Wednesday, 29 September 2010

MEET: Paul of Free Range Designs

UK Handmade is pleased to introduce Paul Bullen of family run furniture business Free Range Designs. Paul uses recycled, reclaimed and ecologically sound materials to create gorgeous unique pieces of furniture. We caught up with Paul to find out more about him and the family business.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started?
I am a South African born artist who found his way to furniture making by accident. At school I studied art instead of woodwork and have never had any formal woodworking training. After school I took Multi-Media studies in Cape Town, but was disappointed with the narrow remit of the course (no drawing, sculpting or dancing!) and ended up becoming a graphic designer by default.

I first started making rustic furniture with my older brother Nick over 12 years ago, when we were living together in Wilderness, South Africa and continued working with him, and my younger brother Tim, when we came over to the UK 9 years ago. I think my lack of formal training has helped me to view furniture making as an art form, and not as a learned craft only open to the professionally-trained and has encouraged me to experiment and take a novel approach to designing and making.

Driftwood Bed Frame
Driftwood Four Poster Bed
What is the ethos behind your work and why did you choose the name "free range designs"?
I take my inspiration from the natural world around me and believe in using only low impact, locally-sourced and sustainable materials. I strive to show the beauty of these materials through my furniture, allowing designs to be guided by the natural shape and form of the woods I use, and hope to encourage a respect for nature and engage people with environmentally friendly products. The name Free Range Designs symbolises my way of working, which is born of a desire to create without constraints and take a fresh approach to design and construction.

Slate Coffee Table
What kind of formal education, training or experience do you have that applies to what you do?
I have a degree in Multi-Mediai Studies from South Africa and have worked alongside design professionals in the UK, but my woodworking skills have been largely self- and family-taught, with a prevailing can-do attitude.

What inspired you to start making handmade furniture?
By brother Nick...he was the first furniture maker in the family: he inspired me and my younger brother Tim, and even my dad gets involved sometimes these days.

You have done an amazing commission for the Centre of Alternative Technology (CAT) in Wales, how did that come about?
CAT had a big revamp of its visitor display circuit about 5 years ago and I begged the Displays Designer to give me the chaise longue commission. The concept was a 'retail therapy couch' which was to question the idea that spending money makes you happy. It was part of a new Waste and Recycling display at CAT, challenging people to reduce their consumption and questioning the role shopping plays in terms of our well-being. The chaise longue was the first woodworking commission I did alone, without my brothers, and it took six months to complete, working part time. It is made from 100% recycled wood from skips.

Funky Chaise Longue

What do you love most about what you do and what do you find the most frustrating?
What I love most is finishing construction of a new design that has been in my head for ages, stepping back and thinking, "wow, that works and looks good". The most frustrating part is the time it takes to get to that point.

What is your favourite piece you have ever made and why?
The chaise longue is my favourite piece - it's not often that you get the opportunity to make such an exciting commission. It did take me a long time to make, but it's definitely the most stunning piece I've made so far.

Is handmade a lifestyle choice for you and if so why?
I live on a beautiful isolated farm, halfway up a mountain, completely off-grid and run entirely on renewable energy. Handmade is a natural part of how I choose to live my life.

Baby Highchair
Can you tell us a bit about where your collections are made, can we take a sneaky peak at your workshop?
The farm where I live has a large old barn, which I have been steadily converting to a workshop with my other farm mates, two of whom are also carpenters. It is in a very inspiriting location, surrounded by forests and with beautiful views of the lush countryside. Renewable-energy powered furniture!

How do you balance your work and home life, what do you do to wind down?
Living and working so close together is great for spending time with my wife and baby, but it also means that I can find it hard to switch off. To wind down I enjoy working in the vegetable garden at the farm, but what I really love is the ocean and being on the water. I've made a couple of canoes and love paddling and fishing along our local coasts.

Do you ever experience periods of creative slump and if so what helps you through?
Having a variety of different projects on the go helps me to not get bored: if I'm feeling physically tired one day then I might stay home and do some graphic design; or if it's sunny I'll go down to the beach and collect driftwood. Mixing and matching keeps life interesting.

Love Chairs
If you could give an aspiring maker one piece of advice what would it be?
Do it. If it works, great. If it doesn't, then try it again differently, until it works.

Who or what inspires you most in your work?
My wife - she constantly wants new things! Just kidding, our bed is actually made of old pallets. I don't know what inspires me I would say I'm more driven, but by what I don't know, "the need to create".

Story telling Chair
If you had the time to learn a new skill what would it be?
Probably metal work. I think that both metal work and woodwork go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other.

For more information on Free Range Designs check out the blog:


Julia K Walton - Fire Horse Textiles said...

What wonderful unique work - I'll look out for the chaise longue next time I'm at CAT!

Allabitrandom said...

Thank for sharing this. The furniture is just beautiful.

Allabitrandom said...

Thank you for sharing this beautiful furniture and your inspiring attitude.

LouBee Crafts said...

Stunning furniture!

Elizabeth said...

Wow, this is so inspiring - I love it.