Words by Hannah Tapping
Leading the charge in sustainable design, Tom Raffield uses his craft in innovative and contemporary ways.
Since discovering the traditional, age-old technique of steam bending wood whilst studying his degree in 3D Sustainability and Design, Tom Raffield has been on an incredible self-taught journey of developing and understanding the process to become one of the world leaders in his craft. His own unique family home featured on Grand Designs and showcased a talent that goes beyond the ordinary.
One of a new generation of designers and makers, working originally from his woodland workshop in the heart of rural Cornwall, Tom’s range of contemporary lighting, furniture and accessories is based on beauty, integrity and a desire to create unique, high-specification objects that will be cherished by their owners for years to come. His purpose has always been to create new ways of living with original, timeless objects that are inspired by the natural world that surrounds him. The artisan homeware designs are handcrafted by Tom and his skilled team in Cornwall, using traditional craft processes in sustainable and innovative ways and are intended to last a lifetime. The resulting pieces transform spaces with their natural swathes and curves and leave a lasting impression without having a negative impact on nature. Owning a piece from the Tom Raffield collection is a refreshing antidote to the over consumption we have become accustomed to. Inspiring a like-minded determined community, Tom Raffield is conscious that creating a world where people and nature thrive for future generations to enjoy has to be high on the agenda.
I speak to Tom to ask about his fascination with the ecological technique that allows him to create intricate curves and twists, mimicking organic shapes and celebrating the very thing that inspires him – nature.
How did it all begin?
At university, I was instantly fascinated by steam bending wood and knew I could make unique pieces that would not only be made sustainably, symbolise nature and tell a story, but would also last a lifetime. I have continued to develop the process and now share my passion with a small team of craftspeople at our BREEAM Excellent workshops in Cornwall with the aim to create as little environmental impact as possible along the way.
How has the Cornish landscape shaped your designs and given you inspiration?
Our Cornish surroundings inspire everything we do. From the designs we create, to how we source our materials, we honour our environment at each step of the way. We design, create, make, sell, and deliver the entire Tom Raffield product range from our studio and workshop in Falmouth and this feels incredibly special. Whether it’s the power and beauty of the ocean, or the dramatic lines and tiers that make up cliff faces, every inch of Cornwall provides me with inspiration – I believe that this natural beauty shines through in each product.
What have been the product designs you have been most proud of?
Every design holds a special place in my life as it has shaped the product range on our journey so far. I would say that I go through stages of favourites. Currently, it’s our Amble Hanging Seat; not only is the Amble a real showstopper, but it also takes an amazing team effort to bend the ash wood into place. The process involves a three-person bend, with ample time needed to dry and finish so, for me, it shows our steam bending craft at its best.
Have you had challenges in shaping the communication around your sustainability credentials?
There’s definitely been a big cultural shift in companies labelling themselves as sustainable in recent years – a reaction to the changing consumer market. However, we set out our vision long before the word ‘sustainability’ was fashionable. For us, this is a calling and not just a business; a calling that we put our heart and soul into for over a decade. As a design-led brand, crafting functional pieces with long-lasting quality, sustainability has always been our goal. As we move forward, we strive to build on this pledge each year and set new goals to help fight the climate crisis.
As you have scaled, did you find it hard to maintain your sustainability credentials and how have you navigated that?
From the beginning we set out to put product quality, the environment and the way people are treated first, and this has led us to where we are today. We would never want our growth to affect the quality or sustainability of our products, so this is crucial from the very start of a supplier onboarding. These practises are not only good for the planet and people who live here, but also support sustainable business growth and employment. Each piece that we create has been on an experimental journey – individual, organic and carefully considered. We source everything from sustainable woodlands, which, coupled with the low-energy steam bending process, is a very ecological practice with little wastage.
What does the future hold for the business?
We have been through some interesting times over the last few years, but we have remained focused on our values and the way we do business, which compels us to put people and the planet first. We have learnt a lot and know the importance of our customer base and engaging directly with them, offering them a unique experience, creating original designs that are made to last a lifetime and ultimately a beautiful and sustainable alternative to the mass-produced, poor-quality homeware flooding the market. We want to be at the forefront of the sustainability movement by helping change the way people buy, having a positive impact on our planet to create a world where people and nature thrive for future generations to enjoy.
With the smallest ecological footprint possible, Tom Raffield continues to craft future heirlooms whilst protecting the natural world.