Partnership and Collaboration

Jonathan Rose Design works with successful and aspiring people in the creative world. This is partnership and collaboration. Not just a service. 

These people are graphic designers, small workshops with specialist skills, larger production workshops, photographers and places using digital manufacturing tools all based in the UK and committed to excellence. 

This is partnership in its most elemental form. You have something I need, I have something you need. Lets work out how we can both benefit from it. I can share your story with my world; you can share my story with your world. Treat me with respect, I’ll treat you with respect, because, well, I respect you. We are all better off.

Things grow, they bare fruit and then multiply. Not always quickly but it works. This is how partnerships is for me.

The next few blogs share some of these stories. Here is my first.

Tom S Ironside Furniture Group. 
Based on the Feugh at Finzean, in the heart of rural Aberdeenshire, Tom has been running his workshop for over 30 years. He provides specialist hand skills in a workshop large enough to do a 3.5 meter dining table, with a team of five makers and restorers. He teaches, restores antiques, makes any kind of furniture and has the quiet confidence of someone who has learnt the lessons of life. He won’t be taken for a ride but is willing to test his skills when asked to try something new.

His team are all local, served their time with Tom and he trusts them to do an excellent job. He said to me early on, and I quote, “it takes a long time to develop a reputation, but it takes a very short time to lose it”. Once it is lost, it doesn’t always come back. Think of Austrian wine and anti-freeze – that was over 30 years ago and only now is that product coming back on the shelves.

A dining table was the first piece he made for Jonathan Rose Design, from locally sourced timber  provided by the owner of that timber. Tom was challenged to join boards with a curved butt joint because a straight joint would have been too wasteful of timber.

Here are some pictures of work Tom and his team have done for Jonathan Rose Design, with comments about what was unusual.

triangular nesting tables

ski coffee table

Fractal nesting tables.
The challenge here for maker Claudia Paterson was to get the legs true to the top using a mitre joint plus a 1mm taper either side of the legs.

Other challenges Claudia did not share!

Ski coffee table.
Simple it may look but joining the top boards needed carefully turned and placed pins. Not easy to find the reference points so everything lined up

dining table oak
From the Woods dining table
Lots of curves fitted with patience and skill by Gavin Paterson

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Work Seating for the Office

Much has been written by many eminent designers and physiotherapists about sitting correctly.

In my experience it comes down to what works for you. Everyone is an individual with their own shapes and needs. If you understand the mechanics of sitting then you have a good chance of choosing the right chair.

Think of these stones; care is required to keep things working properly.

office seating

A convex seat with a firm pad allows you choice in all of these aspects of sitting. The image below shows how it all works for the Attentive chair. Positioned here in a neutral position with weight supported almost equally between feet, legs and sitting bones.

modern designer ergonomic furniture


Knees below hips is a priority for a work chair.  Elbows at about the same height, or a little above hands gives a comfortable position for using the key board. Flexibility of the pelvis allows a variation in the curvature of the spine. It also gives a sense of working the pelvic floor while sitting. Sharing weight between feet, thighs, sitting bones and back varies depending on whether you are leaning forward or backward. Something to be able to do easily for yourself.

Ergonomic designer chair

If the back has a convex surface, it also provides support when leaning back. Oh that lovely feel of stretching your spine away from the habitual slump.

Don’t forget – colour is important too.
















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The Attentive Collection

Attentive is a collection of furniture designed for an active lifestyle.

We have busy periods of our life; always daily, mostly weekly and often for a whole month. We sometimes wonder why the chairs we sit on seem to envelop and stop us from just getting on with it.

The Attentive chair is good for times like this. While you are focused on the job, it supports you, keeps your core working while you’re not even thinking about it. Lean backwards and the back touches you just where you want it. Feels good to stretch yourself. In a consultant’s clinic, around a working table, in a hotel lobby. Places where you don’t want the chair to swallow you up and where everyone needs to concentrate.

IMG_3764 IMG_3766 IMG_3767 IMG_3770 IMG_3771

The Attentive range allows this to happen and is also slender and discrete in a public place. It has something of the mid 20th century feel about it but definitely belongs to the 21st century lifestyle.

This collection came from the entrepreneurial spirit of an engineer who accepted the challenge of making a chair. The project started as an exploration of what could be done with laminates, without losing that solid wood feel. Out of the experimentation came a chair with a convex seat, a convex back and a unique method of upholstery capture. Key to the economics of the collection was CNC machining which could cut complex curves and curved recesses easily and quickly.

The connection between designer and manufacturer is always critical. In this case the manufacturer was prepared to work with the designer to improve the chair both on the cost side and for the skills of his team. He has an operation which prioritises the contribution of each team member and fosters an open relationship throughout the company. Here the designer was able to meet the director and makers and talk through ways in which the manufacturing processes could be improved.

Here is an example of how a UK based operation provides a successful outcome. A clear understanding of the design and its context by everyone involved, enabled the final product to be greater than the sum of its parts.

IMG_3363photo 5

It is now a collection with tables and stools to partner the chair. The tables provide that same function, uncluttered with stretcher rails and bulky drawers and with space for putting a laptop or tablet out of sight. The standing table enhances that dynamic interaction but without the need for a chair.

Manufactured in Britain from European ash. The chairs are made in a small factory in Coventry and the tables by a small family firm in Suffolk. All committed to the value of UK made products.

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Critical Creative Design

A letter in the paper today is a tribute to lateral thinking during important moments of world history. As Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley were getting ready to face the press, a small problem arose – where do they sit in relation to each other?

triangular tables letter copy

These words share the diplomatic solution.

I wonder if the Brexit talks will be needing Segment 1?

segment1-front-ptf-lnscpsegment1-front-ptf lnscp


Nobody sits at its head, everyone has a direct view of everyone else, and of course it is top quality solid timber.

I’m looking forward to the call, David and Theresa! And of course I have a collection of chairs, as many as you need.



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Dundee Design Festival 2017

In the craft world, manufacturing is often associated with a personal detachment from the material being worked. Manufacturing is efficient, reduces the price of each unit and makes the item accessible to a wider market. But it is not made by craftsmen.

Dundee Design Festival promoted a different perspective. Industrial tools and processes connect to the individual maker.

Silo Studio  shared their passion for production processes and how it led to developing a new material for furniture. Polystyrene looks an unlikely starting point.  Delving deeply into the source material and challenging some industrial practice Attua Aparicio and Oscar Lessing came up with not so expanded polystyrene.  It can be moulded and formed into rails and posts, just what is required for furniture.

Table made from ‘Not So Expanded Polystyrene’

‘Not So Expanded Polystyrene’ material

This process of enquiry led to other projects. Plastic keys from redundant keyboards could form colourful surfaces for tables. Especially interesting to the manufacturer of those keyboards at this time of global overload. Understanding the materials and who could have an interest in using them is part of finding a bridge between crafts and industry.

Attua and Oscar use Jesmonite to make bowls. This is an acrylic/plaster of paris mix which sets to a hard material which can be polished. Attua and Oscar demonstrated the skilled use of colour and an understanding of the properties of the unset material to make appealing patterns.

One strand of the craft debate is about the connection between the hand and the eye.  Critical to personal success is an intuitive understanding of the process. At Dundee we saw that idea built upon. Here are some examples.

CHALK specialises in designing and creating beautiful decorative plasterwork. They use traditional techniques in the restoration of historic interiors undertaking minor repairs to the complete reinstatement of original designs

Contemporary Plasterwork

contemporary plasterwork

a classical urn in a contemporary setting

GLITHERO are British designer Tim Simpson and Dutch designer Sarah van Gameren, who met and studied at the Royal College of Art. From their studio in London they create product, furniture, and time-based installations that give birth to unique and wonderful products. The work is presented in a broad spectrum of media, but follows a consistent conceptual path; to capture and present the beauty in the moment things are made.

digitised organ music woven on a Jacquard loom

damask tablecloth depicting a Jacquard weaving book

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May 2017 update

It has been a fulfilling 15 months since my last post.

The main event has been the exhibition ‘After the Storm‘ , held in the John Hope Gateway Gallery of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh. 12 cabinet makers from the Scottish Furniture Makers Association designed and made furniture using timber from the gardens blown down in 2012 by Cyclone Andrea. Oak, cedar, maple and chestnut formed the most usable wood. With the support of Forestry Commission Scotland, RBGE and members of SFMA, the exhibition became a celebration of creative talent.

Here is an image of the piece I collaborated on with Gavin Robertson – Gavin the experienced maker and me the designer. Always an interesting interchange when two creative people work together for common purpose. I hope we will have the opportunity to do this again.

Tsunami chart cabinet made from cedar and yew

Tsunami chart cabinet made from cedar and yew

Many people experience the rising of water, albeit gently but inexorable, over the parapets designed to protect.

The exhibition closes on 28th May.

A book written to complement the event is available in the shop. It explores ecological change, resilience and renewal in the context of Cyclone Andrea and has pictures of the furniture.

In addition to the exhibition, a bench for the gardens has been sponsored by the MS society  (Edinburgh and the Lothians) and made by Angus Ross. It is to be a place of reflection and a destination for visitors. The MS Society were particularly supportive of this project because people who have the condition have had to make major adjustments to their life and adapt to new expectations.


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start of year thoughts

I look at this work by Danish textile practitioner Anette Bendixen and I love the combination of thought, use of materials and the idea behind an image that shocked the 19th century salon society, being made in the 21st century from yarns. The interlacing is done by hand with each connection dependent on the judgement of the makers eye and the skill of their hand.

Picts needed to create influential images. The work involved carving granite which suggests the person who commissioned the work had something important and enduring to say. Mysterious in our current world, but something to take inspiration from. Look at the maiden stone and wonder.

 Beatriz Schaaf-Giesser made this image from felt, which sits beautifully on granite but is in a material which requires skill and understanding to work. From this textile collaboration using images carved on stone, here is a new back design for Attentive in wood and copper.

One project completed last year has been an experiment in modular display units, inspired by wine boxes but sized to fit LP’s. This is called the ‘Elpea’ system, where each unit locks together and is built up from the floor.

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thoughts for the spring

Winter reading included a revisit of Gareth Williams ‘The Furniture Machine – furniture since 1990’ (V&A publications 2006) which reminded me of the giant forces that are out there influencing taste in furniture. This book tracks the development of several celebrity designers, who Williams terms as part of an egosystem, and have design thinking. Take Jurgen Bey and his tree trunk bench at €12,500. He was experimenting with the meaning of furniture rather than the practicalities of it. He made a statement that it is ridiculous to transport trees when they are available locally, so you only get three bronze chair backs for your money.

Gaetano Pesce made a piece that fulfilled all the demands of furniture in a new family home. Child proof, colourful, comfortable and easy to move. Donna is a polyurethane foam product made at a time when pop art was at its zenith and new materials in vogue. In fact this one came virtually flatpack – it could be vacuum compressed to only 10% of its volume. Manufactured by Cassina and Busnelli in 1969 with a reissue in 2000 it featured in Big Brother in 2002.

Continuing to explore the design possibilities for Attentive, there are now six different backs, designed as part of a set for a kitchen table and with continued influence from the Omega workshops of Christopher Fry, Bauhaus and from Mediaeval Spain. The Alcazar Palace in Seville had some stunning images, crafted in wood and ceramics, the source of three of these backs. The veneers and copper for Attentive are cut by Laser through Heritage Inlays in Brighton.

Technology plays its part in progressing design and I’m sure is one of the forces that Gareth Williams talks about.

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July Idea

The furniture world is collegiate yet competitive. Designers and makers love to see what is out there; to gain inspiration, to judge and place themselves. Social media brings it all very close. Take this blog, you could be reading it just 15 minutes after the idea takes form. How’s that for connection to someone’s thought process?

We (furniture makers) love it when our furniture is loved. We love it even more when we have a relationship with the lover of our pieces who is willing to commit themselves to a purchase. Yes, it is the attachment of the crafts person and artist to that essential idea, put onto the canvass or formed from the wood; that originality; that which no-one else has done.

These thoughts are at the front of my mind at the Matisse show in Tate Modern. Here was a person, whose very being and definition of self was expressed through colour and form. Disability in later life did not suppress that urge to say something through his hands and mind and he said it in a different way. His contemporary, collaborator and competitor, Picasso, would admire Matisse’s work, and take inspiration. It is just the way the furniture designer and maker works.

images courtesy Centre Pompidou C Succession Henri Matisse/DACS 2014

Out of Tate modern into Tate Liverpool and Piet Modrian. Here was a form ready made for Gerrit Rietveld and the De Stijl movement to work with in 3D. No curves, simple shapes, ready made for mass production. There were miniature versions of his original for sale at Tate Liverpool for £160.

Not sure what relationship Reitveld has with the purchaser of this piece but his design is familiar and has its place in design history. Mondrian wanted to find the ‘End of Art’; pictures that had no source form, were entirely abstract with no connections.

The paradox is that this form has become the form we recognise as a source of inspiration. Look at his self portrait – clearly inspired by his later work!. And trees – familiar to furnituremakers.

Thoughts turn to ‘Attentive’. I have been sitting on it at my desk for the past month. Although it has no wheels, no arms, nor any tilt mechanisms, or lift and lower springs, it is my preferred desk chair. I am supported in all those different positions that I find so necessary. Conventional chairs don’t seem to support me like this. I ask myself would Matisse, Mondrian or Picasso see the possibilities of making this something that endures?

If I was to take inspiration from one, it has to be Matisse.

Meanwhile, ‘Attentive’ sits and stores well. Here are 20 chairs and one in constant use.

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Attentive launching

And here she is to face the world.

Attentive in the sun

Attentive at work

Attentive looked down on

Nobody but nobody should walk away

Come to SECC Glasgow 23rd to 26th May stand L445 and see it in the flesh – or is it wood?

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