Designer, artist and engineer Ben Tew explains how the traditional tools in his studio help keep him grounded
American designer, artist and engineer Ben Tew explains how the traditional tools and objects that adorn his Sheffield studio help keep him grounded
With a studio in Sheffield’s Portland Works – a former cutlery works that was built in 1879 and later converted into various workshops – Ben Tew is not short of inspiration. With neighbours that include a joiner, a blacksmith and a guitar maker, Baltimore native Tew is able to collaborate with and draw upon the work of “a fantastic collection of makers working in both old and new ways.”
“My working space has a very industrial look to it,” says Tew, who explains that he took over the workshop two years ago from a motorcycle builder, and so ended up with all of his old tools, materials and various motorcycle bits. “For the design of the space, I wanted to keep a bit of the old industry still visible, while bringing in the newer technology I work with,” he says.
Another way in which Tew keeps the spirit of the past alive is with a reminder of his childhood: Lego (1). “I like to keep these guys around as I was a Lego fanatic as a child, and they remind me not to be too serious,” he explains.
Other decorations in the space take the form of Tew’s past professional creations, such as the pinwheel (2) he made while working at Jason Bruges Studio on a Dyson commercial for a Japanese audience. “It was a really fantastic opportunity to take a seemingly simple object and recreate it using high-precision manufacturing and high-finish materials,” he says.
Tew uses the old pieces of machine work (3) that are scattered around his studio as references for the weight and texture of particular materials. “I just love having these hanging around,” he says, before adding: “It’s easy to get lost in the virtual space of design, and being able to handle these pieces keeps things grounded.”
Tew’s passion for well-crafted objects also shows in studio objects such as his “old school folding rule”
(4), which he describes as “just a nice, well-made tool.” The rule was a Christmas present from his fatherin-law, who is also an engineer and shares his love for handcrafted objects and vintage tools. “It has these wonderful brass hinges that have such a satisfying movement to them,” Tew enthuses.
The markers (5) Tew uses were also a gift, this time from his mother. “They’re refillable and my go-to when doing early concept sketching,” he says. “They have a lovely feel to them and I love that their square profile keeps them from rolling off my desk.”