Kevin Gauld – Keeping tradition alive

June 1, 2018

Kevin Gauld is The Orkney Furniture Maker, producing handmade traditional furniture as well as creating unique designs deeply rooted to his island home.

After nine years of learning his craft with a well-known local furniture maker, Kevin established The Orkney Furniture Maker in 2007 with the aim of producing traditional furniture and making his own new pieces.

“Ever since I was a child, I have been making things from wood; and in order to make something new, we first have to design,” he says.

Working with wood as a medium is a part of Kevin’s family heritage. His great-grandfather was a furniture maker and his grandfather was a boat builder. Using natural materials sourced both locally and further afield is an important aspect of Kevin’s work and he designs many of his pieces to reflect the natural beauty of such materials. With the help of his uncle, who is a fourth-generation farmer on their family farm, he grows his own oats to create the straw backs on his Orkney Chairs.

“I love the story behind the Orkney Chair; how it talks of people, place and time,” Kevin says. “Today it is recognised as a design classic.”

Born from necessity by crofters working on the islands where few trees grow, the hooded Orkney Chair was first popularised internationally by David Kirkness over 100 years ago. An original chair by Kirkness will go on permanent display in V&A Dundee when it opens on 15 September 2018.

“Whenever I make an Orkney Chair, I feel that connection to the past. The world has changed so much since it was first made, yet the techniques have remained the same,” Kevin adds. “These techniques are the very foundations for many of my own pieces and designs.”

Images courtesy of Orkney Library & Archive. David Kirkness is shown on the right.

When Kevin started his own business, he wanted to carry on traditional designs for the next generation, but also wanted to explore his own ideas. “I saw design as a way to grow and expand my business and let my creativity thrive,” he says.

‘The Stoot Chair’ is one of Kevin’s contemporary designs and was recently exhibited in Japan. Based on vernacular furniture it is also very personal in its inspiration. Many of his ancestors were farmers, boat builders, ships carpenters and furniture makers.

“I incorporated aspects of these professions into the design,” Kevin adds. “I grew and harvested the oat straw used for the chair back, combined this with steam-bending the wood and joining them together with copper rivets and roves which is a boat-building technique.”

It is important to Kevin that he can share and pass on his skills and passion for traditional furniture design.

“The Orkney chair is a great example of a design that has slowly changed as makers adapt to the times that they live in. It is also a unique living part of Orkney’s identity,” he says. “For it to be part of V&A Dundee’s galleries is a tribute to all Orkney Chair makers, past and present, who have made it what it has become today.”

We are delighted to welcome The Orkney Furniture Maker as a V&A Dundee Design Champion, recognising Kevin’s passion for traditional furniture-making, as well as how this heritage influences his contemporary designs.

To find out more, visit The Orkney Furniture Maker’s website.

The V&A Dundee Design Champions are inspirational designers creating high-quality work and helping to enhance people’s lives, or champions of the power of design to improve the world.

We will announce 50 Design Champions in the run-up to the museum opening on Saturday 15 September 2018.


V&A Dundee’s Design Champions project is working with Dezeen as its media partner.

Dezeen is the world’s most popular and influential architecture and design magazine, with an audience of 2.5 million unique visitors each month. 

(The top two images are provided courtesy of Rebecca Marr.)

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