The School for Craftsmen in wood at Parnham House

Robert Ingham
1977, Vol. 10, No. 1,

Abstract


What makes a good designer? What course of action can he choose to ensure that he gets the best training? Should he be trained as a graduate from an art school or should he start at the bench in some form of apprenticeship? If one looks at the designers who have made their mark in their chosen field it is difficult to determine whether the type of training was responsible for their success. This is not the case with John Makepeace, who is regarded as the country's leading furniture designer and maker.

John Makepeace was born in 1939 in Solihull and had no formal art school background~ Instead, from 1957 to 1959 he was a trainee cabinet-maker with Keith Cooper in Dorset. Not quite an apprenticeship, rather a two year intensive course in the realistic 'school' of a working furniture maker. Like many young aspiring craftsmen he wanted to set up his own business. In 1963, after a spell of travelling to the Scandinavian Countries, he bought Farnborough Barn near Banbury, which he and his wife Ann Sutton, the equally well known textile designer and innovator, turned into a house and a workshop.

It was not long before the name of Makepeace began to appear in the leading design journals. His name was soon to become a standard both inside and around the world of furniture and furniture design. Discerning users, collectors, museums and galleries sought his work, which never seems to have fallen into a 'style'. Anyone who knows his work is quick to agree, that the wide variety of designs he has produced is indicative of his fertile imagination and his innovative approach to construction.The workshop in Banbury flourished and soon had a work force of five highly skilled craftsmen. Over the years John Makepace has trained a number of young people who have joined him as apprentices. One only needs to see their work to realise that their training has been successful. He is constantly being approached by craftsmen who wish to join his team. Not least among these devotees have been students with design training who have felt the need to learn how to make furniture at the bench, so that they in turn could set up their own furniture making workshops.


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