David Tragen - designer and artist based in Ashley
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 August 2019
David Tragan creates some of the most beautiful pieces of furniture you will ever see, yet it’s a passion he came to almost by accident.
Tucked away in the glorious rural green that is Ashley is a small studio space that on most days is filled with the sound and scents of carpentry: the buzz of saws, the rasp of sanders, the chipping of chisels…oh, one could get quite poetic. If one knew the names of more woodworking tools, that is. This studio workshop is the daytime home of David Tragan, an artist in wood, creator of stunning furniture and accidental cabinet maker. Well, perhaps accidental is a little strong a term - but it certainly wasn't planned.
'I studied International Business with languages at university,' David tells me, 'and spent some time working in Rome as part of that. I hadn't ever had a thought about creative pursuits! While there I met someone who did art restoration, working on public art projects all around Rome. It opened my eyes a little to alternative career options. Following my degree I trained as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher and went back to Italy, then a year later to Barcelona.'
This seems a brave move from a man who had no background in design or the arts, but it doesn't take long in David's presence to realise that he is the type of person that sets long-term goals and single-mindedly then sets about achieving them, even with no real idea how this might be. In my experience, this sense of purpose is something every artist has, and needs, if they are to succeed in a very crowded industry. It's more than just determination, it's self-belief, and also a form of disregard: they make what they love to make - paintings, sculpture, furniture - and if people love it, great. If people don't love it, whatevs.
'In Barcelona my flat needed shelves and storage, and as I wasn't very practical a friend offered to help. It gave me another insight into what can be achieved, with just some basic knowledge. Later, I saw a light in Habitat that I liked, and thought "I could do that myself," so I did.
'In Barcelona, once a month people leave any unwanted furniture outside in the street, which can be taken by anybody needing it - a brilliant form of recycling! I started collecting bits and pieces and in my next flat had a spare room, so I set up a workshop in there. I signed up for a woodworking course and a marquetry course - I thought just because I don't come from an artistic background it doesn't mean I can't be creative. I started to upcycle furniture - adding marquetry, cutting a hole in a table-top and inserting stained glass, etc. A friend commissioned me to work on his father's old toolbox, then his sister-in-law commissioned a desk, and then another group clubbed together for a wedding gift and commissioned me to make a table.
'I knew I needed to know more; I was interested in mastering creative cabinetry rather than joinery. In 2000 I decided it was now or never, moved back to the UK and joined fine furniture-maker David Savage on a 12 month designer-maker course. Here I learned the finesse of cabinetry, how to use tools properly, the tricks of the trade you can only learn from a master. Following this was invited to join Silver Lining Workshops in Chester. I was working on pieces for very high-end homes in London, both onsite and creating freestanding furniture. I am very proud of my work there, but the plan was always to go solo, and in 2005 I did.'
David's work is gasp-inducingly beautiful. His pieces, from tables to shelves to mirrors and wall art, gives the wood he works with an almost ethereal sinuosity. These serpentine curves are rather a signature of David's work, and are quite captivating - especially when every other wooden table you have seen is all right angles and blocky corners.
It looks incredibly complicated and time-consuming, do his clients appreciate this?
'It's hard to really help people understand just what goes on in a really top workshop,' he agrees. 'The hours that go into every piece, the choosing of the timber, matching the grains and all the tones, making sure each piece I cut and finish is 100% flat and square... I work to a tolerance of 1/10 of a millimetre, this is the difference between a door not fitting or drawer not running smooth. My challenge is finding people who appreciate and want that.'
Commissions take up much of David's time, but he also runs his own short courses teaching woodworking and cabinetry. He has a long term dream of running his own team of apprentices, working on his own designs, but as yet, that future has yet to be written.
'I don't know exactly how my future will look,' he says, 'but I know I have found my niche with sculptural furniture. Although, I am starting to be drawn more towards pure sculpture… I have found something I enjoy. I can't see myself retiring, ever, because I am doing what I love, in glorious surroundings, and get a real buzz out of it every day. I can't not do it.'
When I win the lottery (note positive thinking) I intend to have one of David's tables in the entrance to my grand new house. That will give me a buzz every day, too.