John Bird - Martlet Design, Cayman
An award-winning furniture designer, whose bespoke work embraces the environment and reflects a wide range of styles from contemporary to traditional, John Bird of Marlet Design is a master maker.
RL: Tell us how you came to be a furniture designer.
JB: Long story. After finishing my degree in kinesiology I wanted to get into education, but while waiting for the school year to begin I started working for a furniture company. I was playing around on the machines and found it really satisfying, so I joined forces with a friend who had a home renovation company. Pretty soon I realised the wasted potential of all the wood we were throwing out and started collecting bits and pieces making frames, mirrors and shelving in my garage. Then a couple of interiors designers started using it in show homes and projects. Next thing I knew I was taking the plunge to open my first shop. And by shop, I mean basement space that I was renting for 200 bucks a month. It wasn’t luxurious but I gave myself four months to build whatever I wanted so I could have a show and see what would happen. Eighty people showed up and I sold everything.
RL: From who or what do you derive inspiration?
JB: When I started I was really interested in the Arts and Crafts movement because I liked the simplicity of the design aesthetic and it really transferred well with the materials I was using (reclaimed wood from torn down houses). I grew up with a lot of Danish Modern and Mid-Century Modern, both of which continue to inspire me with their emphasis on form not just function and their simple, natural design.
RL: Have you had any mentors along they way?
JB: After three years making my own designs, I discovered a fancy schmancy furniture design school in Dorset, UK that intrigued me. I put together a portfolio and sent it off, but was really unsure if it was the right move as I was already doing quite well. In the end I decided to go and I’m glad because it had a huge impact on how I designed and approached my work.
My first year teacher was ridiculously uptight and completely mystified by the reclaim aspect of my work, but he was also an amazing talent and I learned so much from him.
RL: How did you come to live in Cayman?
JB: December 12th, 2004 was my first day here. Basically my life was going a bit sideways and out of the blue a buddy asked if I would be interested in going to Cayman to help rebuild after Hurricane Ivan. I was packed up and gone in three weeks with the idea of spending six months here. As you can see, I am still here, ten years later.
RL: Favourite piece you have made?
JB: There are tons. Just before I left Vancouver I did a wine cellar out of reclaimed Douglas fir beams from a warehouse on Granville Island that is pretty spectacular. While at school I made a Churchwood table from old oak beams that were about 100 to 150 years old and came out of a local church. It came second in a UK-wide competition for design students. In Cayman, the first project I designed was Calypso Grill’s bar. It was a collaborative effort with owners, James and Terry, and a great way to begin my professional island life.
RL: Tell us about your recent projects.
JB: That would be two outdoor benches and live-edge table that I’m doing for a client’s house. I’m also working on a commission for a hanging sideboard that incorporates three pieces of Onyx and will be lit with loads of LED lights. It’ll be made out of white oak, gone over with a wire brush and stained to match bleached, beach wood. I’m really excited about it.
RL: Favourite wood to work with?
JB: Douglas fir, walnut, white oak. Anything that is responsibly grown.
RL: What is the craziest thing a client has asked you to make?
JB: Nothing is crazy when you have 20 plus years worth of clients. It’s the clients that are crazy...in a good way, of course.
For more info contact: or www.johnbirddesigns.com
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