UK-based Splinter Works creates bespoke furniture and functional sculptural pieces that marry visual trickery with practical purpose in a way that piques curious minds. With their collections launching soon in Hong Kong, Martine Beale talks to the company’s founders.
Splinter Works was established in 2009 by Miles Hartwell and Matt Withington. Although still a relatively young company, they earned recognition early with the gravity defying kitchen, Tipping Point, and stylish walnut wood Stiletto writing desk.
Their hammock-style carbon fibre vessel bath made waves when it was first launched in 2013, and the ripples of success continue to widen with private commissions, a new freestanding vessel bath and complementary wash basin, and an extraordinary Bodice Rocker.
What is your design approach and process?
Hartwell: There is not a prescribed process that we follow so perhaps it would be better to describe the approach, which is always the same.
We start every project by removing all preconceptions. Whether it’s a bath, a bag or a kitchen, we will look at the brief as if the world has never seen a bath, a bag or a kitchen before. This enables us to ask some challenging questions rather than follow precedents.
How did the idea of the first vessel bath come about?
We were asked to look at some alternative uses of carbon fibre by an automotive company who wanted to expand their portfolio. Carbon fibre is a very strong and light solid material, but before it is cooked, it usually comes as a woven cloth.
This got us thinking about other fabric items that could be transformed by being a ‘solid fabric’. After that, the idea of a solid hammock wasn’t a giant leap for us, and the symbolic relationship between relaxation, bathing and hammocks felt strong enough for us to pursue further.
What are your design influences?
It is impossible to pinpoint specific examples. I can get influenced by anything I see and experience because these things can all be catalyst for ideas. Sometimes the spark of an idea can come from the most banal situation!
That said, I think that Matt and I have great influence over each other. We have a creative partnership whose power is greater than the sum of the parts. People often ask where our ideas come from, to which we say “the space between us”.
We don’t know why or how but ideas just flow when we are working together. We know when something is good because we both feel it – if only one of us thinks something is good then we keep working on it until we are on the same page.
Where did the idea of the bodice rocker come from?
Matt had been working on an idea for a curvaceous lounge chair that could stand up as a piece of abstract sculpture when not in use. We kept coming back to it because it was such a beautiful shape.
One day, whilst playing around with the model he’d made, I suggested that with enough weight we could probably get it to balance off-centre. We followed this path and together developed its balancing act – it neatly twists people’s sense of perception, something we love to do!
Describe your penchant for visual trickery.
Withington: We like our work to be entertaining and to have an element of mystery. Perhaps we’re both frustrated magicians! Like any good showman we hate to reveal our secrets!
How important is it to create items that will last?
Longevity is absolutely paramount. Our pieces are intended to be cherished for years, even generations to come.
As all your pieces are bespoke, does each differ?
That’s up the client and also depends on the item. But we can make simple changes such as colours or wood finishes to completely tailored designs – we recently made a vast dining table out of golden elephants.
You now have a Hong Kong representative who is going to launch Splinter Works at a showcase later this year. What interests you about the Asian market?
The Asian market appears to be dynamic compared to the UK and Europe; these markets suffer from tunnel vision, where everyone follows the same narrow precepts. Our breakaway ideas seem quite at home in the more daring design landscape.