London – Known for his research-driven designs with wood, Sebastian Cox has recently been exploring the relationship between the ‘dead’ material and living fungal mycelium, in an effort to ‘grow’ furniture. spends a day with the designer, who spends his mornings as a self-proclaimed furniture salesman, but is a man immersed in craft.
SEBASTIAN COX: If it’s going to be a busy day, I get up at 6:45 a.m. The alarm goes off at 6:30, and I’m awoken by the Today programme on BBC Radio 4. I get the news headlines and the cricket score. I take turns with Brogan – my wife and business partner – to walk the dog. Then we typically drive to work, although we cycle there during the summertime. We live in Deptford, which is 3 miles [± 4.8 km] from the studio. It’s around eight by the time we get in. We eat porridge in the tea room and welcome the team as they arrive.
9:00 a.m. Everyone’s generally ready to start by nine – or earlier, if there’s loads to do. We have a new regime these days. Before we hired a studio manager, we used to begin earlier and finish later. Work would be sporadic, based on how busy we were. Our manager’s first job was to make sure everyone worked a consistent number of hours. When you’re a one-man band you don’t mind going home at 11 p.m., but we figured it’s not fair on the employees, so now we finish at around six.
I like to focus on proportion, where it’s important to have accurate measurements, so I design predominantly on a computer
I spend the first few hours of the working day answering emails – unglamorous but necessary. We’re getting quite good at bringing in professionals to take care of the finance and management side of things, leaving me and Brogan to deal with sales. During the mornings I’m basically a furniture salesman. Mondays are for briefing and maintenance, so while Brogan, the studio manager and I figure out what everyone is going to be doing in the coming week, the rest of the team repair the workshop.
11:00 a.m. Morning coffee break. George Mead, who’s been with us the longest and is our main maker, likes routine. He drinks his coffee at 11:00 a.m. – not a minute later. Afterwards I open my CAD program and start working away. I design predominantly on a computer. I like to focus on proportion, so it’s important to have accurate measurements. Yes, it’s possible to do that with pen and paper, but I’ve found that using a computer makes things significantly faster.
1:00 p.m. At 12:55 George puts down his tools and takes out the bread. We all sit down at 1:00 for lunch together in our little tea hut. When I worked at other places, I remember the lunch-time chat being about last night’s TV shows, but my lot don’t seem to watch anything. They’re all outdoors – exercising, skateboarding and stuff. They’re only a little younger than me, but culturally it’s a significant gap.
2:00 p.m. If possible, this is my making time. We did a show with the British Crafts Council and the New Craftsmen for Design Miami, and I presented a variation on a traditional Welsh dresser with ceramist Sue Paraskeva. The piece resulted from a desire to get back to the workshop. It’s totally self-indulgent – making a thing that I want to make. I don’t know if there’s even a customer for it, but I saw value in doing it anyway. This type of project helps me to resharpen my tools and reconnect with day-to-day woodworking. We’ve expanded our workshop to give the team more space, but it’s also given me room to experiment with projects like this. Going forward, they will be a big part of what we do. At last year’s London Design Festival, for instance, we were part of the Design Frontiers exhibition, where we showed some of the things we’ve been doing with mycelium. And we launched more of these pieces at Milan Design Week in April.
4:30 p.m. I might return to designing towards the evening, but I’m in and out of the workshop all day, checking for mistakes. We try to brief people very clearly at the beginning of a project, but sometimes errors occur – maybe someone will be routing something the wrong way – and I can spot it a mile off. When you know your own workshop as well as I do, and you have your own way of making things, you can hear a tool being used incorrectly. It’s about resolving problems with everybody. There are particular nuances to the way we do things, and that’s something I want to maintain.
6.30 p.m. The team usually goes home before us, at six. They lock up the workshop and we finish up in the studio, but our jobs don’t necessarily stop then. If we’re feeling lazy, Brogan and I might stop at a restaurant in Greenwich for dinner on the way home. We have to drive past quite a few places that we really like. It’s a chance to have the meetings and conversations that we should have had at the studio. We make time to talk strategy, and we do think ahead now that Brogan has joined.
11:00 p.m. Bedtime. Although I end the day by refreshing my email.
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