The truth is they are both. Beautiful and practical as well as gracing the homes of clients who have specially commissioned one-off pieces, they are also found in museums and art galleries.
Angus has been making furniture for 30 years. Originally from Inverness, he has had a workshop in Aberfeldy for two decades. The business is design- and sustainability-led using timber from his own woodland and from local estates. He says: “Because most of the work is commissioned, it is a dialogue talking to people about what they want, to get a feel for who they are, so you design something that is particular to them. There is a narrative to our work that reflects the people that we are making it for.”
That is not to say the pieces aren’t functional – last year a lot of inquiries came from people looking for desks for home working, but each table, desk or chair will be unique. Angus says: “It can be as simple as referencing a view through the window where the finished piece is to sit. The shape of a river bend, mirrored in the shape of a table, will make it very special to the people and the place.”
He experiments in sculptural work for exhibitions, an example of which is the series of benches made for an exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London.
He says: “They are about what I can do with the techniques that I use. They were based around Scottish rivers – the Tay, Spey and Forth – and all have an aspect of those landscapes and their bridges.
“Aesthetically what I really like is a flowing line, and that is a real characteristic of our work. It also fits the steam bending process that we use.” The resulting pieces are beautiful, and witty, with an instantly recognisable reflection of the rivers that inspired them.
The company is currently working on items for a new maritime museum in Hull based around images of the sea, navigation and fishing. At the other end of the scale are the smaller pieces sold through the shop. Angus says: “We have a few designs over the years which people request, more standard pieces. The Unstable Stool, for instance, is a beautiful rocking seat with hand-turned spindles and a shaped top.”
An example of the stool can be found in the Scottish Design Gallery in the V&A in Dundee, but priced at £800, it is a piece for those admirers who may not have the budget to go bespoke.
Commissioned work comes from all over the country and he also has customers in the US and China building collections with a new piece each year.
Angus also has a loyal local following – an advantage of being in Aberfeldy is the number of second homes and he says that this is particularly pertinent when considering modern furniture.
“People will have their inherited grand furniture in their homes in Edinburgh but buying a second home allows them to start to invest in heirloom pieces for future generations.”
Clients keep this in mind when commissioning – “If they have three children, they aim for three pieces to pass on.”
He uses a range of different woods each of which has their own aesthetic quality. “We work a lot in ash and oak.
“Ash is more malleable for steam bending – if you think of wood as a bundle of straws, heat steaming it softens the substance holding them together – you have to work quickly, with about two minutes to coach it into shape, but if you go too quickly it will snap.”
It is a skill he is keen to pass on. “We take on apprentices from the school here. It takes a long time to train them,so it is a good thing that we’ve never actually had anyone leave.”