A Design Duo Adding Whimsy to Traditional Woodwork

The East London furniture makers Wilkinson & Rivera are giving classic silhouettes a playful twist.

Article by Aimee Farrell

The design firm Wilkinson & Rivera’s take on traditional 18th-century wooden chairs. From left: two iterations of the Queen Anne-inspired La Silla and the studio’s version of a classic Windsor. Photography by Michael Vince Kim.

The East London-based husband-and-wife woodworkers and furniture designers Teresa Rivera and Grant Wilkinson have been inspired by many things, but two above all: the writings of the 20th-century English cabinetmaker Charles H Hayward and YouTube, where they’ve watched dozens of tutorials by different furniture artisans. “You used to do an apprenticeship with one person for years,” says Rivera, “but now you have access to a limitless amount of masters online.” Last year, the self-taught duo set up their studio, Wilkinson & Rivera, inside a 15-square-metre shipping crate in Walthamstow. Their works combine a respect for traditional forms with a sense of play: the pair’s debut piece is an eccentric and whimsical take on the classic Windsor chair, replacing the 18th-century English seat’s straight-spoked back with undulating pieces of wood that seem to shimmy.

After meeting at a party in 2012 while studying fine art at London’s Camberwell College of Arts — Rivera, a New York City native, was on a six-month transfer from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture in Philadelphia — the couple went on to pursue different creative paths, Wilkinson as the lead woodworker for the English globemakers Bellerby & Co. and Rivera as a designer for the British decorator Fran Hickman. Today, their line includes stools with petal-like edges that come to life via a succession of sketches, clay maquettes and small-scale prototypes. They collaborate on everything, with one person naturally taking the lead: Wilkinson first doodled the Windsor chair on a train; Rivera’s obsession with ornate 17th-century barley twist furniture, characterised by its spiral wooden posts, inspired the Welsh Stick chairs — squiggly spool-legged pieces charred using the Japanese technique of wood scorching known as shou sugi-ban — that they presented at the New York City-based gallery the Future Perfect’s Design Miami display last December. And for La Silla, their crinkle-cut iteration of the Queen Anne chair, popularised in the 18th century, both Rivera and Wilkinson taught themselves to weave so they could make its cane seating. Its name — the Spanish word for “chair” — is a nod to Rivera’s Dominican heritage, a world away from Wilkinson’s southern English childhood. Or maybe not so far after all: “Our backgrounds are so different,” says Rivera. “But through making furniture, we’ve found this lovely common ground.”

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our fifth edition, Page 34 of T Australia with the headline:
“T Introduces”
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