Butterfly pendant story
Inspired by the movement and beauty of a butterfly in full flight, the form of this lamp intercepts the light, making intricate shadows and producing a stunning lighting effect in any space. Made by hand in Cornwall, England from sustainably sourced wood and finished with an eco-friendly, non-toxic varnish.
Design process Butterfly
"Designing always starts for me with a beautiful shape. I have always admired the lines of a butterfly and in particular the fluttering of its wings. Thinking about that is where the design for the Butterfly Light came from and, of course, realising that the steam bending process could create these lovely curved shapes." - Tom Raffield
From there he spends weeks sketching a shape and testing the idea – then slowly the form of the light grows from the process. Tom thinks about the shadows the light will cast around it as well as the form itself.
As soon as he finds a shape that works he’ll use strips of aluminium and card to move the wood only once he has a pretty good idea that the form will work. He’ll hold a bulb inside it at all stages to see how the shapes react with the light to ensure that the shadows are working. This is where the process of trial and error really come into play and the modelling stage is crucial for getting the 3D form – you can’t do that from sketches alone.
Next it’s about creating the tooling to bend the wood and this can change the design slightly because of the realms of what is physically possible. At this stage it becomes about finding an efficient way of making the product whilst ensuring the aesthetic isn’t compromised. And from all of this eventually comes a new design and a new light for their collection.
Choosing your wood type
They use three types of wood in their products, ash, oak and walnut, here is an introduction to each wood type and why they use it. The Butterfly floor light is only available in oak and walnut. Tom has learnt from trial and error which woods respond well to the steam bending process and temperate hardwoods lend themselves naturally to steam bending. Beyond that it’s really a matter of how the different woods effect the light and how they work with other furniture in people’s rooms. Oak and ash are readily available in the UK and grow in the woodland around them. Most of their ash and oak is native and sourced in the UK and Cornwall, with some from Europe.
Oak is their mid-colour wood and Tom loves the contrast between the golden glow inside and the darker wood colour on the outside. He also knew that a lot of other quality furniture is made of oak and therefore the lights will fit into many rooms and match decoration schemes.
Walnut is a dark wood and it is native to America. When you turn the light on, the walnut pendants turn a rich golden colour with the contrast of the silhouetted dark exterior and they produce stunning warmth and shadows.
Brand & Designer
Tom grew up surrounded by the extreme wilderness, tranquility and natural beauty of Exmoor, England - an environment that stimulated his imagination, and inspired freedom to be adventurous in his designs. Tom’s fascination with the traditional practice of steam bending began whilst studying at Falmouth College of Arts, 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.
Tom was co-founder of the award-winning collective design company Sixixis, recognised for unique aesthetic, forward-thinking designs and now, through his own company, Tom continues to create spectacular, ecologically sound, innovative furniture and lighting. Handcrafted in his studios in Cornwall, England, the range of contemporary lighting and furniture Tom now creates is based on beauty, integrity and a desire to create unique, high-specification products that will be cherished by their owners.
Winner of the Lighting Design Association’s Lighting Design Award 2011.
Handmade in England
There are so many products today clamoring for your attention; products that follow fashion trends and become obsolete far before their physical time. Distinction in design, craftsmanship and materials form the basis of the company and creating beautiful, sustainable furniture and lighting is what they’re all about. Everything they produce is handmade with care at their workshop in Cornwall, England.
They take pride in each piece they create and timeless design, combined with high quality workmanship, ensure each of their products is treasured by its owner and will last beyond a lifetime. From sourcing the right timber to using the best finish for the product, everything is the result of thought, consideration and artistry. If you hate the idea of waste and today’s throwaway culture, but love the idea of owning something that is built to last and will become a treasured possession, then the lighting ranges of Tom Raffield are for you. They’re not slaves to trends but truly unique, timeless and precious works of art – made to stand the test of time.
A by-product of good design
Tom Raffield creates products that will be cherished, enjoyed and loved and feel strongly that in our disposable culture longevity is the basis for sustainability. In an ideal world, sustainability is a by-product of good design. Running a business in a sustainable way should naturally be sound business practice. Having a comprehensive knowledge of the production process; from the selection of a tree, to the final finishes, provides Tom with the skills to minimise environmental impact and make his work economically viable.
So what actually makes Tom Raffield designs sustainable?
They use local timber where possible from renewable resources, reducing transportation.
All their timber comes from sustainably managed woodlands where more trees are planted than cut down.
The wood they use is either unseasoned, green or air dried timber (avoiding the energy-intensive kiln drying process).
Steam bending is the main form of production. It is a low energy method of manufacturing, with little wastage. There is no use of toxic or harmful chemicals; just water.
Wood waste is used onsite in their compost toilet.
Local suppliers and manufacturers are used where possible. Not only is this often cost effective, but it also helps to support local business and economy.
Each piece is hand crafted and will last over a lifetime.
An ancient skill reworked for the modern world
Steam bending is a traditional process steeped in history. It was once a vital practice, paramount to the production of weapons, tools and water vessels but sadly, with the advance of technology the practice has become less common. Steam bending is also a low energy and ecological method of manipulating wood with no nasty glues and very low levels of wastage.
With time and a lot of practice Tom has developed his own way of using steam, which has reinvented this traditional process and brought it into the 21st century. The new tools and methods Tom has developed mean he can twist and bend wood to create shapes as freely as you use a pencil for drawing. Having such a good understanding of the material and the process ensures there are no restrictions on creativity – knowing that anything can be achieved is extraordinarily liberating.
Tom’s bag technique
Creating complex 3D shapes from a single plank of wood is made much easier with Tom Raffield’s bag technique. Whilst studying at Falmouth College, Tom realised he wanted to be able do more than traditional steam-bending techniques would allow and so he invented an innovative new method of steam-bend wood, which he called the bag technique.
Traditional steam bending sees wood placed in a chamber of steam and then removed into the air to be bent- but this method didn’t allow Tom the time to create the complex shapes he wanted. He developed a new technique using a steam filled bag on localised sections of the wood, enabling him to create bends in the wood whilst it is still being subjecting to the bending effects of the steam.
Being able to bend the wood whilst it is being steamed allows Tom to craft pieces much more slowly and carefully as the time restrictions usually imposed by the rapid cooling of the wood being are no longer a problem.
A jig system with clamps and composite straps is used to actually bend the wood, creating a space to do so within a series of scaffolding bars and thus removing the confines of shaping on a bench. The bag technique allows the development of far more complex 3D forms than traditional chamber steam-bending, as well as enabling work on localised sections of a piece of wood in order to achieve a high quality finish, with far less risk of splitting owing to temperature change.
Tom said: “This technique is perfect for sculptures and one-off pieces but is very time consuming and therefore not commercially viable for large-scale production. It’s really an art process, enabling the artist to shape wood as you might shape clay.”