Glasgow-based Paul Hodgkiss used to be a mild-mannered designer, but then he discovered wood could be exuberant, colourful and bursting with character. ‘When I started out in the Eighties I used to be a lot more practical – designing and building furniture that was polite. I didn’t allow myself any indulgence. Everything changed when I started using home-grown timbers. I guess it was after the Great Storm of 1987, and I visited a new saw mill which had opened in Dumfresshire. I found all sorts of slabs of wood just lying around. Lots of elm with knots and lumps – the sort of wood that was considered useless. I started rooting around in the wood pile and came home with a huge load of this odd stuff. No one wanted it then, but, of course, now it achieves premium rates… I suppose I’m partially to blame for that.’
Hodgkiss let loose his urge for indulgence and turned his unpromising pile of timber into highly decorative, beautifully wrought pieces of furniture and sculptures. He describes his work as: ‘not just about making furniture. It’s about restoring the beauty of wood, like polishing a diamond and then displaying it in the perfect mount.’ For every project he chooses the wood for its colour, pattern and shape and is responsible for all prototyping. The pieces are then made up in his three-man workshop.
The new-look collection relaunched his business in furnishing clubs, bars and restaurants. Working mostly in Scotland, his projects have included fitting out the Bouzy Rouge chain of restaurants, bars including Bar Miro and The Gate and a couple of visitor centres for the Loch Lomond park authority. He is also securing healthy sales of one-off pieces through his home-based Cathcart showroom, which is filled with vast thrones, wavy-edged tables and rustic cupboards and shelves. Hodgkiss says his customers often surprise him, ‘I’ve been amazed at how adventurous people are in their taste – they are a great deal more broad-minded than I’d given them credit for,’ he says.
The furniture, bars, stair rails and sculptures in wild swirling shapes of wood and twisted metal draw their inspiration from an odd trio of sources – as his inspiration, Hodgkiss names Catalan architect Gaudi, David Bowie and the Art Nouveau movement. ‘Art Nouveau has always been a fascination for me. Even as a child I loved those swirling and intertwining patterns and that’s suddenly what I could see again in the home-grown elm, sycamore, oak and beech,’ he says.
However, Hodgkiss doesn’t intend to limit himself to this Nouveau niche. He has ventured in a new direction with the just-completed work on the successful new restaurant Rococo in Glasgow. ‘Here I’ve made all the furniture, serving units, doors and screens in North American black walnut, an amazing wood with massive knots and plenty of character grain. But the look is ethnic, simple and primitive. It was good to try something else, it could be a new way ahead.’