livingetc discovers: Hugh Miller Furniture

Who is Hugh Miller?

In short, Hugh is an award-winning designer who creates sophisticated, bespoke wooden furniture with a sculptural, architecture-led feel.

How did his journey with furniture design begin?

Hugh started making furniture at the age of 15, but it didn’t go quite to plan. Keen to make his own writing desk, he visited a sawmill in North Wales and bought some Welsh green oak timber. At the time, he was unaware that ‘green’ didn’t refer to a species of oak, but rather wood that was freshly cut and unprepared for use. After finishing his prized desk and bringing it inside, it promptly buckled, warped and shrunk. Undeterred, this early setback resulted in a fascination with wood and how the material behaves.

Where did he learn his trade?

As a trained architect, Hugh brings a considered eye to his design practice. His background is an intrinsic part of the making process and he views each piece as a small work of architectural engineering, which results in objects with a strong aesthetic presence. Hugh is self-trained in woodwork and started his studio a matter of weeks after graduating. Learning on the job, he soon developed a unique understanding of timber through trial and error, free of the ties of received wisdom.

His pieces are quite unusual – where does he take his inspiration?

As a Churchill Fellow, Hugh spent time in Japan researching traditional craftsmanship and design technique. After returning, Hugh wrote a book about Japanese woodworking and lectured extensively on the subject. The experience was a transformative one and resulted in a set of ancient Japanese design philosophies becoming integral to his method.

How is his furniture made?

Everything is completely handmade from start to finish in solid hardwood by Hugh and a small team of dedicated craftspeople. The finishing touch is a hand-carved maker’s mark personally carved before each piece leaves the studio for its new home.

What are Hugh’s favourite pieces?

Dining Chair no.7 is the designer’s pick. It’s a guaranteed future classic and a set of them is a true heirloom. The chair is complex and time-consuming to make, and a perfect representation of the studio’s design language. One of the most frequently commissioned designs, the piece is available in a variety of woods including cherry, elm and walnut.

How do I get my hands on a piece?

At the entry level, Hugh creates coffee-making items such as caddies, scoops, trays and stirrers fashioned in elm and brass, which are available directly or through crafts galleries such as the Bluecoat Display Centre in Liverpool. These pieces retail from around £60.

More significant pieces, such as a desk or dining table start from around £4,000 and are made to bespoke commission directly through the studio. Hugh’s unique, one-off masterpieces can be purchased through the Contemporary Applied Arts gallery in London, where the studio occasionally exhibits.

What is Hugh’s personal interiors style like?

As you can imagine, Hugh’s home is styled similarly to his studio. He’s made things for himself, most of which are odd items that you can’t buy off the shelf, such as bicycle racks and clothes rails. He uses his coffee-making items every morning, which are an easy way of incorporating high design into the rituals of everyday life.

Does the studio have any exciting news?

Hugh has teamed up with his brother, architect Howard Miller, on a venture that will delight fans of 20th-century utility design. The Mid-Century Kitchen Workshop is a new studio, where the brothers will create hand-crafted kitchens from birch ply, with a distinctly Scandi design ethos.

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