Cabinet maker Tom Provost honed his skills as an apprentice in Sheffield, and now produces a range of furniture and smaller wooden pieces as well as bespoke commissions from his shared studio in Wales. He uses locally sourced and sustainable timbers, and draws on his craftsmanship to bring out the imperfections in the wood. His work gently plays with form and texture, and the results are timeless, beautiful pieces of furniture that offer up unexpected details to those who look carefully. We talk to Tom about his practice and inspirations…
Can you tell about yourself?
I’m a self-employed furniture maker from Scotland by trade, making furniture for homes and businesses from my rented work shop in mid-Wales where I moved five years ago. Most of my pieces are made from timber sourced by myself, with more than a little help from my father.
Can you explain the ethos behind your work?
As a furniture designer and maker I strive to create pieces which are innovative and fit their purpose. Furniture should be appropriate for its surroundings and should have an obvious impact on a room. However this impact is not the whole picture. An initially striking piece, due to materials or size, should offer up surprises in its subtleties the longer it is used and viewed. These subtleties take the form of tricks on the eye due to form, texture and plays of light. In this way a piece can maintain freshness even long after it’s delivered. This runs true whether the brief is to create an addition to an existing interior, a striking centre piece or a complete room plan. The inspiration to fulfil this ethos derives from the flowing form, colouring and simplicity of the trees themselves.
You originally studied automobile engineering. What prompted the crossover to working with wood?
Soon after graduating from my engineering degree I realised my future did not lie solely within the constraints of the design office, so I turned to my much deeper and earlier passion for wood and woodworking and began looking for an apprenticeship in furniture making. After a few years working in the French Alps I finally found myself an apprenticeship in Sheffield with a local cabinet making firm called My Father’s Heart.
How do you start a piece, and how does it develop?
I often work to commission, so I lead the process with varying degrees of client participation. Initially the purpose, dimensions and preferred timbers will be discussed and through this contact I can familiarise myself with the client’s aspirations. The design process involves many techniques to convey design concepts – 3D computer modelling, mock-ups and engineering drawings are all possibilities – however, the aim of this process is constant: to ensure the final proposals meet the client’s requirements.
Are you inspired by particular periods, artists or designers?
My favourite furniture period is the French art nouveau era. I admire the natural forms created using traditional cabinet-making techniques. I try to make interesting commissions as curved as possible, primarily using steam bending to achieve the curves.
Can you describe your workspace or studio?
My workshop and bench is provided by a local joiner who has downsized to give himself more free time – he’s 74! I have the use of all his old machines and I have my own hand and power tools.
Which three tools couldn’t you live without?
Number 1 has to be the planer thicknesser, which is used to transform rough boards into straight smooth planks ready to be made into beautiful furniture; number 2 is the domino joiner used to join components together; and number 3 is my steel ruler… for obvious reasons.
What’s been your favourite project so far?
My favourite recent project was a commission to build a dining table for eight which would extend to fit 12. The only stipulations of the brief were the number of people it could fit and that the legs should extend up through the table top. The end result was a table made from Scottish Ash with extending leaves. The customer was over the moon with it. I also enjoy the strange requests, like a clothes hanger designed to replace the bedroom chair which was always covered in clothes.
You used to build a lot of tree houses. If you could build your perfect tree house, where would it be?
I worked on one in New Zealand five years ago that was a family home built in native bush forest. Idyllic!
Have you got any tips for anyone wanting to work with wood?
My best tip for any aspiring wood workers is to start out voluntarily to gain experience. Do plenty of reading to back up practical skills.