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Steam Powered Beauty

In the land of plenty Tom Raffield and his team create intriguing objects in sustainable and lasting ways.


Their goal is to discover new ways of living with unique, quality homewares that are inspired by nature and handmade to last a lifetime, using traditional craft processes in sustainable and innovative ways. 


By way of introduction

My name is Tom, and I’m the founder and creative director at Tom Raffield. Alongside my talented team of makers, we design and handcraft artisan wooden lighting, furniture and home accessories from our workshops in Falmouth, Cornwall. Our work embodies a harmonious blend of traditional craftsmanship and innovative design, creating pieces that resonate with both beauty and sustainability.

 

Can you describe your design philosophy and inspiration?

We are the antidote to over consumption and want to inspire a like-minded community, helping to create a world where people and nature thrive for future generations to enjoy. Our commitment is to crafting homeware that is not only beautiful but also sustainable and stands the test of time. Drawing inspiration from the breath-taking landscapes, wildlife, and natural elements of Cornwall, we incorporate intricate, organic twists into our designs using environmentally friendly materials and processes.

 


Can you explain the process of steam bending wood and how it’s applied in your designs?

While studying 3D sustainability and design at Falmouth University, I uncovered the ancient, low-energy technique of steam bending, which uses only water and heat to manipulate timber, usually used for boatbuilding. This sustainable method allows us to create unique, awe-inspiring shapes that are the symbol of our aesthetic. Though steam bending is time-consuming, unpredictable, and labour-intensive, making it impractical for large-scale production, it allows us to push the boundaries of wood craftsmanship. Whether it’s our master craftspeople shaping our iconic No.1 Pendant or a team meticulously crafting the Arbor Armchair, we transform wood into extraordinary forms that are recognised worldwide. We balance traditional craftsmanship with modern technology by integrating age-old techniques like steam bending with contemporary design principles and tools. This synergy allows us to create pieces of art that are both timeless and innovative, blending the best of both worlds.

 

How do you incorporate sustainability into your design and production processes?

Sustainability is at the heart of all our decisions. All the materials we use at our solar-powered workshop in Cornwall are responsibly sourced, with any waste wood being re-used in other designs or by the local community; they’re never sent to landfill. We prioritise dry production methods, preferring screws over glue to assist repairs and extend the life of our pieces and why we’re thrilled to offer a Lifetime Guarantee. Our packaging is entirely plastic-free and recyclable, allowing the design journey, from conception to installation, to be as sustainable as possible. This commitment to quality ensures our designs are durable – remaining beautiful and functional for many years.


What types of wood do you prefer to use and why?

We use sustainably sourced timber from responsibly managed forests and continuously evaluate the environmental impact of our materials and techniques. Ash wood, a sustainable choice as it’s fast-growing and self-seeding, is used across our lighting, homeware and furniture collections for its durability, shock absorption and flexibility. It also has a beautiful pale colour, allowing the organic wooden grain to take centre stage.

 

What are the main benefits and challenges of using steam bent wood?

Steam bending’s simplicity is both its strength and challenge. This low-tech process, existing for over a thousand years, can be adapted for various projects. But it requires significant skill and experience to master. The process can be unpredictable, and achieving consistent results takes years of practice and an in-depth understanding of the technique and materials.

 

What are the key elements that distinguish your lighting designs from others in the market?

Our lighting designs are distinguished by their recognisable, curved aesthetic. Each design features intricate, organic curves and twists, hand-shaped to ensure uniqueness like a piece of art. The natural colour, grain, and finish of the wood add to the individuality of each piece. Alongside our award-winning designs, we are dedicated to creating sustainable homeware that is both beautiful and durable. Our pieces blend form and function, making them heirlooms of the future.



Can you customise lighting designs to fit specific client needs or preferences?

Yes, we can adapt our lighting designs to suit various client needs. We understand every space has its unique characteristics and requirements, so many of our designs are offered in a range of sizes and formats to suit. We offer a range of pendant sizes with adjustable flex to tailor each design to the desired space, often with wall, floor and table counterparts too. Whether it’s a striking standalone pendant, a statement cluster collection or a unique fabric for our upholstered furniture range, we ensure our designs can be adapted to fit different interiors.

 

What are some of the most memorable or unique projects you’ve worked on?

My most memorable projects are our displays at the Chelsea Flower Show, a huge project for me and the team where we showcased our steam bent skills as part of our Main Avenue gardens that highlighted the importance of protecting the natural world. But even a decade later, most people still remember the “Wooden Wavy House,” featured on Grand Designs. This was by far my biggest project which exemplified our craftsmanship and innovative design, pushing the boundaries of what is possible with steam bent wood.

 

How do you ensure that your lighting fixtures provide both aesthetic appeal and functional illumination?

I like to design through making. Seeking the perfect balance between aesthetic appeal and functional illumination through an iterative design process. This involves creating prototypes, conducting thorough testing and incorporating feedback before progressing the design into its final form. By refining our designs, we ensure that each piece not only looks stunning but also provides the right solution, whether that’s a particular lighting effect or use within a space.

 



Can you provide examples or case studies of how your lighting has transformed a space or enhanced an interior design project?

One notable example is Fistral Beach Hotel’s Bay Bar in Newquay, UK. The interior design team at this coastal location selected our steam bent lighting to complement the bar’s coastal and contemporary interior. 


“As a sustainable company we felt that the use of natural elements would sit perfectly in the Bay Bar. The knowledge that the Tom Raffield team passed on to us about caring for the wood, their attention to detail and the high-quality finish helped us achieve the look and feel that we had envisioned for the Bay Bar.”  – The Bay Bar


Are there any new projects/products you can tell me about?

We are thrilled to announce the opening of our first London showroom at the Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour. This milestone allows us to share our work with a broader audience and connect with other esteemed design companies. 


We can’t reveal too much about our new design just now, however we have a handful of exquisite furniture pieces coming soon!


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