Ever wonder how furniture makers get stiff, sturdy wood to adopt the kinds of elegant curves you see in chairs, pianos and even the shingles that adorn dome-shaped structures? Sometimes it’s soaked, and sometimes it’s steamed. Steam bending is an ancient art that uses heat and moisture inside a “steam box” to make wood temporarily pliable. It is then shaped by craftspeople, clamped and allowed to harden.
No single designer is more renowned for steam-bent wood creations than Tom Raffield, who has spent his career hand making sustainably crafted lighting and furniture in his Cornwall, England studio. With lots of practice, Raffield developed his own way of using steam to twist and bend wood into all sorts of surprising shapes, a process that requires no toxic glues and produces very little waste.
With a resume like that, it’s no surprise that Raffield’s own home is a showcase of his techniques and skills. Set on six acres of ancient woodland in rural England, the two-story dwelling is an architectural take on his steam-bent furniture and lighting designs, made almost entirely from sustainably sourced wood harvested from the property.
Raffield stretched narrow strips of timber across the facade of his home and bent it around every corner, with curves taking the place of sharp angles. The bent wood acts as exterior cladding and railing for a second-floor terrace, and also functions as decorative trim on an adjacent structure that once served as a gamekeeper’s lodge. Along one rock wall of the lodge, the curving timber jumps off the surface, swoops down to form a bench, and then rises again into a curlicue.
The theme continues indoors, where Raffield’s latest collection comes together into a cohesive design statement. The natural tones of the wood and stone are emphasized through a subtle, neutral color palette offset with black and white. The home was featured on an English show called Grand Designs in October 2016:
The brand takes a lot of pride in high-quality workmanship paired with timeless designs that will last a lifetime, continuing the tradition of heirloom pieces that stay in families for centuries. This philosophy is a direct response to modern-day “throwaway culture,” which encourages purchasing low-quality, limited-lifespan products over and over again, ultimately costing more money over time.
“We wanted to build a house with the same consideration and attention to detail we put into our furniture and lighting,” says Raffield. “Designing objects for other people to put in their home is an incredible privilege, we’d never design anything that we wouldn’t have in our own home, but we’d never had the chance to design for our own space before.”
The project is actually a collaboration between Raffield and his wife, Danielle, who’s also a designer on his team. “The experience of building your own space and creating pieces to put inside has been incredibly liberating,” says Danielle. “Then being able to share that experience is both nerve wrecking and incredibly exciting. I hope the program is a little window into the place where we live and work, and also the way all of our products are made.”