Last time we met the Galvin Brothers, we were driving around the Yorkshire countryside where they apparently knew everybody, and the pair was just gearing up to create a range of designs for “whiskey drinkers.” The project was a part of The Jameson Works, a community for makers which sees the whiskey brand work with creatives on different projects, each one focusing on the process of how they make what they make. In this case, it was a range of furniture for a bar that would best suit drinking whiskey.
At the brothers’ workshop back in March among that lovely woody scent it’s so easy to forget about in London, you can palpably smell the craft that has secured the brand’s success since being founded in 2012. Working with traditional peg-and-wedge joining techniques and a deliciously grainy oak, none of this honesty and ethos has been lost in the Jameson collaboration – if anything, it’s allowed the designers to expand their practice and experiment more than they otherwise could have. “The Jameson Works investment allowed us to work in the truest sense of collaboration, to develop techniques that in some cases we wouldn’t have had the time or money to get involved in,” Matthew Galvin tells us. “Being allowed the creativity to suggest what the range could be and not having any other agenda than the brief allowed us to explore new ideas. It was a great opportunity to think about a collection in a different way.”
Despite the sweltering heat (when we meet in central London it’s a very sticky 35 degrees), the admission of a hangover and the fact I’ve knocked a glass of water all over a freshly oiled Galvin Brothers table, Matthew is as erudite as ever, with conversations veering from the big things (“as a designer you’ve got to live in that dream world – it’s filmic, you have to have that suspension of disbelief”) to the minutiae of hand-spinning copper. As we chat Matthew is clearly both mentally and physically making little adjustments to the furniture range: for all his straight-talking and the brand’s traditional values, he’s a true perfectionist.
The range is called The Whiskey Drinking Collection, and comprises a series of pieces that are unmistakably Galvin – all modern shapes, clean lines and superb craftsmanship – but with smart little twists that all echo that initial brief, Form and Function. Copper vessels feature throughout, in the guises of tumblers, ice buckets and “lime conicals,” which mean that drinkers can make their own cocktails from their seats. “The form of the furniture can potentially manipulate what happens,” says Matthew. “If the [barmen] made a cocktail with lime, we can have that replenished from where you’re sitting.”
“You design to your own hunches; we’re not doing market research…it’s to do with experiences and being on the planet."
Shunning lengthy research for talking to the people who know most about serving whiskey, the bartenders, the Galvin Brothers’ approach to the collection was the same as it always is – inherently intuitive. “You design to your own hunches; we’re not doing market research or asking whiskey drinkers, you just have to do what you think,” says Matthew.
“That’s to do with experiences and being on the planet and being inquisitive. When you make that connection with the bar staff that sets up another dialogue and they start endorsing or undermining my hunches with real life situations, like getting the copper nickel-plated so it doesn’t tarnish the flavour of the whiskey.”
One of the stand-out pieces in the range is the Drinker’s End Table, a modern take on a drinks cabinet with spindles that form a cage below a tabletop that lets you chop, pour and serve your own drinks. “The idea is that people can present the cocktails, it’s a social piece in a sense within [a bar] context,” says Matthew. “In a domestic sense it might be a drinks cabinet, but in a bar the range means people can enjoy their drinks like they would at home, or like when you buy a bottle of wine [in a bar] and serve yourself. There’s not a massive cultural movement here, it’s just the little things.”
“Designers aren’t reinventing the wheel. How innovative can you be if you’re making a new stool?”
This rather northern brand of no-nonsense straight talking is in part self deprecation, in part truth; and Matthew’s batting away of the smoke and mirrors of the design world is very refreshing in a world of overpriced lemon squeezers and horse-shaped lamps. “While this project was very specific, as a furniture designer you can’t really be more specific,” says Matthew. “With making chairs and tables or whatever you know roughly that it’s going to be a kitchen table as those functions have been around forever.
“All we’re doing as designers is making our own version of the same thing. We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re on the periphery of new ideas. How innovative can you be if you’re making a new stool?”
Pop down to the Reverand JW Simpson bar at 32 Goodge Street, London W1T 2QJ to sample the furniture (and Jameson whiskey) for yourself!
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