David Upfill-Brownguest furniture designer & maker

David set out in the 70’s as a sculptor, carving both stone and wood in Central and Southern Africa.  Disenchanted with the then growing trend towards conceptual art he began to focus on furniture and in 1980/81 studied furniture making and design at Parnham, John Makepeace’s school, in England under the remarkable tutelage of Robert Ingham.  From 1982 to 1999 with his wife Hermione he ran a bespoke furniture workshop in Tharwa near Canberra, Australia. 

Teaching a little there and part time with George Ingham for eight years at the Wood Studio of the Australian National University culminated in his appointment as inaugural academic director of the Australian School of Fine Furniture in Tasmania in 2000.  After four years there and then five as lead instructor of the Nine Month Comprehensive at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Maine USA he now continues to teach in Maine for up to three months annually.

David believes that to begin to understand wood one has first to work it by hand and that once hand methods become habitual it is often more economical for bespoke or one-off furniture makers to work manually than to rely entirely on machinery.  Well-developed hand skills, increasing versatility, also allow him to push the boundaries of design. 

He does not however eschew the use of machinery.  Indeed he tunes his own equipment to perform “like the first violin in the orchestra”.  Machinery is of course imperative in repetitive work and he loves the challenge of developing production systems where smart designs and speed and quality are achieved through canny and succinct jig making.

Nothing lasting can be achieved without a sense and understanding of design.  Like all makers initially seduced by the material he started out wasting some fine wood.  But training, teaching, research, innumerable exhibition visits, contact and correspondence with many contemporary studio furniture makers and general interest in art, especially sculpture and concrete work in all media has helped him build a stronger design sensibility.  David believes that truly successful design is timeless, as an ancient example; the ‘Klismos’ chair from ancient Crete, as a modern one; ‘The Chair’ by Hans Wegner and he strives to come somewhere close.

David loves teaching.  His greatest pleasure is witnessing students find ability deep within themselves.  Seeing how the craft generates a powerful physical, practical, emotional, almost primal intelligence, seeing them become something like dancers or athletes, individuals whose minds speak through their bodies.

A more acquisitive pleasure is the connection of teacher and student in what he calls “the realm of ideas” - the collaborative development of a design that must speak of the student but one who has been encouraged to embrace structural, technical and visceral as well as intellectual territory that they may not have dared. 

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