The Steading in Blainslie, while being a fairly innocuous-sounding address, might be the most aptly-named house in the Borders.
The 16th century farmhouse’s exterior, while lovely, is not outstanding, but when you walk through the front door, you are drawn into the amazing – often fairly mad – world of one of the region’s most talented craftsmen.
Tim Stead’s lifeblood courses through each and every surface, all lovingly designed and built by the wizard woodsman, who died at the age of 48 in 2000.
To look at the wood is not enough. To the touch, each piece almost throbs with warmth, the smooth surfaces and the rough edges telling the story of the wood and the man who worked it.
The sculptor, furniture-maker and environmentalist devoted his life to wood – he created Britain’s first community woodland at nearby Wooplaw – and was commissioned to make many extraordinary pieces, such as a Papal chair for Pope John Paul II’s visit to Scotland, the memorial chapel at the Kirk of St Nicholas in Aberdeen and the wooden parts of the huge Millennium Clock in the National Museum in Edinburgh.
But it is in his own home that he dreamt up his designs and built prototypes, and he furnished each room with unique works of art made from locally-sourced wood – even the bathroom basin.
However, Tim’s widow Maggy Stead Lenert, while massively passionate about the house and her late husband’s work, wishes to retire to Europe, and moves are afoot to safeguard the Steading’s future as a living showcase and to keep this highly significant example of Scottish craftsmanship and environmental philosophy here in the Borders, where it can be viewed, and touched, by the public.
The Tim Stead Trust was established in 2015 to secure funding to purchase the Steading and his archive.
Maggy, originally from Luxembourg, is currently archiving her husband’s life’s work, from furniture, sculptures, drawings and project plans –an awe-inspiring quest in itself, as he was constantly coming up with new ideas and working on items.
Maggy said: “The trust was created to keep this house the home of Tim Stead, not as a museum, because museums are dead places, and there is a lot of life in this house.
“It has been an inspiration to many people and continues to be so.
“We think it should be a vibrant place, with an artist in residence, running workshops for children as well as adults.
“But the first thing we are holding, as a kind of experiment, is a poetry workshop.
“We need to look at what we can do to raise money for this place.
“The trust is now looking to raise between £10,000-£20,000 to put together a business plan, in order to attract larger sponsors and grant funding.
“We have to be able to prove to potential investors that we won’t be back with a begging bowl.”
Maggy said the profile of the house needed to be raised.
She said: “We had an exhibition in Galashiels for the Creative Coathanger festival, and while most people were aware of his work, they were unaware of this place in Blainslie.
“We need to let people know about this little treasure so close to their homes, a place that they can visit and can inspire you.”
The trust has piqued the interest of the Duke of Rothesay, Prince Charles, who met Tim when he was creating a wood school in Ancrum with Eoin Cox.
He said: “Tim Stead created a place of extraordinary artistic interest at the Steading. He was a remarkable woodcraftsman, a true and gifted artist. I have long admired his beautifully-crafted woodwork, and I can only commend the Tim Stead Trust for seeking to preserve it for public access. I hope that, once open, the Steading acts as a source of great inspiration to those who visit.”
Maggy said the prince’s support is very welcome, but she is just as keen to have the support of her neighbours in Blainslie.
She said: “The people in the village are used to visits to the workshop from customers, college groups and trustees.
“The car parking is a bit of an issue, but we regularly ask the visitors to park either in our drive or in front of the village hall.
“In May this year, we had an open day at the Steading for the villagers, and they left some wonderful comments.”
Maggy wants to retire to France in 2019, so there is a limited time to keep the Steading as a going concern.
One of the ways you can help is by becoming a friend of the trust, which costs £20 and keeps you in the loop as to what is happening through newsletters, and you also get a copy of the book With The Grain, which shows much of Tim’s work.
Another is by becoming a patron, which costs £500, but gains free entry to events and exhibitions and a dedicated and named wooden book, which will be placed in the patron’s bookshelves at the Steading.
Find out more online at www.timsteadtrust.org