Two weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have been given an opportunity to interview one of Black & Key’s most experienced and well-esteemed craftsman.
Jeremy Higson from Evesham, Worcestershire has been in the carpentry trade for 35 years and comes with a wealth of experience, knowledge and advice.
I could feel the passion oozing from every bone in his body as he spoke to me about his experiences when making such beautiful works of art for Black & Key customers!
How would you describe the experience of creating such beautiful and often bespoke pieces of furniture by hand?
I have a passion for making things. The work that I do on a daily basis cannot be classed as ‘work’ in the traditional sense. I find myself becoming absorbed in a project and can often become lost in the mechanics and processes of crafting. Whenever I am working on a piece for a client, time seems to go by so incredibly quickly, that before I know it, it is time to pack up and go home.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Every part of my job is challenging but the very notion of a challenge is what I love most about my work and is an element that I thrive off. The more challenging the project, the more stimulating it is for me. I get a buzz when a brief is complex and difficult.
What items of furniture have you made that you are most proud of?
I have been mastering the art of craft and carpentry for 35 years and so there are many moments where I have felt pride and accomplishment. In most recent times, I am perhaps the most chuffed with the mirror detail on the Petite Lombard mirror.
It perhaps does not look so impressive but the time, patience and skill it takes to piece all these elements together is incredibly intricate and complex.
What do you love most about your job?
I love that I can turn almost anything into something beautiful. Even materials that seem utterly mundane and hopeless can be worked with and manipulated into something pretty spectacular.
What is your favourite Black and Key piece?
My favourite piece would be the Dazzle handles , especially when on the Radial cabinet. The contrast in colour and form is just fantastic! The handles themselves are made with mother of pearl that go through an intricate process in order to give them the finished look. Each section must be cut, washed, dried and then stuck in place by hand. This is an incredibly delicate operation that can easily go wrong. You must have patience with this type of work, but the outcome is worth the wait!
What is the longest amount of time spent on a piece of furniture you’ve created?
Unfortunately, this was not a Black & Key piece but I spent 3 months working on a George III desk for Carlton House.
How many processes do you encounter when crafting anything bespoke?
This is really dependant on the piece and the materials used. You could have 5 processes on one piece and 55 on another!
Does perfectionism get in the way of efficiency?
No, I am very fast! (Jeremy smiles widely). Fortunately, my 35 years of experience in the trade has meant that I can work both quickly and accurately. I have made so many mistakes over the years, but it is about what you do and how you go about putting it right.
Which material is the most challenging to work with?
Swiss Pear!! This type of wood is held in high regard around the world but it can be tricky to work with. There is a reason why we do not use it here at Black & Key!
Have you noticed any significant change in trends over the past year?
It is the change in colour, veneers and wood mainly. For a while the trend was cherry, then oak and then dark cherry, black and then to walnut. In terms of design, like most things, the style in which an item is made will go around with the times. Art deco and 70’s retro seem to be a popular style within this industry at present.
What materials do you enjoy working with the most?
I love working with any material. The harder the better! The trick is to be careful with whatever material you use to get the best and most out of them.
If you could craft anything in the world, what would it be and why?
If I could create anything, it would be to build a replica of the Roentgens Berlin cabinet from 1790. This would be a life’s work but fascinates me due to the inclusion of some incredible technology for its time. It is an example of one of the finest achievements of European furniture making. It was made by Abraham (1711–1793) and David Roentgen (1743–1807) and is a writing cabinet crowned with a chiming clock, featuring finely designed marquetry panels and elaborate mechanisms that allow for doors and drawers to be opened automatically at the touch of a button. Just remarkable!
Have you ever been given a brief and thought “How on earth do I pull this off? If so, what was it?”
Often! That is the challenge and the reason why I come to work! I would say the mirror was a little bit like this.
I just break down each project into bite size pieces and work through the processes issues that way, otherwise the task can become overwhelming.
I could have spoken to Jeremy all day about each and every piece he had made during his 35 year career, how he went about each project and watch him work, but I fear he would have grown tired of all my questions!
Yet, what an incredible skill to have, with a mindset so determined and motivated! I would like to thank Jeremy and the team here at Black & Key for all the blood, sweat and tears that go into making these items so incredibly beautiful and unique.
If you want to know any further information on any item within or catalogue or wish to talk to our team about bespoke pieces, please get in contact!