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Tom Raffield’s Cornwall home

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Aucoot's Favourites

Tom Raffield’s Cornwall home

Creating beautiful organic shapes through his signature technique of steam bending wood, is what furniture and lighting designer, Tom Raffield, is best known for. So it shouldn’t be surprising that when it came to creating his family home, this ancient craft and his continual inspiration from nature became key components for the project at hand; sensitively extending a Grade II listed gamekeeper’s cottage in the Cornish countryside. What is surprising is the result; a spectacular build which cleverly honours history whilst retaining a warm, contemporary feel, and of course, expertly harnesses the raw beauty of wood.

How did your obsession for steam bending wood begin?

I studied 3D Design for Sustainability at Falmouth College of Arts where I was lucky enough to discover and explore many different designs, philosophies and processes. It was here that my obsession for the eco-friendly process of steam bending began. I was drawn to the process as it felt like a long-forgotten art form, with very few people using it commercially, yet it being such a creative process with great scope for artistic design. The method, typically associated with boat building, involves a lot of skill and an understanding of the variables, allowing you to create the perfect bend. Wood is a beautiful raw material with astonishing strength and versatility.


What drew you to Cornwall and the plot you eventually built your incredible home on?

Cornwall is a passionate place of vast extremes – beaches, woodlands, rivers and mine-worked land. The natural environment inspires me every day. When Danielle and I were looking for our home, we wanted to find somewhere that would honour the amazing history of the plot, whilst giving us some creative freedom to build a space that will blend seamlessly into the surrounding environment.

The understated, raw allure of the Trevarno Estate is what drew us in, but the beauty of the surroundings is what kept us. The Estate dates back to the 13th Century, there’s actually very little information about the gamekeepers’ lodge, but we think the lodge is one of the earlier properties on the estate, with a new facade/front space added in 1881 after it was bought by the then wealthy Bickford-Smith Family.


Can you talk us through some of the materials involved in the project?

We wanted the house to be warm and inviting, so we were naturally drawn to using our favourite material – sustainably sourced wood. The wooden aesthetic of the house is so personal to us now, it only feels right that it was the material chosen to shelter us. Each piece of wood used in the Grand Designs project – as well as the lighting and furniture designs we handcraft in our workshop – is sustainably sourced from responsibly managed forests. With the natural environment being a constant inspiration for everything we design, it is vital that being kind to the outside world is a key factor in every decision.


Your home build has been described as 'pushing your ideas to their limits' - what did you learn in the process? Does what you learnt influence your design process now?

We’ve always wanted to push the boundaries of process, technique and material to show what steam-bent wood can do, and it’s safe to say that designing and building our home was one of our biggest projects and challenges to date. Really, it’s designed as an innovative and architectural take on our steam-bent furniture and lighting. We received an overwhelming response from the house appearing on Grand Designs. The unconventional, curving aesthetic of our home inspires me daily to push the limits of creative and innovative product design. Using wood structurally, throughout the build, has made me more confident with the properties of the material and pushed me to create larger, more complex designs overall.


What's your favourite thing about your home?

My favourite feature of our home must be how the old and new marries together. Of course, we love the steam-bent extension we created on the original Game Keeper’s cottage – yet the old house’s beauty holds a special place in my heart. Shamelessly, inside of my home, my favourite product is one of my own designs. The Chelsea Rocking Chair was an early product that we created, that still is a standout piece to me. All our designs are made to last a lifetime and the Chelsea Rocking Chair has certainly honoured that!


Having lived in your 'Grand Design' for some time now, what has surprised you the most about the house?

The timelessness and versatility of the space. After a year of unusual circumstances, the house has morphed from a space where we would relax after working all day, to a place where we were spending literally all our time. From Zoom meetings to home schooling, our space quickly adapted to fit what we needed in that moment, and we are so thankful our home allowed for this.


Were there any challenges in the design or build process that you had to overcome?

Trying to run a growing business and simultaneously build a house was in hindsight, not an easy venture…that being said, it was worth every second. Halfway through the build we secured our first large retail stockist which added a lot of pressure to our workshop with the influx of orders. Our team were amazing, they were working on handcrafting products and also helping us with the build; that’s where our family ethos was truly born.


Who or what do you turn to for inspiration?

Nature is a big source of inspiration for my work. Cornwall is such a wild, windswept, and wet county and the shapes and forms of the landscape feature heavily in my designs. I have always gravitated towards natural forms and perhaps this why there are so many curves in my work. However, with our new Leven Lighting Range, I was really keen to recreate the striking formations of smooth sea-eroded cliff faces and ridged headlands that distinguish the north coast of Cornwall. Living in Cornwall allows me to pull inspiration from my amazing surroundings, from nature and from the history of the county. The method of steam bending also inspires me greatly and everything we make has more or less come about from hundreds of hours in the workshop developing shapes and forms through trial and error.


Are there any designers, architects, or creatives that you admire?

So many. There is such a thriving creative scene here in Cornwall and we use local talent and suppliers wherever possible – from photographers and gardeners to illustrators and potters. To be more specific, I also love the work and artistry of Forest + Found, Tom Dixon and Zaha Hadid to name a few.


If you could collaborate on a project with anyone, who would it be?

A dream of mine has always been to collaborate with a ceramicist who hand throws their work. I think the combination of the two art forms would create something beautiful and unexpected. Perhaps it would be akin to our Green Range, in that it’s a marriage of two disciplines to create a showstopping lighting design – the product would no doubt end up being incredibly unique.


Do you have any advice for anyone embarking on their own self-build project?

Be mindful of long-lasting design and products. Create a home that will not only be your forever home, but can be passed along for generations to admire and thrive in. The world provides such strong, beautiful resources so be sure to treat your environment with respect, and your home will receive it back, tenfold.


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