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Slow and Steady: Meet Curio Studio

To introduce our latest exclusive launch at The Conran Shop, a collection of handcrafted wooden birds from Curio Studio, we take some time to talk to founder, designer and maker Tom Wilson, to discuss his creative practice and the importance of the relationship between the idea and the execution.

1. Hello Tom, and welcome to The Conran Shop! Please tell us a little bit about Curio Studio and what you do.

I set up Curio Studio gradually, having been designing and making objects for a while. Initially, I made hand-held objects and toys for my children, friends and family, and then started to take on a few small commissions. In 2013 I set up a website with the help of some talented friends, and then made some tentative excursions into Instagram. Workflow has developed slowly from there, as I try to balance making with running my architectural practice.

2. How, if at all, do you feel that your architectural background informs your craft?

It’s a good question and one that I think about quite a bit as my working life alternates between architecture and making. I draw a lot. Each object tends to get sketched to exhaustion with increasingly subtle changes of line and proportion. I suspect this may lead to a more intuitive approach when making the pieces as they are cut, carved and shaped. I look for simplicity in the forms I make with a deliberate restraint in line and detail, while trying not to lose the clarity of what I am trying to make. This is certainly an approach I share with my architectural work and may have come from it. But I also think the making process feeds back to my architectural design. Everything an architect designs is to be made, usually by someone else. For me, the most beautiful architectural details express their own construction and are designed with an understanding of making processes and sequences.


3. We are thrilled to offer an exclusive collection of birds from Curio Studio at The Conran Shop; please may you tell us a little about the works?

I was really pleased to be approached by the Conran Shop, and a little taken by surprise. Working on an exclusive new design is always exciting and challenging. I have been making various birds for a few years but these three are all new. Through discussion with The Conran Shop, the idea of three related but different birds became appealing - they can form a set, or sit happily individually. I am becoming more and more interested in wildlife native to the UK and in particular some of our lesser-known birds. The willow tit, crested tit and long-tailed tit are all made from the same three hardwoods (ash, sycamore and black walnut) and are all variations of the same basic profile. This keeps them together as a family, while the variations on the theme give them their individuality. Each bird is handmade and each piece of wood has its unique natural grain. They have an oil finish which is then buffed back to a soft sheen making them soft and tactile.

4. You often work to a brief for your clients; what are the greatest challenges of taking such a collaborative approach?

I think it's important to be able to start from the same place when working with clients, and to try to minimise preconceived ideas. I think that can help to keep the design process collaborative. If the intentions and aspirations are shared between the client and the designer then there is a good chance of a fruitful outcome. Compromise is not a dirty word, but can sometimes take some getting used to and readjustment.

5. Similarly, what are your favourite aspects of such projects?

I love the unexpected places that a commission can lead to, which will often push me to new approaches, ideas and ways of making.  It’s important to be challenged as it means new work can evolve and inform the next thing. I think there is a progression of ideas and techniques in my work that are often the result of commissioned work.

6. Many of your pieces are inspired by the animal world; what initially led you in this direction?

I think the simple answer is that I find a playfulness in animal forms, with endless possibilities for shape, pattern, texture and character.  There is also something interesting about the relationship of the animal to the wood from which it is made.  Grain patterns, knots, textures, tones, all lend themselves to fur and feathers, and help to animate the shapes.  There might also be a more complicated answer to do with trying to better understand our relationship to the natural world, but let’s keep it simple for now.

7. As a designer-maker, do you feel that either side of the creative process tends to be more dominant, or do they exist in tandem?

This is also something I think about a lot. They definitely exist in tandem and feed back and forth to each other. There are times when the design stretches a bit too far and my making abilities let me down, but that’s normally OK after a day or so of moping and ultimately leads to learning. Sometimes a making process might result in an unexpected off-cut that gives rise to a design idea. If design is the intent, and making is the action, I think I am looking for the moment when they balance.

8. And lastly, what would be your dream commission?

I would love to be commissioned to make a whole wall of British birds in British hardwoods. I have sketches of many yet unmade birds; it would be great to be able to justify the time to source the wood and make them.

I would also be really keen to build on the work I did for the “Conversations about Climate Change” exhibition that was held at the Building Centre in London last year and run jointly with the Timber Trade Federation. I would be really interested in making more work that raises questions about our relationship with natural resources, habitats and the creatures that live around us. While much of what I make could prompt these discussions, I think the context in which is it viewed can make these issues explicit.

Shop and explore the exclusive Curio Studio edit today, and be sure to follow Tom on Instagram.