Tom Raffield’s Heartwarming World Of Steam Bent Lighting And Furniture

by Becky Hoh in Bespoke stories

Bespoke Lighting and Furniture designer-maker Tom Raffield achieves something special with his work.

They have the appeal of a design-led piece, with a clear feel of being made by hand with love of the craft but they are also contemporary and simple enough to appeal and be accessible to a large audience and wide range of projects from a minimal loft apartment to a more luxurious classical space.

The graduate of the Falmouth College of Arts grew up in Exmoor and is now based in the beautiful Trevarno Valley in West Cornwall and the rawness of the elements and landscapes has always had an influence on him artistically and throughout his life.

‘I grew up surrounded by the extreme wilderness, tranquility and natural beauty,’ Raffield describes, ‘an environment that stimulated my imagination, and inspired freedom to be adventurous in my designs.’

‘We love being approached by a prospective client, who might have seen and fallen in love with the work, and now have an idea that they would like me to bring to life.’

His fascination with the time honoured practice of steam bending began whilst studying at Falmouth, where he discovered the traditional technique of using a chamber wouldn’t allow him to create the complex 3D bends he had envisaged. Years of research and experimentation allowed him to develop a new steaming method to turn his design visions into reality which led him to set up Tom Raffield in 2008.

Before setting up the workshop he was also co-founder of the award-winning collective design company Sixixis and winner of the Lighting Design Association’s Lighting Design Award 2011.

The studio now consists of five employees, three assisting with the crafting of the lighting and furniture and two more team members, including Tom’s wife, Danielle, heading up the office, sales and marketing.

Raffield’s has a set product line all showcasing the steam bending approach that allows him to create beautiful, fluid forms from naturally very straight and rigid wood. Most of his designs, made from sustainably sourced English oak, are based on the forms found in nature, which results in simple, soft, curved aesthetically pleasing objects.

‘Once steam bent into these wonderful shapes they are incredibly tactile pieces,’ explains Raffield, ‘you almost want to stroke them!’

This can definitely be said with the Flock lighting pieces, which are reminiscent of beautiful, bouncy oversized wood shavings and would add interest and statement to any room, but remain warm and down to earth because of the familiarity of the oak material.

The pale wood of the Large Cage light has an almost Japanese influence, again with the simple and humble, warm feel with a back story of craftsmanship and technical know-how.

Raffield launched the May Table at Clerkenwell Design Week, with its whimsical, organic twist of English oak beneath the table itself, showing off Raffield’s design principle of creating robust, strong and functional pieces with an artisan element to a tea.

One of his most popular pieces is the No.1 Chandelier. And it is one of his designs that is most often specified on a modified basis. ‘ It really stands out as such a special product when we make it to a client’s specifications,’ says Raffield. ‘We recently made a number of bespoke sizes ranging from 80cm to 100cm that were then hung in clusters.’

Much of the work Raffield undertakes is bespoke commission work, from giant outdoor benches to a 12-metre wide steam bent oak kingfisher nest play area and special one-off chandeliers for restaurants, hotels and residential properties.

‘It’s a friendly and personal service and I personally oversees each project from design to completion,’ explains Raffield. ‘We love being approached by a prospective client, who might have seen and fallen in love with the work, and now have an idea that they would like me to bring to life. They usually come and visit the workshop or send through images of their particular space and a few ideas of what style they like.’

Raffield will then get to work designing a piece for them, keeping the client involved at all stages of design and manufacture of their bespoke piece.

The testament to his true love of his favourite chosen material is it’s (not always welcome!) presence in his home.

‘We have many pieces from the range in the house. Including the Flock chandelier and the Long Coat Loop. I have a wooden chopping board made from a piece of beech from outside the workshop that my wife hates as it is all bent and doesn’t really work very well but I just think it is an amazing bit of wood.’

Tom Raffield –

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