Nicholas Shurey is one of the five New Makers that TOAST will be supporting and nurturing throughout the year. His hand carved wooden bowls have a humorous, sculptural quality, reflecting his deep understanding for material and form. Andie Cusick met with Nicholas to discuss his route from architecture into carpentry.
Sitting outside in East London on this unseasonably warm February afternoon, Nicholas Shurey, the architect turned object-maker, is talking about trees. Trees take a lifetime of ours to grow before they can be felled, and they should only really be felled if there's a good reason to do it, he says.
As a British trained architect based in Denmark, Nicholas now spends his days in a shared workshop in the Nordhavnen port district of Copenhagen where he creates sculptural pieces from a variety of local woods including Danish maple and walnut. That's an amazing privilege, to have this piece of wood that you only get one chance at doing something with, he adds. I think it carries with it an enormous sense of responsibility - you want to do justice to that piece of tree.
"I think we need to remember that design should not only last but it should also be really fun.
For Nicholas, working with wood has been a return to focusing on pure form and the beauty of a single object. When you chip away at a log and start working into the sculpture you end up seeing all these hidden knots or bits of grain that you wouldn't have seen from the outside, he explains. It's a process of uncovering, where I have to think, okay, maybe I need to go around this one and I end up changing my course. For me, it's about responding to the material rather than just willfully forcing it to become something it doesn't want to be.
After graduating, Nicholas worked for various architecture firms and studios in London including Studio Toogood before moving to Copenhagen for a Masters in Spatial Perception. Remaining in the Danish capital, he worked for an interior architecture studio for several years. But with a keen interest in woodwork and a desire to pursue it professionally, Nicholas decided to take some time out. Spending a month in Switzerland with a sheep farmer-cum-sculptor, Nicholas was taught woodworking skills in exchange for help on the farm.
It just sparked something in me that was so liberating, he says of the sabbatical. It was a whole change in pace and lifestyle, but also a design approach: all of a sudden going from architectural projects, where there are so many parameters and so many requirements that have to be fulfilled, to something as pure as making a form and making it just because it feels right is incredible.
Nicholas now balances freelance architectural projects and carpentry with his love for sculpture. His carved pieces are functional with an anthropomorphic, tactile element. Curves or organic forms are almost a guilty pleasure in architecture, he says with a smile. Traditionally, we design in very constructive ways, so taking a block of wood and engaging in this very reductive process is really nice. I think all the pieces I've worked on have had a power of suggestion in these curves, how something can look mechanical but also organic and you just want to touch it. I think we're naturally drawn to these kind of shapes or forms.
His latest works are gleaming examples of this: His three-legged stool is based on the curve of human calves, with a pleasing sweep. This stool was designed to be stacked, one on top of the other, creating an ambiguous form that's not unlike a piece of abstract art. In an age when living in smaller, and confined spaces the norm, Nicholas' designs embrace the necessity of function: I love the idea that you can sit them in the corner and it looks like art, but when your friends come over, and you need extra seating, you can take them down.
In a similar vein, his latest pieces for the TOAST New Makers series are symbolic of his interest in pure forms, minimal treatment of wood and abstract design that still serves a purpose. Creating carved bowls in walnut wood, Nicholas makes a feature of the negative space chiseled out of the wood. Using just one line for a mouth, nose and eyes, the pieces were inspired by the work of Spanish sculptor Eduardo Chillida.
I wanted to make them in such a way that it could be quite ambiguous; you turn it around and it looks like the contours of the landscape and then you can put a banana and a couple of apples in it and it just becomes something else that's really funny, he says, laughing. While Nicholas' designs are striking, considered and suggestive of his architectural background, so too are they playful. My hope is that these smiley face bowls give people a lot of joy for a long time. I think we need to remember that design should not only last but it should also be really fun.
Words by Andie Cusick. Images by Kendal Noctor.