Words by Lucy Studley
A unique commission throws a talented Cornish craftsman into the global spotlight.
Cherry bench, © Bob Berry
On a misty Monday morning in June, a collection vehicle with the highest security clearance arrived at a wharf side shipyard in Falmouth. Several hours later, and after some careful handling, ten unique pieces of furniture left their place of origin destined for the G7 summit in Carbis Bay. Handcrafted by furniture designer and maker Scott Woyka and collectively entitled Coast, they were ready to bear witness to the machinations and manoeuvrings of the assembled group of world leaders, as they discussed topics including post-pandemic recovery, vaccine equality, international aid budgets and climate change.
Above left Ria table © Bob Berry, middle and right commissions for the G7 summit © Cameron Smith
For Scott, the moment he bid farewell to those pieces – they had consumed his life for months – was a moment of relief, joy and a little anxiety. “It was a wonderful project to work on, but certainly one of the more high-pressure commissions I’ve delivered,” he reflects in his typically understated way. “After my designs were selected I was given the freedom to just get on with it. There were some challenges to overcome along the way and there wasn’t a lot of breathing space at the end, but I was enormously pleased with the outcome. I was anxious about how they would be received given the worldwide press attention, but I’ve had a lot of positive feedback, which was fantastic.”
Again, Scott is understating things here. He received a personal visit from Boris Johnson – a busy man, just hours before the start of the crucial summit – who came to see the workshop where the tables were meticulously crafted from carefully sourced pieces of beautiful Cornish timber. TV crews from Japan and America also visited Scott as part of their coverage of the G7, clearly relishing the juxtaposition of the semi-industrial boat yard on a picturesque Cornish riverside and the slick, highly polished proceedings at Carbis Bay.
So, how did a Falmouth furniture-maker, who for years has been quietly making beautiful pieces in his riverside sanctuary, scoop this prestigious commission above the competition? The truth is that, unbeknownst to him, Scott’s entire career to date led him to this moment, making him the perfect pair of hands for such an important and symbolic project.
Above tables for the G7 crafted from Cornish timber © Cameron Smith
Scott’s passion for craftsmanship and affinity with wood began at a young age. He embarked on a boat building course at Falmouth Marine School, but soon realised that he needed a more creative outlet if he was to make a career from woodwork. He switched to a furniture making course at the same institute, and on completing the course opened his own small workshop in the centre of Falmouth.
He explains: “Courses like the one I did, teach you the basic methods and techniques, but like most furniture makers I feel I’m 95% self-taught. You experiment, find a style which suits you, push the boundaries and gradually your work evolves over time.” From humble beginnings Scott’s creativity and fine craftsmanship gradually gained attention, and as well as making work for private clients he began showing pieces at various high-profile exhibitions.
Scott admits that he finds describing his style difficult, and reflects that language is often a barrier for clients too. “I think we lack the vocabulary to describe accurately what we mean when we’re talking about these kinds of objects,” he says. “It’s the same with sculpture. We’re much better at talking about two dimensional creative disciplines like painting and drawing, than we are at explaining how we want a piece of piece of furniture or sculptural artwork to occupy a space.”
© Cameron Smith
Helping clients through the process, Scott approaches every piece differently, instinctively transitioning from design to shaping the wood, rarely with the help of computers or 3D technology. He makes sketches and often small models – the ones he made for the Coast series are breathtakingly beautiful. “My ambition is to make beautiful things which have a natural harmony and sense of flow,” he explains. “I like to gently draw attention to the material itself, celebrating its unique character and echoing the shapes of the natural world. Most of all I want my clients to experience that ‘ahhh’ moment when something just fits into, and enhances, a space perfectly.”
Some of Scott’s favourite commissions illustrate this adroitly. His Shippon Chair has been through several reincarnations, a version of which appeared in a furniture exhibition at the House of Commons in 2008. His Sundowner Chair and Suite are also iconic portfolio pieces which Scott is often asked by clients to reimagine. At the other end of the scale he is also well-known for his beautiful small keepsakes. “Making commemorative or celebratory items to display other precious things is something I love doing,” Scott says. “These items become imbued with so much meaning through their design, the materials chosen, and their ultimate purpose. It’s wonderful to think that I have created treasured family heirlooms.”
Shippon chair, © Bob Berry
Another career highlight to date is the work Scott undertook for The Cove Macmillan Support Centre in Truro, where steam-bent oak has been used to create a reception desk, café counter and bookshelf screen which evoke traditional boat building. Of this project, Scott says: “The ethos of the Centre includes the belief that beautiful environments engender well-being. This is something that we wholeheartedly support, and believe that beautifying our surroundings makes us all feel much better.”
To enhance his own surroundings, Scott moved to the Falmouth Wharves workshop in 2003, creating a purpose-built unit within the old industrial building and – most importantly – inserting a big, picture-frame window looking out over the estuary. The scene is a clash of two worlds: the manual labour of boat repairs and heavy machinery of maritime industry spills out over the wharf side, while small passenger ferries carry tourists, sleek yachts skim past, and luxury waterfront properties sit proud on the opposite river bank.
Perhaps this sense of a bridge between two worlds was one of the reasons that Scott’s designs appealed to the Prime Minister’s Office (the PM himself apparently had the final say), who chose them for the G7 over several other top-flight Cornish designers. The design contest aimed to showcase Cornish talent, innovation and creativity – something Scott undoubtedly has in bucket loads – but he’s also a product of the traditional boat building industry, immersed in Cornwall’s maritime life, and a passionate advocate of sustainability and landscape preservation.
Left loop table, right pebble box
Left Bookshelf at The Cove, right Sundowner suite
The Coast collection is rooted in the Cornish landscape, “a landscape that inspires creativity and innovation, whilst engendering respect and appreciation for the natural world,” according to Scott’s winning proposal. The sculptural pieces – all made from wood sourced from sustainably managed local woodlands – represent the drama of the coastline, its natural beauty and geology, but also its rich history as the home of miners, fishermen, artists, wreckers and adventurers.
© Cameron Smith
The surfaces of the tables are carved and sandblasted to suggest a rugged surface emulating the formation of the wind and wave battered Cornish peninsula – conditions which make Cornwall a natural leader in renewable energy generation. The tables have been engraved with Cornish metals to reflect the region’s world famous mining heritage, and the evolution of modern industries like Lithium extraction. It all feels so poignant at a time when we are ravaging the earth rather than nurturing it.
All-women laser cutting company ‘Cut By Beam’ in Falmouth were charged with etching the G7 logo onto the tables, most of which will now be donated to local organisations as part of the summit’s legacy. There are rumours that several of them may appear again on the world stage after proving such a popular talking point, but Scott can’t share those conversations at this stage, saying “I don’t want to have my security clearance revoked by giving away too much!”
So, after all the hard work, how does Scott feel now? “I feel very proud to have played a small part in the events which unfolded. I know opinions about the summit coming to Cornwall and what it achieved differ wildly. But, I can’t help but hope that the legacy of those days and discussions will be impactful. After all, the idea of any table is that it unites people to share something meaningful. The setting here in Cornwall is incredibly inspiring, let’s hope that what took place here will have a positive effect on all our futures – especially in the area of climate change.”.