Inspired by fairies - Beautiful but unusual furniture made in Ouseburn
PUBLISHED: 16:49 27 February 2012 | UPDATED: 21:07 20 February 2013
The magic of Wychcraft is thriving in Newcastle's Ouseburn Valley, as Guy Kiddey reports
A wisp of smoke curls from the roof of a small warehouse at the end of a row of industrial units in the Ouseburn valley. Inside the corrugated
walls, a workshop glows with the warmth of the stove an oil barrel with an old heating duct as a chimney and a sideboard leans rather jauntily.
Two Jack Russells bound to the gate. It transpires that one, Rolly, is an artist. Painting with his paws, his greatest works are exhibited in the workshop.
Above the door fairies and goblins dance around the words Wychcraft Furniture while inside Steve Oliver is busy with his latest not-quite-regular creation.
The idea for this fantastical world came to Steve when his mind wandered one afternoon in a computer class. Instead of learning about spreadsheets and databases, Steve was imagining a community of elves working in Lilliputian furniture factories.
This inspired the unusual angles and trademark jauntiness of Steves work. In a departure from flat-pack uniformity, everything Steve makes has a posture. In a bedside chest, each drawer is unique in size and shape.
But it has taken years of experience to reach the precision required to make these odd shapes fit together.
Steve honed his skills working in the carpentry trade and worked on the refurbishment of some of Londons most prestigious embassy buildings, where no expense was spared.
We were working with beautiful hardwoods and I use only unprocessed
wood now. No chipboard or anything like that.
All the wood Steve uses now is reclaimed, mostly from old roofs the eaves and rafters that would otherwise go straight to landfill.
This recycling strategy makes Wychcraft about 90 per cent green, Steve estimates. Roof wood is perfect for furniture making. Its well seasoned and all the knots that are likely to come out of it have already come out.
Sometimes temptation gets the better of him. Towering in the corner of the workshop is an enormous coffee table, with feet as big as an elephants. It is made out of the oak roof beams of a former windmill in East Yorkshire and wouldnt look out of place in the drawing room of a country pile but it is, Steve admits, too big for the average home.
I tried it in the living room, but my wife said it had to go. We couldnt move in there.
A love for the solid statement that real wood makes is also reflected in Steves admiration of Victorian architecture and engineering such as Newcastles railway bridges and old warehouses in the Ouseburn valley.
Buildings were both functional and decorative then. We dont think about our living environment these days. We dont think about the durability of what we make. It just goes up and nobody thinks about the long term.
A sweet success
The Maynards Toffee Factory is at the bottom of the Ouseburn, where it meets the Tyne and is now home to a range of media companies that give small craft enterprises the skills they need to sell into new markets.
The building has super-fast internet connectivity and impressive eco credentials it is now lit using the same technology that makes Newcastles Millennium bridge glow at night and has been completely rejuvenated to provide state-of-the-art work space for small businesses.
There are education, theatre, advertising and design companies all under one roof. Its a blend of talent that makes the Ouseburn a unique hotbed of creativity in Newcastle.
The Toffee Factorys interior has been decorated using bespoke furniture made locally, including a conference table made by Steve Oliver.
Steve knows social media has made small craft business far more commercially viable than it would otherwise be. There are no overheads, he said. With specialist goods like I make, people find out by word of mouth.Social media gives you so many more mouths.
* To see more of Steves work log on to www.wychcraft.co.uk
The print version of this article appeared in the March 2012 issue of North East Life
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