How did this journey start?
‘I started out and a designer/maker, doing 3D design for Sustainability at Falmouth Art College. Two things happened there; first of all, I fell in love with Cornwall, and second, I fell in love with steam-bending wood.
Tell us more about steam-bending?
‘I’d always done product design, working mostly with metal. I was given a materials project and they said we should try a material you’ve never worked with before, so I tried wood. It’s easy to see retrospectively why I was drawn to steam-bending now. All my designs were curved, followed form and looked at nature for inspiration.’
That was in 2003. Tom focussed on steam-bending for the rest of his University career, graduating in 2005, when he set up a company with two friends.
'We basically wanted to change the world with steam bent wood.'
After his friends decided to go down other avenues, Tom branched out alone, launching the eponymous brand we know today.
'The whole process of steam bending has been around since the Vikings. It's been used in boat building for centuries and it was only really introduced to furniture about 4-500 years ago so it's an age-old process. [At Falmouth] I was able to spend a lot of time looking into different techniques and to develop my own methods of using steam bending. It was a really exciting time for me as I felt I was able to develop new methods and technology which gave me completely unique results and, in effect, was the start of my career.
'Now we know the process so well that we're able to customise the jigs, make special steam chambers and really push the limits of what you're supposed to be able to do, because it's based on science behind steam bending. Our knowledge allows us to do anything we want with steam basically. It's not high-tech innovations but it's an understanding of how you can use the process to make any shape or form you want. We're just getting cleverer with traditional techniques.'
Would he ever use another material?
'I did 3D design in sustainability so you learn a lot about the impact bad design has on the environment, so using sustainable materials is imperative to our design process. If we can't source sustainable wood, we couldn't make our products. Everyone here at Tom Raffield believes in making products that will be cherished, enjoyed and loved. In our eyes longevity is the basis for sustainability, therefore, all of the materials we use have to be of the best quality. We use local timber where possible from renewable resources. If we can't source it locally then we will choose wood from sustainably managed woodlands where more trees are planted than cut down.
'Our whole thing has always been staying true to nature, and there's no straight lines in nature.'