Interview: The Sculpture House

TSH - Richard Davies - Alex Chinneck - David Murphy

Above: Richard Davies, Alex Chinneck and David Murphy

“Think again for your own sanity”, says Alex Chinneck to any designers who are thinking of copying The Sculpture House.

Last week for Despoke’s first post-relaunch interview, we went to talk to London based sculptors, Alex Chinneck and David Murphy about their newly launched artist-designed furniture company: The Sculpture House (TSH).

TSH originated two years ago as a small exhibition but has been developed into a company that crosses that bridges the gap between contemporary art and furniture design.

Skirtingboard Sunset - Helmut Smits & The Sculpture House

Above: Skirtingboard Sunset – Helmut Smits & The Sculpture House

“I think some of the most interesting practices are those that trespass a more diverse range and aren’t necessarily stuck in one typical discipline”, David Murphy tells me.

“We liked the idea that a creative practice or an audience for a creative practice doesn’t have to be limited to one discipline”, Chinneck says, “we have always enjoyed the creative practices that trespass across all of the disciplines and dip their toes into design and architecture.

“That was one of the founding shared interests of the Sculpture House Concept essentially because of the rich history of artists exploring furniture.”

“Dave and I set about creating a concept or a platform, which was called The Sculpture House, which would encourage interesting artists – and it turns out that they are young international artists – to enter many of the concerns that are present within their sculptural or artistic practice” Chinneck explains.

Whirlpool Table - Alex Chinneck & The Sculpture House

Above: Whirlpool Table – Alex Chinneck & The Sculpture House

The diversity in the collection at The Sculpture House is an important and carefully managed aspect of the young brand: they mainly work with sculptors, but also with other types of artists who are already beginning to “push into that area of design” Murphy says.

But it’s not about choosing well known artists with good reputations to help springboard TSH into the limelight, “we’re far more excited about the work” Chinneck tells us.

The aim is to provide opportunities for artists to create successful collaborations with TSH, “to actually go up to artists and say, we like your work so much, do you want to have a chat about this”, Murphy says, “it’s a very rewarding thing to be able to bring”. Rubber Shelves by Luke Hart & The Sculpture House-1

Above: Rubber Shelves by Luke Hart & The Sculpture House

All of the Furniture is made in the UK in TSH’s Norfolk based workshops. Alex Chinneck met Phil Risby, a successful physicist and entrepreneur with international business experience, who runs the fabrication companies in Norfolk that Chinneck uses to make large scale pieces for his own sculptural work:

“I developed this really great relationship with a family of fabrication companies in Norfolk: one was a carpentry workshop which was already making furniture for lots of contemporary furniture companies, another was a metalwork company that makes parts for aeroplanes. The other was a kind of scientific research company.”

Picture Frame Chair - Matt Golden & The Sculpture House

Picture Frame Chair – Matt Golden & The Sculpture House 

The Norfolk based fabricators made Chinneck’s sculpture for the original TSH exhibition and says that Risby “had great fun making these sculptures…and it was really good research developments for [the fabrication companies] as well.”

After the exhibition, Chinneck and Murphy knew that they wanted to develop The Sculpture House into a brand and Risby offered his support to back the new company: “this became a wonderfully timed marriage” Chinneck says.

TSH offers the fabrication companies an opportunity to push the boundaries of their own workshops and the craftsmen bring their skills and expertise to the process, not to mention the business acumen and investment offered by Phil Risby. They also have another director, Richard Davies, who is in charge of the branding and web-based presence.

One Piece Chair - Steven Emmanuel & The Sculpture House 2

Above: Making the One Piece Chair – Steven Emmanuel & The Sculpture House

The Sculpture House launched at their debut collection at the beginning of February this year with twelve products by twelve artists, but more are currently in production.

It has been a year long journey and each product starts with a conversation between Chinneck, Murphy and the artist themselves: “the formula is always the same, there’s a lot of conversation, there’s the ideas and then there’s the conversation about one idea in particular,” Chinneck says.

“It starts as long conversation. David and I then take the conversation up to Norfolk… and then we start prototyping.” He gives the example of how a chair might be made by TSH: “ we make the first form based on conversations, design the best idea of what would work – the form – and then we bring it back to the artist.

“This continues until we feel we’re moulding something and this happens fairly quickly, just essentially remodelling and refining them until we get the finished piece.”One Piece Chair - Steven Emmanuel & The Sculpture House

Above: One Piece Chair – Steven Emmanuel & The Sculpture House

Chinneck and Murphy used their own products for The Sculpture House as a trial run to test the process. David Murphy’s first project for TSH was the Hole Lamp: “for mine it was actually a direct interpretation of an existing work– like some of the other artists that we’ve worked with… It was essentially a part of a much larger investigation into holes in walls and architectural ruins.

“I made a lot of these works, which involved walls with holes in them in certain ways, but trying to re-imagine the hole as something positive, which allowed fluidity and movement and flexibility.”

Chinneck has two products in the collection, the Whirlpool Table and the Concrete Rug: “The Whirlpool table is just a nice way of combining the playful associations of illusion with engineering; the steelwork underneath is a really nicely engineered thing, and also traditional interests such as musketry and the carpentry involved in making it.”

Object Desk - Kit Craig & The Sculpture House

Above: Object Desk – Kit Craig & The Sculpture House 

Maintaining the excitement of the artist’s initial idea or sketch is vital to the process: “It’s about protecting that something within the idea that makes it different or interesting or innovative… If the concept is a floating chair but the compromise is that it doesn’t float any more, then lost everything that was nice about in the first place” Chinneck says.

The diverse range of skills available to TSH from the Norfolk fabricators makes it easier to create exciting pieces that blur the boundaries between furniture and contemporary art. The Picture Frame Chair by Matt Golden looks perilous to sit on but is actually a very robust steel frame coated with a thin wood veneer. The lengthy process of refinement and prototyping that goes into these pieces is key to the success of TSH.

Concrete Rug - Alex Chinneck & The Sculpture House

Above: Concrete Rug – Alex Chinneck & The Sculpture House

The newest product at TSH is the Rubber Shelves by Luke Hart. Even though the shelves look like a relatively straightforward design, they took twelve months to develop and Chinneck advises anyone thinking of copying the design to “think again for their own sanity.”

The artist’s reactions to the finished products have been generally very good, who often only see the final outcome when it being photographed in the studio, “it’s a mixture of slaps on backs and tears of joy, there have been some really wonderful responses because people are staggered, I mean sometimes it’s as simple as them giving us a sketch” David Murphy says “so it’s quite a nice thing to be to show them that end-stage and it’s wonderful.”Hole Lamp - David Murphy & The Sculpture House

Above: Hole Lamp – David Murphy & The Sculpture House

The relationships the sculptors build with the artists are very important; they want to create a pleasurable experience that encourages the artists work with The Sculpture House again and again. Chinneck gives the example of working with the artist Hyesoo You, designer of the Spikenard Locker: “we’re desperately trying to make more stuff with her now. We want to build mini furniture companies within the furniture company.”

The founders are aware however that not everyone can afford a £6000 piece of furniture like the Spikenard Locker. “By sticking with some artists and developing a brand within the brand, we keep that aesthetic within the company but we offer different price points and different entry levels for different buyers”, under £1000 for example.

Chinneck tells us “we don’t want to just build a brand that’s about elitism, we really want to build a brand that’s open and offer price points that allow people to enter into the sculpture house”.


Above: Aggregate Daybed sketch by Hania Stella-Sawicka

As with all collaborations however, there will always be some problems when the artists are asked to “down tools and play more of a consultancy role” Chinneck says and “think they lose the ability to have that kind of physical intuition and interaction with an object or material but… by making it with the people we make it with ensures quality, which is essential”.

Unlike a piece of art however, each product must be able to be manufactured: “they can’t make 100 chairs. They’re not set up to and they don’t want to; it prepares them for that mentality also.” Aggregate Daybed - Hania Stella-Sawicka & The Sculpture House

Above: Aggregate Daybed – Hania Stella-Sawicka & The Sculpture House

So where will The Sculpture House go from here? “over the next four months [we] will launch more products, carry on developing other products and setting up certain types of collaboration”, Chinneck tells us.

Ideally they plan to introduce TSH to the fashion world and Dover Street Market represents their dream collaboration. “We obviously have a place in the design world because we’re designing furniture but the fashion world is something that we are exploring and it’s territory we would love to get into.

“We think it’s not too dissimilar, it has an element of couture and it’s just a very kind of sexy world in which we think the products will sit well in” Chinneck says.

Murphy adds: “It’s about pushing that interdisciplinary thing further than we have already; its about refusing to be boxed into one or the other”. TSH is certainly not about creating an attack on the design world: “we feel like artists bring certain things or don’t have perhaps the experience or the training to allow the perimeters to get in the way of their initial idea and we’re just trying to encourage that”.

Spikenard Lockers - Hyesoo You & The Sculpture House

Above: Spikenard Lockers – Hyesoo You & The Sculpture House

I’m sure that over the next six months we will see a lot more of from Alex Chinneck, David Murphy and Richard Davies’ young company, but what is the approach for The Sculpture House going forward? Alex Chinneck is tentatively ambitious about the future success of TSH: “Controlled ambition, planned ambition”.

All images are courtesy of The Sculpture House

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