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British Family Perfumers Since 1730

Chris KeenanThe shape as yet unseen

Potter Chris Keenan has spent a quarter of a century daily honing his craft. He explains how he imbues each piece with poise and equilibrium.

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Chris Keenan

I throw and turn. The way I move the clay has changed over the years, and now I'm much better. The slow growth of skill is the carrot dangling that keeps me moving forward. You do something, it talks back to you, you respond.

There is a quiet order about potter Chris Keenan’s south London workshop. Before you even meet him you gain the sense of a man who has found his own internal peace, who is content with the form of his self-expression. In one corner there are two kilns, in another shelves of pots ready to be glazed and fired sit among pieces already completed. At the front, near the window, we find Keenan, a piece of clay in hand – Limoges porcelain no less, one of the most difficult to work with – ready to throw it and begin making for the day.

He came to pottery late. "I was an actor in Sheffield and I met a potter who was living there – a friend of mine was his lodger. It was Edmund de Waal. I bought some pots from him and we kept in touch." Around the age of 35, Keenan decided he didn’t want to act any more. "What dropped into my head was the idea of making pots. I heard Edmund was looking for an apprentice, so I wrote him a letter. I did two years with him. It was completely serendipitous."

Following in de Waal’s tradition, he makes pieces that look deceptively simple. ‘There’s a lexicon of forms that I’ve been making from the beginning,’ he explains. The shape of his days have changed little over time; throwing and turning are his daily practice. Incrementally over time, his alacrity with the clay has increased, as has his ability to express himself through the objects he makes.

"Beakers, bowls, cups, pourers, jugs, tea sets. The shapes of them vary, and I get better. And then there are things that are the result of accidents. I have to be alert to those moments to not see them as failures, but to see them as something that’s interesting."

His ‘double-bashed’ bud pots, for example, came about because he dropped and dinted the small vase he’d made before he’d fired it. "I thought, what if I bash it on the opposite side too?" They’re now some of the most distinctive pieces he makes. "Clay is a soft material and making with it is a constantly changing thing – you do something, it talks back to you, you respond."

The ongoing conversation between potter and clay is something Keenan clearly enjoys, as he explains how his work has become more refined over time. "It’s not the outside of a piece, but the internal profile that gives the balance and weight. If you get that right, the outside will have an evenness to it. That’s not something that’s possible to do straight away. But over the years, I’ve become better at moving the clay. The feeling of gaining greater facility is fantastic because you don’t know when you’re going to next shift up a gear in skill."

As well as a limited number of shapes, he also restricts himself to working with three glazes - powder blue, a dark glaze, and a green that he created out of waste. "I’ve been using the same glazes since I started in 1998 but I’m still getting new things out of them," he says. "The glazes themselves have been around for thousands of years – they’re oriental glazes, celadine and tenmoku – so me working with them for 25 years is only a tiny bit of time really. They’re still giving me new things."

This way of making involves endless patience and an expectation of imperfection. "One of the great things about pottery is that until it’s fired it’s not set. So you can be a bit free with it. And why not?" he beams. "What’s important for me is that what I make is totally me, but it’s at a distance. These pots have a separate existence from me. As an actor I was always waiting for permission to create from someone else. As a potter I’m not. I can sit and work and get better. I come to my studio every day and play."

Tom BroughtonThe mirror of the mind

When it comes to a person’s face, God is in the detail for Tom Broughton, whose personal fascination with handmade spectacles led him to persevere in reviving a dying craft.

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Tom Broughton

It's a personal decision about how you want the frames to look. Traditionally you make a pattern for each eye which is unbelievably time consuming. A fraction of a millimetre can make all the difference..

Tom Broughton is a glorious nerd – not the dull kind. The sort of man who invites you into a secret world of fascination and curiosity with the minutiae of his knowledge. He is passionate about spectacles – how they frame and define a face, how they help people create an identity, and the great history and value of the skill of crafting the perfect pair.

When he founded Cubitts in 2012, he was opening the first new bespoke and designer spectacle making workshop in the UK for fifty years, a seemingly counterintuitive decision in our mass-produced times. He shrugs as if the importance of well-crafted eyewear is self-evident. “For centuries, spectacles were often the most expensive things you owned,” he says. “They were really important because they allowed you to do your work.”

Mass-produced glasses, made for the NHS changed all that after the war, but Broughton is passionate about giving spectacles back the prestige they once had, and then democratising them, so everyone can have glasses that both work for them, fit them, and suit them. ‘It’s not just about your vision,’ he explains. “It’s about your face. Your glasses are one of your most defining characteristics. They’re your identity. The frames should be the hero.”

Broughton had been playing around with materials for a while, a backroom nerdy hobby to see what was possible, when he met master spectacle maker Lawrence Jenkin, and persuaded him to take him on as an apprentice. “Making glasses by hand is very similar to watch making and jewellery making. I nagged Lawrence for ages to come and let me learn from him. I felt like I was being let into a world I could never have known existed.”

He rejects the idea that one size can fit all. “The first thing is fit,” says Broughton. “When people put on frames that look good on them it’s because of the fit – how wide the glasses are in relation to your head or temples, how the frames follow your browline, how deep they are. You might have long eyelashes or high cheekbones so you have to adjust accordingly. Fractions of a millimetre can make all the difference.”

Every pair of frames made in his workshop is a finely balanced, carefully calculated piece of craftsmanship, painstakingly measured to make the wearer look good, as well as to allow them to see well. There are rules; measurements like the distance between the lenses and the eye size guide all spectacle makers from the off. Broughton speaks with relish about the minute adjustments that transform the experience of wearing glasses from an inconvenience to a form of self expression. “It can feel a little like three-dimensional Tetris,” he laughs.

Traditionally, it would take around three days to make the pattern for each eye. Now thanks to laser-cutting technology, a pattern can be created much more quickly, giving the maker time to concentrate on the elements that have to be done by hand.

“I’m agnostic about how you make stuff,” he says. “If technology comes along that allows us to make things in a better way, there’s no point in tradition for the sake of tradition. The cool thing is when tools free up us human beings to do the things that are really value-added, like the sawing, drilling, filing, and planing.”

For him, it’s the person who wears the glasses that’s central to how each pair looks, and it’s they who get the final say on the style. “Once you solve fit, then it’s a personal decision about how someone wants to feel and how someone wants to look. Do they want frames that people look at and go “wow, they’re cool frames,” or do they want them to hide in plain sight?”

Nevertheless, he’s made sure the designs of Cubitts spectacles have their own signature. “A classic shape works. After all, if you understand the basics you don’t need to reinvent too much. You can go crazy on architectural details like the hinges or the material. My aesthetic is simple and classic. My ethos, simply to make glasses that people want to wear.”

Juan JuncaThe subtle hand

Form and function come together into elegant, well-balanced, understatedly beautiful pieces of furniture under the hand and eye of artisan Juan Junca.

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Juan Junca

I design everything from scratch. The focus is always on the wood, and I apply it in way that's a utilitarian and practical. Everyone has their own personality in the making. I'm working with my hands and shaping it to make it my own.

In his Bermondsey workshop, furniture maker Juan Junca is a long way away from his home of Patagonia. “I came to London travelling,” he shrugs wryly. “Now I’ve been here ten years.”

On a quest for self-expression, he started out as a musician, but over time he discovered the skill in his hand was for making something far less ephemeral. Nevertheless, he became a furniture maker almost by chance. “I was about to take up a Masters degree to train as a music teacher at Goldsmiths University,” he says. “I’d been supplementing my income doing maintenance work and handyman jobs. A friend of mine had signed up to learn woodworking and I thought it would be interesting.”

He decided against teacher training, took a leap of faith, and, in 2011, signed up to a two year woodwork course instead. “I had a connection with my hands and with wood,” he continues. “I feel lucky. I found a vocation. It changed the course of my life.”

Now Junca takes the traditional craft of furniture making and applies modern design principles to create unique design pieces. His work is simple, referencing both classic mid-century style and the natural forms of his native region. It’s a source of great personal satisfaction.

“I design everything from scratch,” he explains. “I always begin with what’s traditional – and there are certain features of my pieces you can find in books – but then I change the design to solve problems and to make things truly bespoke.”

By ‘problems’ he means the ubiquitous flaws of mass-produced furniture that can make it uncomfortable or difficult to use – he hates desks with drawers that are then either too high to work at, or too low to sit under. These are the kinds of things he aims to resolve. “I make furniture that can be well used in every day life,” he says.

He begins with drawings and measurements, draughting out shapes and lines to guide him as a starting point. Then he chooses the wood. “The wood is the focus,” he says. “I mostly work with temperate woods like ash, oak, birch, beech and walnut. I get to apply my skills to it in a way that’s very utilitarian and practical. For an outdoor piece I’d choose the wood for its durability, or for a beam I’d choose it for its strength. But when I’m making furniture it’s about how it looks as well as its functionality. There’s no expectation of achieving a high form of art. I’m making something useful and that’s like an applied art.”

One wall of his workshop is covered in hand tools – chisels of different sizes, planes, and saws – they’re both utilitarian and beautiful, themselves crafted for the slow and meticulous work of a craftsman. Utility is a principle echoed in his work, though no one could describe Junca’s furniture as solely functional. Each piece has a subtle sculptural quality that’s testament to his attention to detail.

“There are obvious things that define someone’s style – some people like curves and some people like straight lines,” he says. “I like to taper the legs on a chair or a table, for example. And I slightly bevel the edges of things to make them a little less harsh.”

He holds up a chair leg he’s working on to demonstrate: “See how the light hits that edge in a different way? Small things like that make my pieces feel different.” These are the fingerprints of a thoughtful maker, a fineness in his work that gives each piece a sense of balance and softness, clean lines that give an illusion of simplicity.

“None of the things I do are original in and of themselves, but these are the things that differ from maker to maker. It’s the combination of everything that makes it my own expression.”

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