Bobbin furniture: The timely revival of a look that proves less isn’t always more

The bulbous charm of bobbin furniture is enjoying a timely revival, says Giles Kime.

Carefully considered simplicity is surprisingly hard work. The process of distilling the necessities of function so that they disappear in a haze of clean lines requires a designer with the skills of Sir Jonathan Ive, the visionary creator of the iPhone. When applied to furniture and brought to life in beautiful materials with texture and depth of colour, such as bronze, marble and timber, it’s a highly seductive combination. And yet, yet, en masse it can be overwhelmingly dull, like a Modernist hotel or an airport lounge (remember those?).

After a decade or two dominated by pared-back, less-is-more, designed-to-within-an- inch-of-its-life design, there’s something refreshing about the exuberant shapes and textures of objects that celebrate the materiality of bold, often handmade, shapes. It’s a quality explored in Design Secrets (£25, Hardie Grant) a brilliant new book by the cheerleader of British craft, Kit Kemp, whose hotels in London and New York eloquently express the way the handmade can add depth and meaning to an interior. From exquisite embroidered headboards by Pippa Caley to the collection of 52 baskets that hang above the bar at the Whitby in midtown Manhattan, the pieces prove she’s a designer who rejoices in strong shapes.

This Bobbin bench is part of the Julian Chichester range.

This new love of the robustly decorative could explain the revival of bobbin furniture, also known as spool furniture in the US (not to be confused with furniture made from repurposed cable spools). Originally the work of bodgers, the itinerant woodturners who made decorative chair legs in woodland workshops, bobbin-style furniture was hugely popular in 17th-century Europe and later in the US, where machine lathes transformed the arduous process. The latter spawned a taste not only for chairs, but also for tables, shelves, bed frames, cribs and mirrors with the same agreeably homespun charm as fretwork.

A new addition to the proliferating choice of bobbin furniture is the new Broughton chair from Vaughan Designs, which demonstrates the infinite possibilities of the style’s striking profile. Another early adopter is Julian Chichester, whose range includes beds, chairs and benches, feeding the growing demand for this appealing style of furniture. Look out for others, notably Alfred Newall, whose capsule collection of bobbin furniture has a crisp, contemporary edge.