Finding the Balance
Collingwood, VIC, Australia
Daniel Poole on Finding the Balance Between Craftsmanship and Design
As soon as I step foot into Daniel Poole’s Collingwood studio, there is no ignoring the strong aroma in the space. A mixture of timber and freshly stained furniture entices my senses, leaving me excited for the conversation that will soon follow. Following our introductions we sit either side of a table that is due to be delivered to its new owners the next day. And my goodness, it is beautiful. The ‘November Table’ is a stunning glimpse into the work produced in this studio and I eagerly anticipate learning about the journey taken to get to this point.
After completing VCE, he began an Industrial Design course at RMIT Melbourne in 2008. His stint at university only lasted 12 months though. Realising he wanted to make the pieces as well as designing them, he embarked on a furniture making apprenticeship the following year. “The course was great, but I wanted to make things as well. You kind of do what you’re good at and I’ve always been good with my hands so I wanted to be able to design and build furniture at the same time,” he explains. The four-year apprenticeship taught him the fundamentals of furniture making. Centred on the properties of timber, he acquired the skills needed to understand the science behind the product; it needs to move and allowance for expansion and contraction is required when designing functional pieces.
But for Dan, the apprenticeship was almost too timber heavy, stripping away the importance of product design. “I’m not ‘wood crazy’ to be honest. I don’t just love timber. I choose to work with it, but I’m not someone to think timber is everything,” he remarks. While this comment has me surprised, I begin to realise that the passion and aesthetic behind his work lives far beyond the material he ‘chooses’ to work with. He continues, “When you start out with an apprenticeship you learn all the fundamentals of how to make a piece. Now it’s actually about what response things get.” And there it is. Yes, he knows what it takes to build and craft furniture. But most significantly, he is honing these skills to create pieces that will arouse an emotional response. “My focus is now on refining the design and knowing what the balance between craft and form is.”
This balance between craftsmanship and design is a common theme in our conversation. I find that almost every point we touch on has a direct correlation with this idea, only proving that this man knows exactly what he strives for in each individual piece. When I ask him what it is about this notion that motivates his work, his answer is simple. “I have a fear of mediocrity and mixing in with everyone else,” he says, like a true artisan. This fear of being mediocre is the driving force behind his individual work ethic, urging him to take risks and learn new skills along the way. As an artist-maker, this approach is what enables him to produce such refined pieces, and in turn eliciting the human response he strives for. “I work really hard on producing my own pieces and creating pieces that don’t look like other people’s work. I am proud of the fact that if you see any one of my pieces you will know it’s mine,” he adds.
Most designers could only dream of being able to say that their pieces are recognisable on their own. But Dan is living this reality and will only continue to find people knocking on his warehouse door asking for his signature pieces to be an addition in their homes. Clients are often so impressed with his work the first time around that they commission him to create several pieces for their homes. This, he explains, is a great feeling. “When you put in so much work it’s nice to have someone appreciate it enough to come back and get more pieces made.” Having spent the past 10 years working on perfecting his skills and now mastering the balance between design and craftsmanship, it is clear to see why his pieces receive the response they do.
And although I know he disagrees with my comment on his ‘mastering’ this balance, I believe his work speaks for itself. His designs are meticulously thought out and executed with acute precision, that without direct advertising, his work reaches an organic audience with one thing in common; an appreciation for beautiful handcrafted furniture. Perhaps the most intriguing quality I learn about Dan is the way in which his mind works while creating a piece of furniture. For example, he not only designs a table as a stand-alone object, he designs with the entire space in mind. “I definitely design with a setting in mind, or a whole lifestyle. I have an idealistic perception of where I wish it was going or how I would want it in my house,” he says.
His perception of space is imperative in the design and creation of his signature pieces and as such, is an endearing quality attributed to his passionate work ethic. These qualities can be further attributed to his fear of mediocrity as he is continually working towards producing unique furniture of the highest standard. “I have given my all. I work tirelessly at my craft and I’m always conscious of taking in people’s response to something. I want to know what works and what doesn’t, while improving the product and processes.” As we near the end of our conversation, I ask Dan what the future looks like for his practice. While he hopes to see a lot of growth in his work as well as establishing a team of makers, he insists on tightening the focus of design to a smaller niche of products. “I want to be a smaller niche and make dining tables and even have some dining chairs as staples. With this, I’d even like to reproduce a little as I’m honing in on designs that are of a great standard,” he explains. I leave his studio with a new understanding of the beauty and intricacies associated with furniture design. With an identity that can be traced in each and every one of the pieces he creates, there is no doubt that Dan Poole has perfected the balance between craftsman and designer.
Words by Alana Perin.
Photography by Lillie Thompson.
Featuring Daniel Poole.
Published: 19 December, 2017