When handmade design from Cornwall travels to the London Design Festival

10/12/2015 Véronique Le Fort

Tom Raffield is a rising talent in British design that we are very proud to represent. Not only is his steam bending technique astonishing, but the delicacy of the curves he designs are unique in terms of comfort and aesthetic. Last June we visited his workshop in Cornwall discovering all of his work and decided that we would do everything we could to have the amazing Arbor chair (just like a few of you who sat on it at our last event).

When the opportunity came up to spend some time with Tom and his team at the London Design Festival last September, it was like Christmas coming early. It was a great chance to discover his new creations and admiring our favourite ones too, whilst getting to know a little bit more about the talented designer and craftsman, it was an exciting day ahead.


Arbor chair

Participating to a major design fair such as 100% Design is not a small thing so we wanted to understand how they do it! From the preparation to the fair expectations, we caught up with Tom to learn more about how he experienced the whole project.

100% Design is a huge fair that attracts worldwide visitors. When do you start preparing for such an important event?

TR: We start planning for the show months before the event. As soon as we book our stand, and confirm the space we are going to take for the show, we have a team meeting to come up with a concept for the show. In the past we have designed stands that have looked like a replica of our workshop and showroom, created large feature chandeliers and this year for 100% design we created a wall of mini room sets. Once the concept has been decided we create a schedule working back from the start date of the show. This way we can plan when we need to arrange deliveries, print show literature and most importantly build the stand components and craft the products.


Tom Raffield stand at 100% Design, photography Sophie Mutevelian

How do you choose the design objects that you are going to show?

TR: Working to the theme of the stand we will choose a selection of objects from the range that showcase our ability to hand craft beautiful lighting and furniture. We aim to do two shows a year and this means we always have new pieces to launch at the shows. This year at 100% Design we launch new lighting and also feature some of our best loved designs such as the Skipper Pendant Light. It is also the first show where we showcase the upholstered furniture that we design and make. The Arbor Chair and Sofa are receiving an incredible response, people love them.


Arbor sofa and chairs with May coffee table


Skipper pendant

The stand looks amazing, how did you come up with this structure? Knowing you, you must have done it all yourself?!

TR: Yes absolutely! We built everything ourselves. Trade shows stands are a complete blank canvas, which is great for us. The idea of the mini rooms sets comes from the way we photograph our objects. We used similar styling and colours and then framed each one with rough sewn boards to give a rustic workshop look. We built everything in our workshop, wired it up, and then shipped it up to London where it slotted together like an enormous jigsaw.


Tom Raffield photography – Helix pendant


Tom Raffield photography – Skipper pendant and May coffee table

What do you expect from the show? It must be so exciting to share your products ‘live’ with the public!

TR: Every show is so different and we have not exhibited at 100% Design before so we are unsure what to expect. So far we have met lots of interesting people which is great. The other great aspect of attending a show in London is that we can invite existing clients to meet with us and see our work.

In some cases, this is the first time they see our full collection apart from their own pieces. It is amazing to receive their feedback.

What is your best moment of the fair so far?

TR: Chatting with new visitors and existing contacts and getting their feedback. Working away in our workshop in Cornwall we sometimes feel a little distant from our clients. Meeting them in the flesh and conversing with them about the design pieces and our methods of production is invaluable. I am always astounded that they are so interested in steam bending and sustainability. Quite often I get carried away and talk for ages!


Tom Raffield studio in Helston, Cornwall


How is the contrast between studio life and fair life?

TR: Of course nothing beats being in Cornwall, and our little pocket of woodland. There is no where I would rather be than there designing and making. However, Cornwall is a long way from many people and therefore we appreciate the moments we get to go to London to showcase our work.

As you can imagine show life is fast paced! We arrive for the set-up and we don’t stop until everything is packed down again at the end of the week. We work long days but they are packed full of fun moments, and interesting people so the week goes pretty quickly.

What is your London Design Festival survival kit?

TR: Spare light bulbs just in case and an electric drill! Apart from that, oyster card for getting about and water for refueling on the go.


Tom Raffield and colleague Millie Jones