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Art meets furniture

PUBLISHED: 08:23 25 February 2014 | UPDATED: 08:23 25 February 2014

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Inspired by passions, memories and dreams and fuelled by a passion for speed and movement, Tom Rowan’s furniture bridges that important gap between art and function. Rachael D’Cruze-Sharpe heads to his studio in Barrow Gurney to find out more

Tom Rowan with his chair 'Reach for the sky' at Clermont-Ferrand airportTom Rowan with his chair 'Reach for the sky' at Clermont-Ferrand airport

Tom Rowan’s objective as a furniture designer is to take us all on a journey of imagination and adventure: something which he certainly succeeds in. When we think of furniture, our instincts tell most of us to think of function: we imagine a comfy armchair, beautiful chaise or sleek coffee table. Tom Rowan imagines a speedboat or a plane cutting through the air and it’s this vision that allows him to create the arresting pieces of functional design we’re lucky enough to be viewing at this studio today.

A West Country lad, Tom Rowan lives in Bristol and works from his dedicated studio and workshop, located on a farm in Barrow Gurney, Somerset, which he’s had since September 2013.

Born in Exeter, Devon, into a family of artists and engineers, Tom’s journey from Devon to Somerset has certainly been an interesting one, taking in much of the world. His move to Bristol saw him relocate from Hawaii, where his wife was posted with her job as a volcanist. Prior to this Tom also lived in France, where he initially enjoyed a successful career as a professional racing cyclist and then came back to the UK and embarked on a degree course in Furniture Design and Craftmanship at Buckingham University College, before returning to France 
where he started to build his furniture design business.

“I take an object I like, draw it and see what I could change it into,” explains Tom who takes different elements of his life, upbringing and travels and translates it into furniture design. Growing up by the south coast of England, Tom enjoyed childhood sailing excursions, which has lead to boats being a major influence on his designs. Similarly, his career as a racing cyclist features too, as does his father’s career as a bridge designer and his love of travelling translates as a love of areoplanes. “I’m a big fan of speed and things that travel quickly,” he adds.

'Swell' light side table'Swell' light side table

Organic influences also feature in Tom’s work, for example in his ‘Swell’ and ‘Swell – Tidal Wave’ light side tables, he’s picked the vibrant colours as homage to the wonderful sunsets he witnessed in Hawaii. In the center of these side tables, which would surely be a real talking point in any home, there is a light, which symbolises the sun shining through after storms, tidal waves and hard times in general. Tom’s beachy/wave inspired pieces, which include these tables are his answer to going mainstream and becoming accessible to a larger audience – which is wonderful to see.

Tom has hundreds of sketch books full of his furniture ideas, which take us from his university days, where he concentrated on large straight line pieces, or as has he refers to it “pointy, dangerous furniture” through to the pieces I’m lucky enough to see today, which are smaller scale and although sculptural in form remain functional.

While chatting to Tom, it’s difficult not to be drawn to certain pieces of his work and just stare at them in wonder; being in his studio is an experience akin to entering a wonderful and inspiring design exhibition without the queues. We kept coming back to ‘The Leaner’, which really is a unique, shrewd piece of design work. “It’s supposed to look like it’s flying and cutting through the air, or it could be part of a boat,” explains Tom.

Tom’s other creations are more sculptural in form – pieces of artwork that are functional as furniture too, but it’s their form that’s striking. Take for example his chair ‘Reach for the Sky’ which was exhibited at Clermont-Ferrand airport in France – its beauty is in its aerodynamic form – suited perfectly to an airport setting. The fact it provides functional seating is obviously important but it would still act as an aesthetically-pleasing, interesting piece of art without; minimalist, angular and evocative. After the exhibition of this 
chair, it was bought and the funds were donated to charity.

Talking about his process Tom says: “If I get really motivated and excited I can sketch and make a mock-up of a new piece in a day but sometimes it can take me weeks to get the legs right – I spend a long time on the details.” As well as his studio on the farm, Tom has access to a machine shop and a spraying studio, which he uses, allowing him to do everything involved in the creation of his pieces of furniture himself, by hand; from the concept through the design stages, making prototypes first from card and then from flexible plywood to the final making and finishing – which are always in top quality materials and to the highest standard. Tom is a visionary and a perfectionist if I’ve ever met one; two traits that’ll surely make his business a success here in Somerset.

Tom sells his creations through the shop section of the website - tomrowan.co.uk

This article was first published in the March issue of Somerset Life. To get the magazine delivered every month to your home, subscribe at www.subscriptionsave.co.uk/som or call 08448484217

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