Laura Cartledge heads to Lewes to learn about carpentry’s place in the contemporary world.
Some of the most modern designs need some of the most ancient methods.
Take the blackened timber used in the Lewes Grand Designs ‘Rusty Brick’ build for example.
Toby Hall reveals achieving the stunning effect involved using cider vinegar and iron fillings.
“Blackening oak is a lovely, ancient, process. It is a chemical reaction between the iron and the tannins in the wood which gives the effect,” he explains. “It allows enough of the character of the wood to come through.”
For the last three years Toby has been showcasing his skill as self-titled business Inglis-Hall & Co, however he has been self-employed in the woodwork industry for ‘the last 20-something years’.
And the present is proving an exciting time.
“In the same way as with food, it is like farmer’s market syndrome – people are more interested in the story behind the ingredients and the fact they are grown four miles away rather than 400,” he enthuses.
“We are very lucky that we have really great clients who have a genuine interest in craftmanship.”
The Rusty Brick project saw Toby work with wood from the nearby Balcombe saw-mills, and such local resources is something he prides himself on utilising.
Another technique which works to showcase, and celebrate, the raw material is re-sawing – something Toby describes as creating a ‘wooden lodge’ aesthetic.
“A lot of the Grand Designs projects use that, it opens up all sorts of possibilities” he reveals.
“Recreating that feel, in a modern environment where doors and everything hang straight, is a challenge but it has been really enjoyable to develop.
“Lots of the kitchens we do have a simple shaker style to the units and use lovely flat matt paint colours which provides a neutral backdrop, then you put in some star pieces – a wooden island, a side table.
“It is the contrast between the two which creates a bit of alchemy, it becomes more than just the some of its parts. Whereas if we do all of it in sawn timber it loses some of the impact.”
Contrast is a fitting word for the Lewes project, not just because the exterior of which uses both rusted corrugated steel and glass, but also in terms of the way it has divided opinion.
“It has been controversial but I really like the way it sits on the riverside – to me it still looks like a computer generated image and I mean that in a really good way,” Toby insists.
Interior architect Jeremy Pitts got Inglis-Hall & Co onboard to create the kitchen, staircase and cupboards.
“It was really slick, a lot of the joinery is hidden so you don’t know it is there until you push the wall and it opens up,” explains Toby.
“They are all techniques we have been working with for years but it was nice to do it on such a scale.
“The response has been great, we have had lots of enquiries off the back of it and it was great being such a local project – we have become great friends with the owners, they were really into the design.”
Being client driven is key for Toby, who regards the process as being all about ‘a conversation’.
“It is about trying to get from them what they want and then make it happen,” he adds. “It means it is never dull – we have never done two projects that are the same.”
While the business naturally attracts people who want the very best, Toby is keen to stress he doesn’t just want to be exclusive.
“We are always constantly striving to work with lower budgets which we can do by being clever with design,” he says simply. “Drawers and doors are where most of the money is eaten up, so if you are happy to have some open spaces you can do more.”
The less is more approach is something Toby asks Jeremy to help clients with.
“We often call on him to look at the larger picture,” he explains. “The reason your kitchen might not be working is because you need a utility room, it can free things up and by putting less back in you can have a more workable space.”
With kitchens often reflecting our eating habits, Toby is no stranger to unusual design requests, including one client recently who wanted space for a full tandoor oven and an indoor herb garden.
“I loved that,” he admits, “it make me think I want to go for dinner around his.”
To find out more about Toby’s work and projects, visit www.inglis-hall.co.uk
Picture of blackened oak hallway and exterior by Oliver Perrott – www.oliverperrott.com