I met husband and wife team Studio Haran on my travels during confessions of a design geek’s Cornish Design Season at the end of last year. Falmouth University graduates Joel and Helena design and make sustainable furniture and lighting from their farm courtyard workshop. They work with FSC graded timber – Cornish where possible – and use British suppliers. Their careful craftsmanship ensures their products last as long as possible, and they design their products to be disassembled and recycled when their lifespan does come to an end. They showed their latest collection TopDrawer’s Spotted, and they are definitely two young designers to watch. I caught up with them to find out more…
What’s the most important thing to know about Studio Haran?
We value simple, honest, quality design and craft. Sustainable design is probably the biggest challenge the world faces and we feel the responsibility to accept that challenge as designer makers. On a more personal note we love to be creative and we work well as a team.
What inspires your work?
Inspiration can be found anywhere and we believe the key to creativity is being observant of everything around you – it’s impossible to just rely on one source of inspiration. Looking at different scales is often interesting – we may find inspiration for a small joint’s detail by looking at a multi storey piece of architecture or a mountain, making small things really big or big things really small is just one way to find new inspiration. Most of the time we aren’t purposely looking for inspiration, we just like observing our surroundings and you get trigger moments when what you are looking at happens to be the answer to your problem or the idea for a new product. It also depends what material we are working in. We love using good quality British timber. The patterns in the wood often inspire its direction and end use. We have just designed a new range of products using London Plane and Ash Wood. The Plane has gorgeous lacy patterns in the wood and our job is to just let people see them.
Talk me through your design and making process.
We normally start by telling one another about a crazy new idea we’ve had. We will then explore the idea with some really rough sketches. Once we have figured out the basics we use CAD modelling to refine the style and dimensions of the piece. Once we have all the dimensions we’ll make an initial prototype – it’s rarely right the first time so we will normally analyse the piece together and go through the whole process of sketching and refining a couple more times. Hopefully by the end we have a product we are proud of. Otherwise it’s in the bin and back to the drawing board.
What’s your favourite part of the process and why?
The design process is not always as calculated or predicted as we just described, quite often we will see a new idea by looking at an off-cut or something that is half made. That’s really exciting because we accidently discover ideas without expecting it. Working on bespoke commissions is also really fun and opens up our creativity. You never know when the next job is just around the corner. We’ve had a great time so far doing some really interesting projects – we made an 18ft boom box for Boardmasters Festival last year!
What’s your favourite tool?
Joel is currently having affairs with quite a few of his tools, it would be much easier if he had just one favourite!
Tell me about a really good day and a really bad day in the life of Studio Haran.
A good day involves surfing, meeting clients to discuss new projects, eating really good food and finishing a product that we are really happy with. A bad day is clearing all the dust and woodchips from the workshop – we don’t like working in a mess but it’s really hard to keep clean and tidy in a busy workshop so that is a daily battle. Whatever the day brings it never seems to be what we planned so we generally just keep smiling and make the most of what’s in front of us. We have our workshop on a farm courtyard and we are surrounded by lots of other creative people who are super-helpful when we have any problems. It’s generally quite a bubbly relaxed vibe and everyone is really knowledgeable so there aren’t many problems which the brains of the courtyard can’t think through. We are in the process of creating a communal space so we can work on more collaborative projects, which is very exciting.
What defines good design?
Keeping it simple – it’s so easy to overcomplicate things. Quality materials – it’s important to use the best materials we can get our hands on. Which leads us to honesty – understanding where a material is from and how it has been produced. Most importantly we consider sustainability to be an umbrella term so we ensure our products and the processes behind them are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable. There has definitely been a ‘greenwash’ of products which claim to be sustainably minded but overlook so many key considerations; just because something is made of FSC timber it doesn’t make it sustainable. The timber could have travelled the world to a factory with poor working conditions and an underpaid poverty-stricken workforce before being shipped across the world again to a retailer’s shiny showroom under the tag sustainable design. We don’t have all the answers but we try our best to inform our design with sustainably minded principles.
What are you most proud of?
Doing our first ever trade show less than six months after graduating. It was really tough to get a whole range of furniture and lighting designed and made in such a short time. It is getting through the hardest challenges that builds us and helps us to improve – we would never progress if everything was easy.
What advice would you give to a design student or graduate hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Speak to designer makers and spend time with them. You will quickly get some great tips and advice, but don’t wait for them to tell what you want, ask as many questions as you can. Whatever you want to achieve don’t wait for it to come to you, start looking for it, everywhere. That old saying of ‘It’s not what you know it’s who you know’ is very true. Joel did internships with Tom Raffield and Sebastian Cox before we started Studio Haran. The knowledge he got from those guys has helped us massively. It’s also really important to know that you are not going to wake up one day with everything worked out, a steady income, a nice workshop and loads of work. Progress will be slow when you start, you will invest almost everything you earn into your business and probably have a part time job to pay your bills. If it’s what you really want, you will do it because you love it, so it probably won’t feel like work most of the time. There are easier ways to make money, you won’t find many designer makers who do what they do for the money, they just love what they do and can’t bear the thought of a nine to five!
And, finally, what’s your favourite colour?
Turquoise is a great colour! We both love the sea for surfing, swimming and kayaking. It is a perfect way to wind down after a busy day in the workshop, especially in the summer time. We’re so lucky to live in a great place like Cornwall with so much natural beauty around.
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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