Chippendale International School of Furniture: Honoring and Educating Woodworkers

Chippendale International School of Furniture: Honoring and Educating Woodworkers

An American woodworking student in Scotland received some high accolades in his host country this summer, when Isaac Thompson’s Backgammon Trunk was chosen for display in the Scottish parliament in Edinburgh.

Pictured at Scottish Parliament, left to right: Hugo Gray and Isaac Thompson, furniture students; Iain Gray MSP (member of Parliament); Anselm Fraser (Chippendale School founder)
Pictured at Scottish Parliament, left to right: Hugo Gray and Isaac Thompson, furniture students; Iain Gray MSP (member of Parliament); Anselm Fraser (Chippendale School founder)

Isaac, a resident of Orange County, California, who obtained a sculpture degree from Bates College in Maine, is one of several students from the U.S. and other countries who have studied at the Chippendale International School of Furniture, where he built the piece. The school, based out of a renovated 19th century stone barn in Scotland’s East Lothian countryside, near Edinburgh, offers a nine-month (October-June) intensive furniture making course, which provides the equivalent of three years’ worth of education, as well as shorter courses throughout the year.


Isaac is a recent graduate of the Chippendale furniture making intensive. His piece is meant to evoke the romance of the bygone era of long-distance rail and ocean travel. The trunk itself is constructed of oak, with veneers of sycamore, rosewood and mahogany — and, to while away the time, it contains a backgammon board, complete with checkers.

Isaac was not the only American Chippendale student to receive recent honors. Two more graduates of this year’s intensive course also had their pieces commended by European arts commentator Professor Richard Demarco, a visual and performing artist and promoter of the arts – and former European Citizen of the Year – who judged the student works.


Maureen (Mo) O’Brien recently became a resident of Camano Island, Washington, after living in Texas and working in data communications for several years. Her piece, a Pet Owner Station made from beech, aromatic cedar, spalted beech and oak, provides storage for feeding bowls and food, as well as a pet owner’s boots and outdoor clothing. It also provides the pet owner with a place to sit while putting on the outdoor gear.


And Dan Wallace of Boston created a Beasley Desk of solid oak, with a recessed drawer on its top and several drawers around the sides. He deliberately created the desk to stand higher than an average piece, to add comfort for a designer or architect standing behind the desk.


One of Isaac Thompson’s earlier pieces at the Chippendale School also looked back into history: specifically, at the history of advertising. His “Blown Away Guy” chair recreated a famous advertisement from Japanese electronics firm Maxell showing a man seated in a Le Corbusier style chair who is blown backwards by the sound volume from his Maxell speakers.


Isaac recreated the chair – and the 1970s advertisement, which you can see in his video. His version of the chair is made from spalted cherry and took him three months to complete. “Spalted cherry has a beautiful grain, a grain so intricate that it looks like a hand-rendered drawing,” Isaac said. “The chair’s design was inspired by the exaggerated lines and movement of the Maxell advertisement. I liked the idea of sliding into the chair, reaching for my martini, pressing play, and listening to my favorite music.”


Students in this year’s Chippendale School intensive course on furniture – who came from the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Italy and Norway – were also on hand during the vote on Scottish independence. They created their own political commentary through furniture: a round blue table, based on a design by 19th century French cabinetmaker Theodore Alexander Jupe, hides a complex concealed mechanism that that moves the tabletop’s sections outward when it’s turned. It expands into a larger round table – which, with the addition of some slats, becomes a Saltire, Scotland’s flag. Give the table another twirl, fit in more slats, and it transforms into a Union Jack. There’s a video on this one, as well.


“We wanted to make a Jupe table as a bit of fun and to explore the complexity of Jupe’s design,” said Chippendale School principal and founder Anselm Fraser.


Anselm runs his own business, Anselm Fraser Furniture, alongside the school, out of the same workshop. The business designs and creates new furniture, as well as doing restorations – including a restoration of poet William Wordsworth’s bureau.

Anselm and his wife Antonia founded the Chippendale School of Furniture in 1985. This year, it is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

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