Making the Derek Welsh Collection : A Look Behind the Scene

Prototypes of the DW01 stools from the Derek Welsh Collection for Phantom Hands

By

Parni Ray

Date

19.02.2021

The Derek Welsh Collection for Phantom Hands came together between Bangalore and Glasgow, in the midst of a world halted by COVID.

A quick look at the unique journey behind its making.

The meeting

Phantom Hands’ founder, Deepak Srinath, visited designer, woodworker Derek Welsh’s Glasgow workshop in 2019. He was introduced to the latter's work by mutual friends.

A Glasgow resident, Welsh has over twenty five years of experience in handcrafting fine wooden objects. He has worked on bespoke interiors and furniture products since his apprentice days. His solo enterprise - the Derek Welsh Studio - continues with this focus and rests on his expertise in high quality craftsmanship.

For most of his career Welsh has created what he designs himself, in his own workshop, by hand. The meeting with Srinath led to his first professional collaboration with a manufacturer.

Derek Welsh at Phantom Hands' office, soon after landing in India.

At the Workshop

To kick off his partnership with Phantom Hands Welsh visited Bangalore in early 2020. It was his first trip to India.

During his brief stay he became familiar with the processes involved in making furniture at Phantom Hands. Much like in his own practice, he found the workshop to be at the heart of the company's work. But there were differences too. Unlike him, the carpenters worked on the floor, not on the bench. While ideating his new designs Welsh remained sensitive to this style and aimed to devise ways of making best suited to it.

At the Phantom Hands workshop Welsh conducted a session on joinery techniques for the carpentry team.

At the time he was reading about the legendary furniture designer, Charlotte Perriand.

In the 1940’s Perriand was in Japan on the invitation of the Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry. While in the new country (as unfamiliar to her, she had once said, as the moon) she had thought much about how she could translate her designs to the design vocabulary of the local craftsmen she had come to admire.

Welsh was wondering the same. He returned to Glasgow full of ideas.

Bits of new things Welsh came across in his visit to Bangalore seeped into his designs. Seen here, a small chalk drawn rangoli that he found outside his guest house.

The Mundane as Inspiration

Within a week of his return, however, the world came to a standstill.

Working amidst a world gone quiet is no trouble for people who work alone, Welsh says. He spent the first lockdown working out his designs. Points of curiosity and interest in a place until recently unknown gradually solidified into new ideas. His inspiration came from everyday patterns he encountered during his stay in Bangalore. Translating them - from memory to reality, from their form in various other medium to wood - took up much of his time during the lockdown.


Welsh describes the everyday shapes he encountered at the Phantom Hands workshop as inspiration. Seen here, a flight of stairs next to the workshop office.
A metal door at the Phantom Hands workshop that Welsh describes as having been fixated on. 'I could see the grid-like form as shelving and an idea for a shelving unit began to take shape !", he says.

The Prototypes

Unlike most designers, Welsh prefers making prototypes to drawings. They take longer, but they communicate more to makers, he insists.

Welsh prototyped this shelving unit based on the grid pattern he had seen on the door in Phantom Hands.

To communicate his designs to the craftsmen at Phantom Hands, he created dismantlable versions of his designs, flat packed them and shipped them with detailed instruction manuals. Putting the pieces of the furniture together, Welsh thought, would provide the carpenters at Phantom Hands a clearer idea about building them.

Shelf prototypes ready for shipping to Phantom Hands.

One of the packages he couriered lost its way for a few days. But the rest, he says, took surprisingly little time to traverse (what to him was) a great distance.

Boxes with prototypes, ready for shipping.
Prototypes of the stool components.

The prototypes allowed the carpenters to hold, and put together, the pieces they would be making. It was this, Welsh says, that allowed them to know the designs as good as him and stay on the same page through the manufacturing process.

Flatpack model of the stool, assembled in Phantom Hands after arrival. Derek's detailed handwritten notes on assembly and prototyping can be seen alongside.

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