Meet the London Carpenter Creative Championing Traditional Hand-crafting Techniques

Handcraft is the New Sexy is an original series for THE PLUS exploring the role of traditional techniques in the digital age. Explore with us the irreplaceable tactile experiences you’d never get from factory production.

Much like the local English hardwoods with which he works, furniture designer Gareth Neal is a down-to-earth being enjoying a quietly flourishing career in woodwork. The London-based craftsman’s hands were destined for handicraft from an early age, and from his East End studio we’re given a contemporary and fine-grained appreciation of the ancient practice of carpentry.

His studio has grown since its establishment in 2006, and he doesn’t get as much time there as he used to – “but when I do, it’s really special and I completely lock in; I get completely absorbed, and I can’t think of anything else”.

The humble studio, alongside creating one-off pieces and collaborations, trades ‘fad’ design for longevity, craftsmanship, and a healthy respect for the environment. With clients inclusing Aesop, Zaha Hadid Architects, and London’s V&A museum, Gareth proves that woodwork is still a truly flourishing field.

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THE PLUS: What does craft mean to you?
Gareth Neal:
Craft is not just the making of something, it’s the whole process, from designing it all the way to the point at which you finally make it. I love every bit of it, every step is equally important to me.

TP: Handcraft like this so different from factory production, too – what does this more involved process do for you?
GN:
It’s maybe just where my soul is… In the sense that when I’m making something I relax, like when someone does yoga to find that inner peace and tranquility. That’s where I find it. In making things.

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TP: So what attracts you to working with wood, in particular?
GN:
Wood is one of the most important materials on the planet. It’s been here for so long, and it’s everything to the planet in terms of how it produces oxygen, and all the carbon that it takes out of the atmosphere.

TP: So it’s got an ethical appeal?
GN:
It’s also in our DNA, so we are just instinctively attracted to touch it and to feel it. It makes it such a special medium.

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TP: Where do you get your design inspiration from?
GN:
I tend to look back in time for inspiration, to find a moment where something went unconsidered, or wasn’t fully engaged with, or perhaps to apply those traditional techniques in a contemporary context.

TP: So you like to bring tradition into your modern pieces?
GN:
I also like to look forward for inspiration, and look to the future for what we could do in terms of exploration and research.

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TP: What does your studio look like on a typical Gareth Neal working day?
GN:
A lot of tea-drinking. I can’t stop talking, so it’s often good to get music on, and then I can get my mind on track. But yeah, gotta have a soundtrack to life. Music’s critical.

TP: What do you like to get up to when you’re not in the workshop?
GN:
I like rock-climbing. I love to travel… I love seeing the world, and if I get the opportunity to climb up bits of it, swim in it, or surf on it, then that’s great too.

TP: Any tips for aspiring designers and craftsmen?
GN:
It’s very important to work with your collaborators to ensure that they are getting exactly what they want, because it’s all about that dialogue between you and them.

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