Today’s blog has been written by Julia, who studied English at Yale and now works for Pentagram in New York; she’s about to start a masters in Industrial Design at RISD this autumn.

This morning we took a tour of the nearby Ercol factory in nearby Princes Risborough. Founded in 1920, Ercol is known for its high level of craftsmanship and its blend of traditional and modern styles. The factory itself is quite a modern building, with lots of natural light — not exactly what you’d expect a factory to look like! Inside, the work floor is laid out according to the chronology of the product, with raw wood at one end and final pieces ready for delivery at the other.

CNC machines have been gradually introduced into the manufacturing process at Ercol since the 1980s, and we saw a number of five-axis CNC machines at work during our tour. Even with the influence of technology, though, humans are still key to many decisions — one employee walked us through the thinking behind matching composite wood grains for a table top. Another employee had a U-shaped component (I think it would ultimately become the back of a chair) and was doing an elaborate dance with the sander that involved twirling the component around his body several times. We also saw steam bending (by herculean hand and by machine), finishing, and upholstery. Overall the visit gave us a great appreciation for the complex nature of furniture making, as well as acquainted us with a dominant voice in local furniture design.

In the afternoon, we visited the St. John’s school of Lacey Green. Last year, the AAVS built a pavilion for music classes, and this year, we’re designing and making furniture for the pavilion. It’s the last week of school and it seemed like students and teachers alike were counting down the hours! By chance, when we dropped by a group of students were rehearsing a dance in the music pavilion — the “rubber boot dance”. Each of the students had rubber boots on, and the dance involved the enthusiastically stomping and slapping of said boots. It was great to see the pavilion in use. It also made us realize that any furniture we make will have to be easily removed and stored.

Back at the farm, we finished our introduction to the manual tools of the workshop and also did a quick tutorial with the CNC router. We used a seat design from a previous visitor to the farm; the seat dipped in a bit on top so we were able to see all three axes of this CNC in use. Additionally, because we used plywood for the test, the final product had intriguing rings that emerged from different depths of the wood.

Later this afternoon, we all gave brief introductions by way of each presenting a piece of furniture, printed publication, and film clip that we found meaningful or interesting. We also worked in groups to define the brief and capture any relevant influences or takeaways from the past two days. Tomorrow we’ll present these thoughts to each other to coalesce around a unified approach.