A design duo adding fantasy to traditional carpentry

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Teresa Rivera, 29, and Grant Wilkinson, 28, cabinetmakers and furniture designers based in east London, were inspired by many things, but two above all: the writings of 20th-century English cabinetmaker Charles H. Hayward and YouTube, where they watched dozens of tutorials by different furniture craftsmen. “You used to do an apprenticeship with one person for years,” says Rivera, “but now you have access to unlimited masters online.” In the spring of last year, the self-taught duo set up their studio, Wilkinson & Rivera, in a 20ft by 8ft shipping crate in Walthamstow. Their works combine a respect for traditional forms with a sense of play: the first piece of the pair is an eccentric and whimsical take on the classic Windsor chair, replacing the straight-spoked back of the 18th-century English seat with undulating pieces of wood which seem to sparkle.

After meeting at a party in 2012 while studying fine art at Camberwell College of Arts in London – Rivera, originally from New York, was on a six-month transfer from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture of Philadelphia – the couple continued to pursue different creative paths, Wilkinson as a senior joiner for English globemakers Bellerby & Co. and Rivera as a designer for British decorator Fran Hickman. Today, their line includes stools with petal-like edges that come to life through a succession of sketches, clay models and small-scale prototypes. They collaborate on everything, with one person naturally in mind: Wilkinson first scribbled the Windsor chair on a train; Rivera’s obsession with ornate 17th-century barley twist furniture, characterized by its spiraling wooden posts, inspired the Welsh Stick chairs – wavy-legged pieces charred using the Japanese burning technique wood known as shou sugi ban — that they presented the Future Perfect’s Design Miami exhibition at the New York gallery last December. And for La Silla, their crinkled iteration of the Queen Anne chair, popularized in the 18th century, Rivera and Wilkinson learned to weave themselves so they could make its rattan seats. Its name – the Spanish word for “chair” – is a nod to Rivera’s Dominican heritage, a world away from Wilkinson’s southern England childhood. Or maybe not so far after all: “Our backgrounds are so different,” says Rivera. “But in making furniture, we found this nice middle ground.”

Photo assistant: Chloé Rosser

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