GOING WITH THE GRAIN
George Winks carves beautiful, contemporary furniture using self-taught techniques, natural materials and sculptural forms
Meet a man who crafts contemporary furniture with sculptural forms using natural materials
Simple, quiet, functional and handmade in England’ may be George Winks’s understated strapline, but the aesthetic and drive of this self-taught furniture maker is anything but modest. In the three short years since he set up his company, Temper Studio, his unique approach and eye for beautiful design have firmly established him as a modern-day ‘maker’ to watch. Such industry isn’t immediately apparent from the rustic 18th-century farmstead that is both his home and workplace. Set at the end of a winding Wiltshire lane, the slate-roof buildings shelter a forward-thinking studio that combines classic woodworking with architecturally led designs and brings together raw, natural materials of all textures and properties in each creation. The workshop contains a growing collection of tables, desks, chairs, stools, benches, boards and accessories – all made from British oak, sycamore, ash and beech. And with Selfridges among its customers, and a number of exciting bespoke commissions in the pipeline, Temper Studio is clearly well into its stride.
It’s the evolution of a long-held creative dream for George, who grew up in South Africa, the son of an English father and a half-english, half-greek mother. As a child, he was fascinated by his father’s workshop at home. “Dad was constantly adapting something old into something new,” he says. “His passion was woodworking but, with four children, he needed a job that would support us all, so it remained a hobby. I’d
spend hours crawling underneath things he had made, trying to figure out how they were constructed.” As such, wood is the foundation of every Temper piece, with concrete, steel and glass frequently introduced as complementary textures. “Cutting through the wood opens it up so you can learn from it,” George says, “while the addition of concrete and steel adds a rawness that is important for me – my work is not romanticised and I always visualise how I want objects to look and feel in a space, as a sculptural concept.”
From a young age George knew that he wanted to create, and at 16 became a knife-making apprentice: “I loved working with different materials to create one singular product and it instilled in me a passion for combining raw elements.” He followed this with an art course at St Oswald’s School of Painting in London, three years of classical fine-art training that he credits as an intense experience. “I left feeling that it was not just skill that made a good artist, but the ability to think intelligently and to make aesthetic connections.”
However, in February 2013, having spent years working as a graphic designer and struggling to make it as a fine artist, things came to a head for George. He took a trip to the Outer Hebrides, spending two weeks cycling. “I needed time to think, with no distractions, and decided that what I actually wanted to do was make furniture and run my own business,” he says. “It felt like a turning point. On my return to London, I quit my job, borrowed some money and, three months later, at the age of 29, I launched Temper Studio.” The business started in a tiny workspace in Tottenham, but he quickly began to look beyond the capital as rents were so expensive. The opportunity arose to rent a cottage in rural Wiltshire from a supportive relative: “Initially I was unsure, as I’d grown up living in cities, but by the end of the year I had moved in and was hooked.”
George has since converted the adjoining farm buildings into interconnecting studios and workshops. A door from the scullery in his cottage leads into the main workshop, where the scent of fresh wood fills the air. This space comprises two rooms – one full of timber and machines, where all the dusty, noisy work is carried out; the other where hand tools are kept and in which the fine detail and finishing work takes place. Utensils line the walls, a mix of old and new – many lovingly collected and restored. Elsewhere, a separate area is reserved for designing, while the ‘shed laboratory’ is used for messy concrete mixing. “Living next door does mean that I end up working most of the time, but I am so absorbed in my work that the hours are irrelevant,” he says.
With no formal training in furniture making, George has learned all his practical skills from an old manual of his father’s and Youtube tutorials: “Lots of formally trained craftsmen know how to make furniture but lack the aesthetic clarity to know what to create. I was the other way around – I am a firm believer that you can learn to do anything if you have a practical application for it.” This experimental approach can be seen in George’s current project – a series of chopping boards commissioned by online contemporary craft
shop Midgley Green. “They asked us to create something functional and sculptural. At the time a friend of mine was sailing around the world,” George says. “Her emails started me thinking of the ocean – I wanted to somehow capture the dark sea at night.” To create the desired finish, he uses a biscuit jointer – a tool normally used for joining planks together – having discovered that its protruding blade worked better than an angle grinder. “We start by cutting the basic shape out of a plank of British hardwood, preferably locally grown, before carving and sculpting its surface with the spinning blade,” George explains. “Then we rub the carved surface down with steel wool to remove any ‘fluffy’ grain and stain the wood with a black dye. After it’s dry, we rub it back again with different grades of sandpaper and steel wool to achieve the tonal variation and evocative look of choppy waves.”
To finish the boards, he uses a hand plane to shape their edges and add his signature facets before rubbing them with natural oils and wax. The result is striking and tactile, with distinctive shapes in each piece ensuring no two are the same. Cut into the wood, as he says, and you do indeed learn from it. For George, though, it’s the continual learning curve he experiences that keeps things interesting: “Working for myself can be tough but the countryside gives me the quiet I need to be creative. I no longer filter decisions through others, as I have the headspace to trust my own instincts.
“I love pushing the boundaries – when you have no idea what to do, that’s when the real creativity happens. Then you have no choice but to challenge, learn and trust your brain and your hands.”
CL readers can receive 10 per cent off when ordering at temperstudio.com until 31 March 2017 by quoting CLTEMPER10.