Valuing The Craftsman

Posted by Phoebe Oldrey in Interior Design Advice

Embroidered Cushions

The craftsman has been the lynch pin of interiors, arts and creativity since the dawn of time. The very definition of our historical time periods, The Stone Age, The Bronze age and The Iron Age, is taken from people’s ability to create weapons and tools from the  materials given to them. These skills moved civilisation forward and the craftsman was key to his community’s livelihood. But this makes me wonder, in our current time-period where we so often favour cheap fixes and throw-away style, have we started to undervalue the skills of the craftsman (and craftswoman!) within our current culture?

Man’s early shelf, as seen at Stonehenge. 

Throughout history, the craftsman has been able to leave a lasting mark on the world– from the wonders of the pyramids, to the beauty of Versailles.  I recently visited an exhibition on The Terracotta Army and was blown away by how stunning it was. The Terracotta Army was created for the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, and was created to be his eternal resting place. The project took 70,000 craftsman approximately 35 years to build it, with each of the 8,000 terracotta warriors having his own defined features, clothing and weapons. The skill, dedication and attention to detail that went into the project has left behind a legacy that belongs to the craftsmen just as much as it belongs to the Emperor it was built for.

A depiction of a craftsman carefully adding the finishing touch to one of the Terracotta Warriors

As an interior designer, I am well aware that my work, and the work of my colleagues in the design community,  would be impossible to execute were it not for our craftspeople. My imagination and designs come to life at the hands of my cabinet maker and curtain maker, without them they would merely be drawings.

I watch unloved chairs return to things of beauty with the upholsterer’s skilful use of scissors, hammers and a staple gun. And these skills, this craft, it’s not easy. It’s the 40 years of experience and attention to detail that my upholsterer has that informs his work and makes it stand out from all the others.

We use our wonderful upholsterer on almost every Smartstyle project, like these projects in North London and Golders Green.

I’m most often drawn to products that directly link to the person who created them. It gives me great pride to use fabrics, lighting and furniture from smaller firms and independent designers as it brings a freshness to my work and gives me the opportunity to directly support the craftsperson in question and help their company grow.

By investing in the actual work of these craftspeople, we’re investing in them as artists, makers, and people. At a time when we are worried about the true cost of cheap manufacturing and the frighteningly prolific use of sweatshops and child labour used in our daily goods, it makes sense and feels better to invest our money in lasting pieces created by true craftsmen and craftswomen. We must do this now, before some of their skills become a dying art form.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the high street and delight in internet bargains, and I often use both to balance the budget on design schemes. However, it is the unique quality of crafted items that elevates a room and a house from something ordinary to something really special. And really, don’t we all deserve something special in our homes? I think so.

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