Carving out a fresh perspective

David Lighlty using the lathe to turn part of a coffee tale being made at the Tim Stead workshop in Blainslie.
David Lighlty using the lathe to turn part of a coffee tale being made at the Tim Stead workshop in Blainslie.

THIS year holds a certain significance for Maggy Stead.

Not only is it almost 12 years since the death of her husband, sculptor and furniture-maker Tim Stead, from cancer. But, in September, it will be the 25th anniversary of Wooplaw Wood, the first community woodland in Scotland, of which Tim was a founder.

Maggy Stead at her home in Blainslie amongst furniture made in the workshop of her late husband Tim Stead.

Maggy Stead at her home in Blainslie amongst furniture made in the workshop of her late husband Tim Stead.

And next month Maggy will open the doors of their home and workshop, in the village of Blainslie, near Lauder, to make way for some changes, with the launch of a spring sale.

After Tim Stead passed away in April 2000, Maggy took over the management of his workshop, and since then furniture-makers David Lightly, who originally started at the workshop as Tim’s apprentice, and Ross Purves, who was David’s apprentice, have been kept busy, carrying on Tim’s work as well as creating bespoke furniture in their own right.

Since 2000 the workshop has taken on both private commissions and work for exhibitions. Last year saw a successful exhibition of With The Grain at Logan Botanic Garden, as well as the annual summer exhibition at Blainslie village hall, and a joint exhibition at the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, which ends a week on Saturday.

However, Maggy says they now want to concentrate purely on commissions and plan to clear out current stock, offering 20 per cent discount.

The latest commission is for a cross for St Kentigern’s Academy in Blackburn. The comprehensive school already has pieces by The Workshop of Tim Stead, having commissioned an altar, lectern and tabernacle plynth in 2009. In fact, pieces are commissioned from around the world, and range from small pieces such as the Scottish Forestry award trophy 2011, below, to bigger commissions, such as furniture for La Garrigue 2 restaurant in Edinburgh, to a replica of the King’s chair for a customer in Kyoto, Japan. Open house at The Steading has been planned over two weekends, offering the public a rare glimpse to view Tim’s work in situ – beautiful art, yet at the same time practical and functional. As Maggy explained, Tim was a firm believer that the place in which you live should be interesting. And what better way to create an interesting home, but with furniture that is ‘sculpture in disguise’?

Step foot inside the house Maggy shared with her husband and you see why she considers it to be his largest piece of work.

There is hardly a square inch that has not been lovingly carved and created, offering glimpses of the artist. Doors, door frames, stairs, furniture, both free standing and fitting – no piece of wood has been wasted or had its natural form and spirit cut out of it.

“Tim couldn’t bear to buy anything,” she said. “He used every piece of wood, and our house was a testing ground for everything he made. How would this door hang? Would it open properly?

“Tim said everything he made had to be three things – it had to be comfortable, functional, and visually stimulating, and it was also guaranteed for life.”

And what was true then, is still true of the work coming out of The Workshop today.

“His work was not about fashion, it was about the wood,” continued Maggy. “The work is tactile, you have to touch it. It’s also playful, securing and comforting, like an old jumper. It crosses generations – we have children coming to choose furniture with their parents. They want a say in choosing something they will inherit.”

Probably some of the most instantly recognisable pieces of Tim’s work are the chairs. All are made of native Scottish hard wood, distinctive visually and by name – the Skeleton, the Sail, the Strata. The latter design forms part of Tim’s most powerful works - his 1989 Memorial Chapel in the Kirk of St Nicholas, in Aberdeen, commissioned by North Sea Oil Industries to commemorate the men who lost their lives in the Piper Alpha disaster. The work consists of 40 chairs, lectern, communion table, minister’s chair and rood screen. The chair backs were designed with layered strata of different timbers, the initial letters of which spelled out a simple message – w-e-r-e-m-e-m-b-e-r-y-e-w.

These open days offer something unique and special for those interested in owning a piece of work that has lasting value, both physically and emotionally. For as well as being able to view Tim and Maggy’s home, visitors will also have the chance to view the workshop, talking to David, Ross and Maggy as they explain the practicalities and creative process, from the drying of the wood, to the oiling of the final piece of work – a piece that will last one, if not several, lifetimes.

The sale runs from 10am to 5pm from March 9-11, and March 16-18. Visitors can make an appointment to visit on any other day by calling 01896 860266. For more information visit the website at