Angus Ross is an award-winning designer who combines traditional woodwork, the ancient process of steam-bending and the latest cutting technologies. His studio is based in the Scottish Highlands, on the banks of the River Tay and he sources oak from an ancient mixed woodland, a few miles down river, which is managed to provide local, ethical and sustainable wood. Design-Nation caught up with him and asked him a few questions.
Design-Nation asked: Can you tell us about your practice and how your business began?
Angus Ross: My practice now starts with a beautiful mixed woodland on the banks of the River Tay in the Scottish Highlands. We start with a standing tree which is carefully selected for felling, milling, stacking and drying for fine furniture making. Our workshop is a few miles upstream and we slice and bend, mould and sculpt the timber into domestic furniture, cabinets and sculptural public art.
I started with BSc Industrial Design, progressed through designing plastic products for mass manufacture, re-trained in furniture making and have been a designer-maker for twenty-five years.
D-N: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?
A.R: Actually my material – wood. It has been worked for millions of years but there is so much to learn and my practice has been to nudge this – can I bend it a bit more smoothly, into a tighter curve, in a thicker section? Can I make this more comfortable, more useful, more fun?
Other than that I have always worked with others, initially in a shared workshop, and since I have been based in Aberfeldy with a small team. The on-going discussions about approach and techniques developed practice. During my year on Walpole’s Crafted I was mentored by Alistair Hughes, CEO of Savoir Beds who provided really useful business mentorship programme and continues to do so.
D-N: What inspires you and your work?
A.R: Inspiration comes from many places, but the way we interact with things is always a key driver. I am always curious and am particularly drawn to light airy structures whether in buildings, plants, or products. Ideas come during the process of making, or the process of designing or the process of practically managing a woodland
D-N: Can you tell us a bit about your design process?
A.R: Researching, thinking, mulling, sketching, mulling, model making, mulling, refining …
D-N: What is your workspace like?
A.R: An old joinery workshop used continuously for woodwork since 1886, in the centre of a small market town in the heart of Scotland, surrounded by woods, rivers and mountains. As is traditional we have noisy saws and heavy machines downstairs but most of the time is spent at workbenches in the light, airy, larger upstairs space. There are always a number of projects going on at any time and the work is mostly calm, focused and physical. When steam-bending or glue-ing up we have to work precisely and fast.
D-N: Do you work hard on your PR or do you work with others on marketing?
A.R: I attend at least one exhibition in London or internationally a year. My wife now does the writing. We aren’t brilliant at social media but our newsletters are an important method to keep in touch with clients. We always need to do more with the website.
D-N: What are the main challenges in your practice?
A.R: My main challenges are always the new designs or technical problems to solve. Within the business, the main challenge is maintaining the flow of work, as so much is bespoke and made to order.
D-N: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?
A.R: Still here doing experimental work with a small team working on repeat designs.
D-N: If you could collaborate with someone who would you like that to be?
A.R: I have had many conversations with Michael Ruh (glass), and sometime soon we must move these on to fruition …
D-N: If you weren’t a designer what would you be?
A.R: Boat builder? But that would still involve design and wood. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
D-N: Why did you join Design Nation? What do you enjoy and find helpful from being a member?
A.R: Being based in a rural workshop in the Scottish Highlands I wanted to be connected. The opportunities to exhibit in London are invaluable and I enjoy meeting and discussing work with other designer makers from across the UK .
Interview by Laura Jacometti
Events coming up:
V&A Dundee opening 15 September
Unstable Stool is in the Scottish Design Gallery
The Story of Scottish Design book released 13 September
Forth Bench featured
The Rush Seated Chair symposium 14 September
Evolution of Tradition Design Centre Chelsea Harbour 1-5 October