(5 minute read)
More than ever, people are reconsidering their career paths, often switching between different jobs in search of something that's motivating and meaningful to them.
The explosion of possibilities that came with the internet means there's a much lower barrier to entry for anyone who wants to earn a living on their own terms. This is especially true when it comes to handmade items from solo craftspeople and small businesses.
Making Day-Dreamed Designs Into Real Products
This is the unlikely story of Walnut & Copper, an independent design studio based in the Netherlands, and comprising a team of one. The person behind Walnut & Copper, Seb, has no formal training in design or woodworking, but growing up he was shown some basics of woodworking by his dad, and over the years had a growing interest in architecture and furniture design.
The design language of Walnut & Copper is self-described as "combining elements of biomimicry with contemporary industrialism."
The aim is to create wooden products that provide an aesthetic and practical everyday function in the home.
You might already be able to see why we were excited to discover Walnut & Copper, and even more excited to be able to feature their handmade items in our product collection. But there's something else that we're even more excited about - read on to find out what that is!
First, we wanted to quickly get straight to the core of why and how Walnut & Copper began, especially by someone who has no formal training in design or woodworking. It’s perhaps worth mentioning that woodworkers and blacksmiths exist on both sides of his family. Still, it’s a far cry from his current job, which is in the customer service realm for a popular car brand.
A Sketchbook of Ideas
We learned that this story starts where a lot of good stories begin - out of late nights being interrupted and overtaken by random ideas, in this case, product design ideas.
These nights were spent by Seb in hours of sketching, thinking and making mock-ups from paper and cardboard. Figuring out how these designs would look and function before being able to finally succumb to a peaceful sleep.
Over the course of a couple of years, the pages of a sketchbook started to fill up with designs and ideas, and more and more frequently, inspiration would strike. Each time, bringing with it a stronger desire to make something of these sketches and turn them into real products.
Inspired by Natural Surroundings
“Aside from getting ideas late in the evening or at night, I often get them when out on walks, wandering through the forest and looking at the structures of the plants and trees. Other times I could be getting the bus or in a car, looking at the designs of different objects like street lamps and bridges - I really like bridges for some reason."
Ok, so we got the how - but why lighting specifically? Especially when he mentioned being inspired by things like plants and bridges - what do lighting and bridges have in common? It turns out that the reason for Walnut & Copper focussing on lighting can be found in something mentioned on their About Us page:
“Lighting is unique because it's rare to find something that can be both a feature-piece and has a practical, utilitarian function. Lighting is even more unique because it can set or change the ambience of the room it inhabits…"
Seb mentioned that he also loves house plants and lighting in general, as both are integral parts of making a space feel welcoming and home-like.
Natural & Raw Materials
All of Walnut & Copper’s current designs are made from, you guessed it, walnut wood and copper. We asked why he chose these materials specifically.
“I started messing around with some thin sheets of black walnut veneer that I had, and remember my mind started filling with ideas and the potential for how many things you could do with these simple sheets of wood...
Similarly to an endless possibility of things you can do with a sheet of paper, there is almost an equal amount of things you can do with a sheet of wood. Especially when it looks as good as black walnut does."
Projects & Products:
So far there is just one product that Walnut & Copper have released, the Lumière Lamp, (available directly via Wondrwood or on Walnut and Copper’s Etsy store). But, having seen some of the sketches and prototypes for other pieces, we can say that we’re very excited for these to also reach the realm of the physical world as real products in the near future.
The first product to be finalised from the sketchbook is the Lumière Lamp, which is a modern interpretation of a vintage stage or movie theatre light.
The Initial Design:
“I always liked the look of vintage stage lighting - and wanted to try to recreate one from walnut, but one that somehow mimics a plant as well. I also like the 'exploded view' of product drawings where you can see all the parts of an object as if the pieces are lifting off from one another [example below]. All of these elements together inspired the design of the lamp head."
He mentions that making the stand actually took more thought and time to nail down than was anticipated. “I sketched out 20 or so different versions [of the stand] and as soon as I tried the tripod shape, I knew it had to be that one - especially given the starting inspiration was a stage light.”
Fine-Tuning & Functionality:
"I knew that I wanted to be able to adjust the angle and direction of the light, but couldn’t come up with a design that I actually liked for having some sort of hinge or articulating part to adjust the light with."
Originally, the Lumière Lamp was to stand about 1.2 metres (4ft) tall, and then have a secondary stand that was going to be a much smaller version. "It was always going to be modular - so you can attach the same lamp head to two (or more) different stands, and also be able to adjust the angle and direction.
This is when magnets made the most sense to use and I decided that a 15° angle was optimal to switch the lamp between any size stand. It also allows you to direct the light anywhere between 15° up or 15° downwards, including horizontally."
How it Works:
“There’s a magnet inside the stand and another magnet inside the lamp where they make contact. This lets you snap the lamp onto the stand and spin it in any orientation 360°, and take advantage of the 15° angle to point it up, down or straight ahead."
What's Next in the Sketchbook?
When pressed further about sharing some ideas for future designs, “I don’t want to get too ahead of myself and try to finalise and release or even talk too much about a bunch of pieces all at once.
I'd like to make sure that each one is a refined product before releasing or announcing specifics that may still change slightly as I revisit them.
What I will say, is while the focus is on lighting for the first couple of products (as the majority of my sketchbook designs are lamps and lighting), there are definitely plans and mockups for other pieces that are not lighting, but still very much in the same realm of useful home decor and furniture. Of course, all pieces will follow my same design and material preferences."
The Road to Success is Riddled with Uncertainty.
At the moment, Walnut & Copper is still in its infancy, with Seb still working his full-time job in customer service to pay the bills. He sees Walnut & Copper as a path to earning a living from something he's passionate about, or several passions combined as the case may be.
This is not an easy road to go down, and there are undoubtedly many obstacles and uncertainties that come with it.
Saying that - the potential reward of earning a living by designing, making and selling his handmade wooden products is "more than enough motivation, and definitely worth all of the risk, blood, sweat and tears" in his words.
If you would like to follow along and support Seb’s work, you can follow Walnut & Copper on Instagram and Pinterest. You can now find the released products via Wondrwood or Walnut & Copper's Etsy store, and soon you will also be able to sponsor a future project with a donation directly via walnutcopper.com.
- Check out Walnut & Copper's website.