, Design Milk and Ideal Home. In 2014, she launched Fiera, an independent magazine dedicated to discovering new talent at the world’s design fairs. Her second book, Makers of East London, was published in 2015.
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