One of the many talented contributors to Jardin Blanc 2018 is Gaze Burvill, garden furniture designers with a view on comfort, sustainability and, of course, beauty. Their famous Court Seat will be featured in Jardin Blanc at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year, and we were keen to find out how this modern classic in outdoor furnishings came to be.
Back in 1991, Christian Gaze met Simon Burvill at Hooke Park College, where they found they both shared the same values and desire to make something great. This resulted in Gaze Burvill. Rather quickly into their business partnership they had the idea of a garden bench with a particularly different design from the existing market of benches with their very architectural look.
"I was looking for something more curvilinear, more in tune with plant shapes" notes Christian. "Finally, and very importantly, because we were both concerned about the environmental impact of the use of tropical hardwoods, it was to be from Oak; the traditional timber for British garden furniture."
Now the scene is set, how did the seat come into being?
"I wish that I could say that I gave it half an hour’s thought and then sketched out the Court Seat. But it was rather different. In my experience, design is 99% frustration and 1% inspiration. I know that’s not how the saying goes, but that’s how it is for me. I spent a fortnight filling a sketchbook with rejects before I came up with what was to become the Court Seat. One morning I sat down at my table and noticed a box of Bryant & May matches. On the front of the box was an image of Noah’s Ark, with the planks sweeping around its blunt bow. About an hour later I had my first sketch."
Christian knew that he was onto something immediately. A series full scale mock-ups from softwood and hardboard were made to check the ergonomics and work on the aesthetic and proportions. All the time the bench was evolving, it was at this stage that the three different widths of the back rest emerged.
Once satisfied, Christian and Simon were ready to purchase the expensive Oak for a prototype. The first frame took about a week to make with all the changes and adjustments. In fact the pegged joints with the pegs showing proud came from this prototype period. It’s a very traditional reference to Oak frame buildings and helped pull it back from being too slick. The seat now had its frame, but not the most demanding thing: the bends.
At this stage the pair had a very limited knowledge of steam bending. Fortunately, a good friend, Petter Southall from Itre Furniture, was trained as a boat builder and had a workshop nearby. He was extremely generous with his advice and expertise...
"In the evenings we would make yet another attempt to bend [the components] into the right shape. I seem to remember that this took about a month and that I went through alarming amounts of expensive timber before the first prototype was complete!"
And, this was only the starting point. The Court Seat has been continuously improved over the years by the craftsmen at Gaze Burvill. There is not a single component that is exactly the same as those on the original models.
Christian finishes "I still have the original prototype in my garden today."