Meet The Creator: Geoff Fisher of Geoffrey Fisher Designs
Geoff Fisher began his formal training as a designer and mixed-materials maker in the late seventies, founding a workshop based in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire that focuses on beautiful wooden products that utilize waste from local woodlands. In the spirit of his handiwork, all the wood that goes into Fisher’s products are foraged by Geoff himself, including his darling skipping rope, which is cut by hand and packaged in his workshop before being sent off to host of vendors across Europe and the U.S.– including the Garden Collage Shop.
Impressed with the rustic quality of his skipping rope and curious to know more about his foraging methods (and how he produces such high-quality products without harming his local woodlands), Garden Collage sat for an interview with Fisher in which we discussed foraging for wood, the “intention” of trees, and the traditional methods that Fisher has used to craft modern wood furnishings with timeless appeal.
GC: We love the idea of using “gathered” wood in a really beautiful, sustainable way. How did you chose your medium and why you choose to create the items that you do?
GF: It was completely by accident. A tree had come down in the garden, and at that time I was still making sculptures out of pine nuts in the studio. I made a couple of hooks from this fallen tree in my studio, back when I was in a part of London called Brick Lane. I went to a shop and I told them about [the product] and then we made 20 or 30 of them and sold them, and then another 30, and they just kept selling. And that was the first thing: the hook. And then we came up with the name Trook, like tree and hook. So it was just by chance, really, and then gradually we started to use other parts of the tree. I’ve always worked with wood, but not that particular wood.
GC: That’s a great story.
GF: I’m quite interested in the business side of it, because a lot of people that do what I do—designing or making stuff by hand— but they don’t actually make a living out of it. I really like because I find this a real challenge with retail. You have to make something that the stores in America or here in Europe can make their margins hold, so the question becomes: “How can I make something that’s at a price that I’m happy with that the stores can put light to in harsh times even with my [starting] price, [to such an extent] that you as a consumer will feel that it’s worth it?”
GC: Because each of your products is handmade, is pricing them uniformly for retail ever a challenge?
GF: It means that there’s a lot of things that you can’t make, because you just can’t make the margins [that retail requires]. America has been an important market for me, and my products are high value, low volume, low weight. I can ship stuff out to you really quickly and cheaply. I think of sustainability not just as a term that’s like the ecology of the land, but also my business, I make a living out of it. And I make sure that I can employ somebody else who can be trained up to take that on as well– so it needs to be seen as a whole. I’m really interested in this work, and not just for the design and making part.
GC: Where do you source your materials?
GF: This is the time of the year when we’re allowed to cut trees down. It’s very seasonal. The trees have to be sustainably coppiced– you can’t just let trees grow anywhere. You have to clear out some trees to make sure the ones that remain can grow strong and healthy. So on Monday, I was in Oxfordshire and they were cutting down a substantial number of ash trees. These are the ones that will end up actually using… So you have to work with tree surgeons who are working carefully to maintain the woodlands.
And the great thing is, the people I work with don’t want to just see these trees get cut down and then go to waste or turned into firewood. They’ve always been really very cooperative with me, in offering me wood for free, because they see that these can actually be made into a product.
The people I work with don’t want to just see these trees get cut down and then go to waste or get turned into firewood. They’ve always been really very cooperative with me, in offering me wood for free, because they see that this material can actually be made into a product. [When I make something out of this wood], it goes out to the other side of the world where people can own, love, and appreciate it. It’s a really nice relationship.
GC: Because wood is a natural product, it’s full of eccentricities and unpredictability in terms of what the material is going to look like. Is that something that you enjoy as a designer?
GF: That’s a great question, because up until I started this business I had always worked with wood, but it was with abstract structures, so you have an idea for a particular piece of work and then you would cut the wood to represent that particular idea. Now what I’m doing now is really different. It’s a question of going around the woodlands and looking for pieces of wood and saying, “well, that shape might lend itself to the handle of a brush,” or in the case of Garden Collage, the jump ropes, which are all quite different though there are certain similarities between particular pieces of a certain diameter.
The size of the wood and the shape of the wood actually suggest the product. And I think that’s what people like about the product– that the brush kind of fits into your hand with that natural curve. And of course it’s a selection, you’re using your eye more than anything else, to try and find wood. But whereas I started off with a hook, of course I ended up with all these other pieces of wood that became the slingshot, brushes, a whole range of other stuff, like tongs. We ended up using anything that led to a product. It’s a really interesting way of working– using nature to get the product. You have to be very very careful because what you don’t want to do is shoe-horn the material into a particular product, otherwise it looks phony.
GC: So you have to be sensitive to the material while also using the designer’s eye to guide and initiate that process. That’s lovely.
GF: You’re also working with the seasons. There are only certain times of the year when I can get wood where I can strip the bark from, and that’s in the spring. The pieces of wood that I’ve got where the bark comes off are only available for a certain period of time, then in a few weeks’ time I won’t be able to strip the bark off because there’s no sap in the wood. That comes out in Spring. So you’re working with the natural shape of the wood and also the seasons– observing nature and what it has to offer.