interview :: jack mcguiness

Katie | December 15, 2015



What’s the most important thing to know about you?

I’m all about trees, trees and all the interdependent ecosystem that surrounds them. I’m not sure if that’s the most important thing about me, but it’s certainly up there.


Why does social, environmental and ecological sustainability matter to you so much?

As a designer you have the ability to straddle many different disciplines and see things from various perspectives. This puts you in a unique position to see issues, be they social, environmental or even economic, and pose possible solutions. I try to make holistic thinking and common sense the back bone to all of my work. In this day and age, it is any designer or maker’s responsibility to have these as core ideals to their work – making day-to-day ethical decisions can make a real difference.


Tell me where your joint loves of wood and photography came from and how they come together in your work?

Wood is defiantly my most used medium, I’ve been woodturning since I was about nine years old in my father’s shed and I have been hooked since then. Turning gives a particularly intimate view of the vast beauty and variety that timber can have.

Photography is how I document experiences – it’s a key part of my design process. I find photographs evoke very specific feelings and memories, which is extremely useful when reviewing them in regards to design problems.  The photography is much more for me and my woodwork is generally more accessible but they both influence each other hugely.


Tell me about the product you’re most excited about right now, and why?

I am currently working on a range of tables and freestanding lamps. The sheer variety of processes involved makes them a real pleasure to produce. The lamps are made from various typical English coppiced timbers, all sourced from the south west, with the idea of championing British woodlands and traditional woodland management. Using timbers like hazel and processes like charring, these lamps are a homage to coppicing in an attempt to bring it back into the public domain.


Talk us through your design and making process.

If I’m working with a client or a specific group of people or addressing a specific issue, it tends to start with conversations, interviews and background research. Context is key to make sure any ideas I have will be relevant and useful.

Having shared initial thoughts, I will continue to work closely with the clients, gathering feedback at every stage, re-designing, gathering further feedback…

Having the people who will actually use the products invested in the design process throughout the process is very important in coming up with an end result that actually works. Nothing exists in a bubble and there are many factors to consider.


Then there are my own simple products, such as lamps, plates, bowls, pestles and mortars, which have a very different process. Function is still key so prototyping and re-designing still happens, but the form, weighting and colouration for example are all fairly fluid throughout manufacture.

Each species of tree lends itself to a function – for example holm oak and box wood make amazing pestles and mortars, because both are hard and tight-grained and will outlast their user if they are kept well. That said, there is always an element of the unknown with timber and that’s one of things I love about it.


Tell me about a good day and bad day in the life of Jack McGuiness.

A good day would probably be in September. I would start the day early with eggs from my chickens and lots of nice coffee followed by a surf. I would get back to the yard at about 10.30 and crack on. My day would mainly be spent turning.  I would have all my blanks lined up ready – lovely big pieces of Burr Oak and Damson. Everybody in the yard would be working away on their own projects, getting a real buzz going! It would be a Tuesday so Bill the fish man would have come and the lunch BBQ would be sizzling with butterflied mackerel and courgettes then maybe we would finish the day over in Skinner’s Bottom with a bit of CNC work.

On a bad day a miscellaneous predator has taken a duck and a chicken, my motorbike won’t start and it’s a rainy day in February. My wood is split beyond repair, my plainer thicknesser is on the fritz, there no food in the cupboard and with the motorbike broken, there’s no way of getting to the shops. That’s enough – I’m depressing myself with these worst case scenarios, and it rarely gets that bad!


What defines good design?

Well that’s a bit of a question isn’t it?! I suppose for me it has to fulfil a function, address a problem, spark a debate. Good design is considered and honed. Good design is vast and tiny, from the unnoticed piece of genius that aids your life no end, to the flamboyant and gregarious that excites your soul. Good design takes time; an initial stark of an idea takes a moment but to translate that into a piece of thought-out good design takes time and work, amassing the failures and extracting the successes.


What are you most proud of?

My motorbike. I got two knackered old CD200s from this guy in St Austell and put them together to make one working bike and then took it on a 3000 mile trip around Spain where it broke down daily, but I fixed it daily and got it home and I still ride it today. I’m also quite proud of the pond I dug for my ducks.


What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Everything in moderation. I’ve been given a huge amount of valuable advice over the years, some of which I have taken on board and has shaped my way, and some of which has gone by the by, but this piece of advice from my mother has done me well and if more people in the world lived by it I think the world would be in a much better state.


What’s your favourite colour?

That green you get in May when all the beech leaves first emerge, it’s a fantastic slightly transparent candy lime green.



Further Reading for the Especially Geeky ::

Founding Editor – Katie Treggiden

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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