Each year the Chippendale International School of Furniture in East Lothian takes students from around the world for its immersive 30-week furniture design courses. This year, students came from the UK, USA, Germany, Austria, Poland, India, Singapore, South Korea and Australia.

Anselm Fraser, principal of the school, said that “this year has been exceptional, with our students showing real craftsmanship and design vision. Our top prizes could therefore have also been made to several other students.”

Student of the Year: Nigel Goodwin

Nigel Goodwin with his award-winning valet and table

Nigel Goodwin with his award-winning valet and table

Nigel Goodwin, from near Canberra in Australia, won the 2017 top award, and is taking a piece of Australia back home with him. Nigel created a parquetry side table and clothes valet, both incorporating red gum that came from flooring from an old squash court near the school, and which had been stored there for some seven years.

Examining it more closely, the red gum pieces were clearly marked ‘made in Australia’, which gave Nigel the idea to make something from his home country and then take it home with him.  “I’ve always had an interest in the practicalities of woodworking but have never had a chance to pursue that interest,” said Nigel, who is now planning to open a B&B and workshop to teach others what he has learned in Scotland. “I am thrilled to have won this honour, particularly since it is so unexpected.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my year at the school,” he said.

Best Design Award: Robert Vowles

Robert Vowles with his clever drinks cabinet

Robert Vowles with his clever drinks cabinet

Until last year, Rob Vowles was more at home climbing trees than using them to make fine furniture. The former tree surgeon from London has worked in several countries and continents, including Canada, Sweden and in parts of Africa.

His fiendishly-clever drinks cabinet, made from a variety of woods including elm, red gum, oak and ash, is his signature piece from the furniture course.

Opening the cabinet is the clever part, because to do so involves solving a series of puzzles that are designed to baffle even the most sober.

Based on ideas from Japanese puzzle boxes, the drinks cabinet has a sliding door mechanism that, when several elements are aligned correctly, reveals a secret puzzle door – and an even more secret lock and separate key to open it. Inside, the drinks cabinet is just as stunning, with elaborate marquetry panels and a mirrored back. Rob also had the singular honour of having his drinks cabinet displayed at the Scottish parliament, as one of five student pieces chosen by Professor Christopher Breward, principal of the Edinburgh College of Art. On graduation, Rob intends to set up in business in London.

Best Portfolio Award: Andrew Cockerill

Andrew Cockerill with his guitar cabinet
Andrew Cockerill with his guitar cabinet

When creativity and a passion for the guitar come together, the result can be both beautiful and practical.

Andrew Cockerill from York has played guitar for over 10 years, and been in several rock bands, playing in local pubs and clubs.

As part of the course, Andrew designed and crafted a guitar cabinet in oak and sycamore, with an innovative opening mechanism, which is both a functional storage space and a beautiful display cabinet.

Andrew also created a number of other pieces, including his ‘Splat Table’ in birch, oak and ash, which is both beautiful and playful; a ‘Flower of Life’ table, made from rosewood, sycamore and olive ash, with its top made from over 150 hand-cut pieces of wood; and an artistic wall mirror made with traditional ‘verre églomisé’ techniques and using three different types of gold.’ Andrew has set up Northern Woodwright Furniture, based in East Lothian, to make bespoke hand-crafted furniture.

Student’s Choice Student of the Year: Colin Bate

Colin Bates’ nature-inspired drinks cabinet

Colin Bates’ nature-inspired drinks cabinet

Colin Bate, originally from Birmingham but now living in Highland Perthshire, is an outdoors sort of person who is also a member of his local mountain rescue team. He moved north from Birmingham to work in outdoor education but, over the years, found himself less and less outside and more and more behind a desk. Hence his decision to change track and enrol at the Chippendale school and, after graduation, to set up Highwood Furniture in his adopted Alyth, to make and design furniture and bespoke kitchens.

His signature pieces include a drinks cabinet that perfectly reflects his love of nature and the outdoors, with an oak frame, elm top and a free-form tree design in spalted beech running across the front. Another stand-out piece is a steam-bent desk in olive ash and oak which he made “to test the limits of what can be achieved with steam bending,” says Colin.

“I love the precision of furniture making, and the disciplines involved in turning a design idea into a practical piece of furniture, but I also enjoy the creativity that goes into making a desk or cabinet into something absolutely unique.”

To find out more about the School and the courses on offer, see
The Chippendale International School of Furniture website.