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5 fun analogies that explain our work
Type “carved appliques” into a search engine and several websites appear with images of “carvings” alongside an extraordinarily cheap price. In fact, machine-carved or even poorly hand-carved decoration has become so ubiquitous that many designers, architects, and joinery companies may not realise how bad it really is.
Unfortunately, what was once considered "unacceptable" has gradually become "good enough." If nobody knows any better, who cares?
As an industry, and for the client’s sake, we should all care and take responsibility. "Good enough" should be "unacceptable." If you want your projects to withstand the most fastidious scrutiny and survive generations as treasured works of art, you must demand the best-possible design and the highest-quality execution from your carvers. Of course, that's something you'll pay a premium for, but it's always worth it when it comes to producing high-end decoration. (And remember, bad decoration still costs money.)
We're always looking at ways to communicate this point to our potential clients. Because our business is unusual—most architects, designers and joinery companies are not used to dealing with large woodcarving companies on a daily basis—we use analogies to help the client to understand this message and connect with it emotionally. We'd like to share a few of these with you. (Of course, it also doesn't hurt to have some fun!)
Well designed, well-executed hand-carved decoration is a bit like …
… appreciating Shakespeare
Anyone who can read English can "perform" a Shakespearean sonnet. But reading aloud doesn't also mean understanding and communicating the meaning, nuance, wit and beauty of the work. When we want to truly appreciate—and understand—Othello, we don't ask our next-door neighbour Dave, who has no acting experience, to perform it for a fiver. Instead, we pay good money to see Hugh Quarshie do his work for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Likewise, if you're producing, say, a rococo fire surround, you want a woodcarver with years of training. Only an experienced craftsperson understands the nuances of what makes rococo special—and then have the talent to pull it off. This carver understands and can communicate every subtle twist of each leaf and the way gravity affects its motion. Like Quarshie, this carver knows when to add flourish and when to show restraint, or when to pause and when to go. Get this right, and the decoration—like Shakespeare's sonnets—will survive the harshest criticism and be enjoyed for generations to come.
… going to the opera
Going to the opera is a grand occasion. You get dressed up and go out for a upscale dinner beforehand. The opera house itself is impressive, and the whole occasion feels special. But what if after the curtain goes up, the opera singers can't sing? The whole experience suddenly feels shallow—and memorable for the wrong reasons. And now you just feel silly sitting there in your tux. Same goes for carved decoration: You can present with it with all the grandeur you can muster, but if it's just bad, it becomes both pointless … and embarrassing.
… a leather couch
Sure, that synthetic couch looks authentic. At least from a distance. And it does the job—you can sit in it and watch TV, after all. But what about that squeaking sound? You'll never get with leather. And it smells totally different. There's something about the feel, too—it's just too consistent and manufactured. It has no character, no personality. It doesn't age well, either. A leather couch gets softer, more supple with age; plastic just gets … old. Similarly, hand-carved decoration looks, smells, and feels infinitely better than machine-carved or cast products. You'll recognise the smell as burnished hardwood, not burned sawdust or sickly resin. Every single leaf, every volute, every scroll will have its own individual character, a liveliness in its form that can only be achieved via a human touch. And, of course, good carving never ages. It's timeless.
… wearing a genuine Rolex
A faux Rolex may look like the real deal. It may even fool a thief. And yes, it tells the time (at least twice a day). But does it make you feel like a million bucks when you wear it? And would you be okay leaving it to your grandchildren? Really, if you can't afford a real Rolex, buy a Casio. At least you're not trying to fool anyone, including yourself. (And besides, unlike a fake Rolex, Casio's have their own hard-earned charm.) It's the same with carved decoration. Can't afford the real thing? Do something different with that space. As Ian Agrell says, "No decoration is better than bad decoration." Or, simply use less decoration. We work with our clients early in the planning process to provide alternative designs that hit different price points but stay true to the style. Reducing the amount of decoration or simply its complexity means you'll still get a high-quality hand-carved product, but you'll get it at a more affordable cost.
… leaving Las Vegas
Having high-quality architectural decoration in your home exposes a level of sophistication, culture and style to your visitors, so it better be well executed. Why is Las Vegas decorated to the nines but not as endearing as, say, a well-thought-out 18th-century country house? Because much of Las Vegas is thrown together with no understanding of restraint and proportion. It's then cast in plastic by someone who just finished a project for Disney World. That's great for a casino, but someone who cares about elegance, restraint, credibility and tastefulness should hire an expert who understands the space, the design intent, and what can be achieved within the budget.