Intrigued by the clever combination of wood and wire she employs in her work, we caught up with Jennifer Finnigan, the talented furniture designer-maker behind Wood and Wire. We talked about her sources of inspiration, her passion for woodwork and and her plans for the future, and visited her workspace at Cardiff School of Art and Design where she showed us some of her work in progress for the upcoming New Designers exhibition in London that she will be part of.
“I am very led by the wood I choose and enjoy using traditional joinery techniques.”
Tell us about your background. Have you always been interested in design and making?
I suppose my interest slowly snuck up on me without me really noticing. I enjoyed most subjects at school, but began taking more creative options when I was able to, such as textiles, fine art and product design. I also enjoyed maths a lot, particularly for its logic so perhaps that’s why I ended up making furniture.
What was your most formative experience as a student at the Cardiff School of Art & Design?
In my first year at the university’s school I took as many equipment inductions as possible in all the workshops, from ceramics to 3D printing. But I particularly remember learning the wood lathe, loving it, and then pretty much never leaving it and the wood workshop for the whole year.
How did you come up with the idea of combining wood and wire?
When it came to my final year, I had to specialise. I struggled deciding at first so looked back through my past work and noticed wood and wire were two materials that kept popping up, so I put them together.
What influences your pieces? Where do you draw inspiration from?
Woodwork in itself is probably my biggest influence. I am very led by the wood I choose and enjoy using traditional joinery techniques, the design features of my pieces.
Asymmetry seems to play an important role in your approach to design. What is it that draws you to it?
You know, I had always thought of myself as a very symmetrically led designer but you are very right, many of my pieces are asymmetric. I suppose formal balance is the important thing.
Tell us about your creative process and which step in the journey from idea to final product you enjoy the most?
Probably my favourite part of the making process is the final sand. Up until that point the piece looks messy with glue from inlaying the wire. But then sanding works like magic to clean it all up and the piece is transformed.
Where do you source your materials from?
A variety of places depending on the size and species of wood; I try to source as locally as possible. For some of my larger hardwood boards I go a little further afield to Gloucestershire (Williams British Hardwoods) or Swindon (Tyler Hardwoods).
What is your favourite type of wood?
Elm. It can have a beautiful, waterfall like grain pattern unlike any other woods I have used or seen.
What is it about wood as a material that fascinates you the most?
It can be your friend and foe simultaneously. It demands respect as a living material, to be worked with, not on. It can warp and splinter, but ultimately gives great pleasure in the making process and the finished piece.
What is your favourite tool?
That is a tricky question... I would probably say my squares. My combination square for its accuracy and endless usefulness, and my rosewood and brass dovetail square is just a beautiful object in itself.
What draws you to the mid-century modern style?
Its design principles such as honest expression of materials and simple, pure, forms and lines.
Which mid-century modern designers do you find most inspiring?
Paul McCobb is definitely my biggest influence. He was an originator of the iconic tapered, angled wooden legs of the era. But he also had a very linear, metal range of furniture which I am becoming more influenced by recently.
You have been one of the 2016 winners of the annual business start-up programme Countdown to Launch. What did this achievement mean to you both as a designer and as an entrepreneur?
It definitely built up my personal confidence in presenting my work and the funding awarded has helped towards my initial expenses, where I would have struggled otherwise.
What were the biggest challenges you have faced so far as a young entrepreneur?
I think self confidence. Working for myself wasn’t an ambition I had at all growing up, and the pressure and responsibility of it can get to me sometimes.
How will the new CNC technologies be incorporated in your traditional woodworking techniques?
I have begun using CNC routers to carve out the groove for the wire to sit in as it is difficult and time consuming carving by hand all the time. I use it primarily for inlaying writing but can use it to inlay along the wood grain by scanning the wood, and tracing over the grain with CAD software to create a CNC file.
How do you engage with the local community of designers, makers and other creatives?
Coming from Cardiff School of Art and Design, it naturally happens that most of my friends here are artists and designers too. I also currently work in a communal workshop with other makers which I really enjoy as opposed to burying away by myself.
What does Cardiff offer you as a designer and maker?
There are pros and cons to being based in Cardiff but the pros definitely outweigh the cons. You can feel a little distant from other places in the UK. But it is a small but wonderful capital city, and offers affordable rent to people starting out like me, but still all the professional and creative links I need.
What are your favourite places in Cardiff?
I don’t get to spend as much time as I would like visiting what the city has to offer, but my favourite place I do get to see every day is Bute Park and the River Taff. I cycle through it to and from work; it is an amazing natural bubble of quietness right in the middle of the city. One other place is Jacob’s Antiques close to central station. They have a wondering array of furniture and objects there from all design eras.
What other disciplines are you interested in or involved with?
The course I studied at university allowed us to learn almost all material disciplines and I do enjoy elements of them all. I do feel like I will eventually move on from wood and wire to turn my hand to other things and keep developing and learning as many skills as I can.
“I do feel like I will eventually move on from wood and wire to turn my hand to other things and keep developing and learning as many skills as I can.”
What advice would you give to those currently embarking on the designer maker venture?
Make sure you have people around you both professionally and personally to lean on. It can be difficult going at it alone. Also don’t pigeonhole yourself in terms of your work. Make sure you are offering something unique and marketable, and continue to develop it to the best it can be.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently making pieces to display at the One Year On part 2 of New Designers in London which I will be featuring in early July.
What are your plans for the future?
My next challenge is finding a new workshop to move into from September. I enjoy a community feel but have struggled finding somewhere in Cardiff with the wood range of working equipment I would need.
Can you recommend us:
A book: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
A film: Hot Fuzz
A song: “Try a Little Tenderness”, by Otis Redding
Thank you, Jennifer for the insight into your work and personal realm.