An Interview with nick goldfinger
We spoke to the grandson of Hungarian-born architect and designer Ernö Goldfinger about his choice to re-make some of his grandfather’s furniture. 1934 acquired a pair of chairs that were designed by Ernö in 1937, but were in fact remade by his grandson Nick almost 60 years later. The original chairs, painted grey and red, sit in the architect’s family home, 2 Willow Road. The ‘socially conscientious’ row of three terrace houses were always designed to be the home of the architect and his family, with one flat either side to rent out and fund the project. In the house (which has been owned by the National Trust since 1995 and can be visited for guided tours) you will find furniture, freestanding and built in, all designed and made by Goldfinger. Some pieces have been re-worked from older furniture, moved over from Europe, and others made as prototypes that never went into commercial production. At the re-opening of 2 Willow Road, Nick (who lived at the property until the age of 5) decided to produce some of his favourite pieces in a limited run.
You’re a furniture restorer by trade, is that right?
No. I’m a Joiner by trade. I’m also trained as a Carpenter […] Other skills I’ve picked up have been on the job, short courses or self taught.
I was very fortunate in having a good friend who is a qualified furniture restorer (and exceptionally talented, I have to say) and he trained me up.
Is their anything in particular that you specialise in, or do you take on all sorts of jobs?
I think it’s fair to say that what really interests me is how things are made and I have a particular affinity for timber.
I was fortunate in being very well trained and it gave me an understanding of how things are put together. I think joinery is particularly useful because it goes back to the dawn of making and is still used today.
I had an exceptionally talented Joinery lecturer who said “once you’ve learnt one trade, you’ve learnt them all”. I’ve found it to be very true. The point he was trying to get across is that it’s a way of thinking and method of working more than anything else. Having hand skills and being able to think in 3D helps and I think that Joinery is one of the best trades for learning these skills.
On top of that, you learn how buildings and their components go together, so you can work out how most things are made. At risk of being reviled, I’d say that all other trades and industries have their roots in Joinery and Carpentry.
“Everything made was either for personal use, for projects or as a prototype.”
What made you want to recreate your grandfather’s furniture?
I like it. It’s never been in production before. The nearest it came to production was the range for Easiwork Furniture but WW2 put paid to that.
Everything made was either for personal use, for projects or as a prototype.
I’m setting up a new workshop (i.e. rebuilding) at the moment, so everything is on hold. Then I’m going back into production, starting with some of my aunt’s designs.
And why these pieces as opposed to others?
I chose designs that I particularly liked.
There are a couple of other criteria that I apply. As I mentioned, I have an affinity for timber, so that’s part of it. The other thing is that it should be unique. There are a few of designs which may well have been ground breaking in their day but today may seem similar to other designs out there. My grandfather would no doubt have claimed that he was copied.
Were you looking to re-spark your grandfather’s idea of producing these commercially?
I wonder if you had to adapt the new chairs to suit modern plywood dimensions. It seems as though Ernö didn’t box the underside of the seat in, like yours – but I suppose it could be said that his ones were more prototypes that never made it into production?
My aim is to make the furniture myself. I want to make it in low volumes to high standards. My understanding of the modern furniture market is that volumes are relatively low anyway.
Although my grandfather used exposed timber in his buildings and furniture, all the plywood furniture of his that I have seen has always been painted. I’m not sure why. I have a couple of theories…
“…painted to show the different components to explain how the building was put together.”
One is that the furniture was painted to show the different planes in a similar way that his house, 2 Willow Road, was painted to show the different components to explain how the building was put together.
The other is that the plywood may not have been attractive. Because it is painted, of course, I’ve got no way of knowing.
I was very conscious that the designs should not be tampered with but they were just not strong enough. I’m rather large and the originals would not have been able to stand up to being used by me. As all the originals were all prototypes, I like to think that they would have eventually ended up like this anyway.
Have you ever designed furniture yourself?
Nothing dramatic. The odd book case here and there. I find the creative process incredibly hard. My forte is making which is a challenge I really enjoy and it seems like I can actually do it.
Do you think plywood is still relevant as a material to be used for industrial design?
Yes and how. A fantastic material. It should be used more often. There have been fantastic things that use plywood, usually because it is the best material available. Aircraft, boats, hovercraft, cars, bicycles, houses and furniture, of course.