Kim Selwood - Miniature Furniture Maker
by Rebecca Green
After seeing the pieces of furniture which Kim Selwood made for Jazz's art deco house, I wanted to know more about his work, and I asked him a few questions.
Arts & Crafts style: C R Ashbee cabinet
Could you tell me a bit about yourself?
I am architect and my interest in furniture design started with a visit to Denmark as a student in 1950s. After some forty years practicing as an architect I retired ten years ago and now devote much of my time to making miniatures. I am English but have lived in Helensburgh in the West of Scotland for the last forty years. I am married and have two grown up children.
I have always enjoyed working in wood and the workshop has been an important part of my life. For many years the workshop has been used for ‘full size’ DIY and other woodworking projects that often included furniture. When the children were young I enjoyed making toys. I made my first dolls house for my younger sister when I was a teenager and many years later made a miniature 1/12th scale model of the family house for my daughter.
I had a very enjoyable professional life as an architect. I have designed buildings and managed building projects ranging from school and university buildings to motorway service stations, supermarkets and office buildings.
My interest in miniatures started while I was still actively involved with a professional office and I was fortunate in that I could develop my skills as a miniaturist whilst still earning a full time salary.
How did you get in to making miniatures?
Some twenty years ago a very good friend who made miniature carpets asked me if I could make picture frames for miniature Victorian samplers. The picture frames lead to pole screens, embroidery frames, stools and chairs. When I first saw a fine piece of miniature furniture I was both amazed and fascinated. How could such small furniture be made? Could I do it? It was partly my interest in furniture design and partly the challenge that lead me into miniature furniture making.
Where do you work?
The workshop is a wooden structure some distance away from the house. It was built to house a woodwork bench, hand tools and the few power tools that I used for DIY jobs and toy making. It was built before my interest in miniatures but is now proving to be adequate as full time workplace. A few years ago I added insulation to the walls and I now have heating to provide a comfortable working environment on the coldest winter morning.
Miniature furniture making is no different from any woodwork activity; it involves cutting and shaping wood with all the associated sawdust and shavings. I clean up on a regular basis and use dust extract with some activities but the workshop floor and my work clothes are invariably covered in dust and shavings. Having the workshop where it is keeps the dust and shavings out of the house.
Modernist style: Alvar Aalto chair
Why do you focus on 20th century styles?
I studied architecture in the mid 1950s and Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright were the designers who influenced all students at that time. During a trip to Scandinavia during my student years I studied not only buildings but also the ground breaking furniture design that was going on in Denmark and Sweden and throughout my time as an architect I have always had an interest in furniture.
The twentieth century has seen great changes in furniture design due largely to new materials and techniques but also to the different lifestyle of the times. There has been a wealth of good design, and incredible variety created by furniture designers over the last hundred years. I enjoy making miniatures of the classic designs of this period. I make a piece of furniture because I like the design and because I enjoy the challenge of the technical problems associated with making it in miniature.
I enjoy the research that accompanies the work. I have an extensive library of furniture books and am always adding new books to the collection.
I'm intrigued that you also make some Biedermeier pieces.
I like the simplicity and see a direct link from Biedermeier to the Bauhaus and the Modernist Movement.
Biedermeier table and chairs
Do you work from reference or imagination?
All my work is based upon existing designs. I refer to books, drawings and where possible the original prior to starting work. I enjoy visiting museums galleries and houses and always look closely at the furniture. A new piece of furniture will involve studying pictures, where possible seeing the original and then making 1/12th scale workshop drawings.
Art Nouveau style: Thonet chair
Do you take on commissions?
Yes, I have had requests for very interesting pieces. I have on several occasions made miniatures of client’s own furniture. I recently made a foot-stool for a miniature shoe shop and a saddle-makers work horse.
'Jazz' has been a wonderful client in that she has a good sense of design, imagination, and lots of energy. A number of the pieces I have made for her have been ‘one off’ pieces made from sketches she has sent me. The snake chests, the tulip chair, wardrobes and some bedroom furniture were all " ‘Jazz' ideas" and are not based on any named C20th designer furniture.
What materials do you use?
I work in both wood and metal.
I use hardwoods and often fruit-woods. The important qualities I look for in miniature work are the closeness and consistency of the grain.
Beech is a good close-grained wood that works cleanly, finishes well and takes stain well. Of the fruitwoods I find Cherry is very nice to use and has a good natural colour. Pear is also good but it has a purple colour and I have only used it for some Japanese furniture where it was a perfect match for the colour of the original furniture. I use quite a lot of English walnut, it is a close-grained wood and where the original was in walnut or dark stained it will often give a good colour match without further staining. Box is very close grained and works exceptionally cleanly, it can be shaped easily by routing and sanding and it takes stain well, I use boxwood for 1/24th scale furniture.
Holly is a lovely wood to use particularly for delicate turning but it does not take stain well and I only use it where the finished piece is white or is to be ebonised.
Art Deco style: Leon-Albert Jallot screen, stool and cabinet
A lot of furniture was made in beech or even softwoods and veneered. In order to match the appearance of a piece of furniture I have often found it necessary to source a similar veneer but one with very small markings. I have used Birdseye Maple, Rosewood, Walnut, Satinwood and Sycamore veneers. I also use veneers to make up my own plywoods and to make shaped plywood chairs.
I use standard resin woodwork glue for most of my work. There are times when I need to achieve a ‘quick set’ and will use one of the fast setting epoxy glues.
I use a variety of wood stains and dyes, French polish and clear polyurethane varnish. Most of my finishes are spray applied.
I use sheet brass, brass rod and strip material that I can get in a wide range of sizes. This is then cut to size using a special metal cutting blade in the band saw, bent and soldered using a blow torch and soldering iron. The finished pieces are then taken to a specialized metal plating company who chrome plate the work for me.
Modernist style: Donald Knorr chairs
What tools do you use?
Miniature furniture making is no different from full size furniture making. I use the same tools but many of my tools are a little smaller than those to be found in a normal wood worker’s workshop.
I work at the same woodwork bench I have used for over forty years. My bench has a woodworker’s vice that I inherited from my grandfather. I have a ‘full size’ bench circular saw and band saw, router and power drill. I use a couple of ‘full size’ planes, and a ‘full size’ hand saw.
I also have specialized miniature power tools: A small table saw, a small wood-turning lathe, a small drill/router on a stand with a two way moving table, a hand held miniature power drill and a planer/thicknesser.
I have a separate work bench for metal work and a metal work lathe and drill stand. All my metal work tools are kept apart from the woodwork tools to avoid metal filings getting onto finished wood surfaces.
I have a separate bench for finishing and a small compressor and airbrushes to apply polish and varnish.
I have a varied collection of small circular saw blades to use with the table saw, a range of small drill bits and a variety of different miniature router and cutting tools.
As for hand tools I use various razor saws, cutting knives, files and a wide range of small chisels most of which I have had to make myself as such small chisels are not to be found on the market. To achieve the level of accuracy needed in miniature work it is essential to work with jigs and I have made many jigs, some for specific pieces of furniture, over the years. These take up a lot of space but once made they save a lot of time and give perfect accuracy.
Sharp tools are essential and I have a power grindstone, a water stone and a selection of other sharpening accessories
I have various small bench and hand vices to hold work while I am cutting and shaping and a collection of cramps and clips of varying sizes to hold work together whilst glue sets.
One of the most important ‘tools’ in the workshop is my magnifying head piece. It is in constant use.
Art Nouveau style: Peter Behrens chairs
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
My interest in twentieth century and contemporary furniture has perhaps encouraged collectors to be more adventurous and ‘go modern’!
See Kim Selwood's website at http://www.kimselwood.co.uk/ for more images and info.