Bern Chandley Furniture, the eponymous fine furniture company by designer and maker, Bern Chandley, handcrafts windsor chairs using both traditional and modern techniques.
Bern devotes himself to the task of creating pieces of heirloom quality windsor chairs. While, his work also encompasses a wide variety of bespoke tables, cabinets and other furniture in the Shaker and Arts & Crafts styles.
In this ‘The Creatives’ Made Journal feature, Bern talks to us about the beauty of working with wood and introduces us to his crafted designs and Melbourne, Australia workshop.
Could you please introduce us to Bern Chandley Furniture?
I’m a one man workshop specialising in windsor style chairs in both traditional and my own contemporary designs. I also build custom furniture to order.
How would you describe your work and style?
My chairs are handcrafted. A windsor consists of a solid timber seat in which everything below and above terminates. They are durable and strong, yet light and spare. I still love the traditional North American chairs that were my introduction to making in the windsor style though my love of a simple line leads me to pare back decorative elements. My aim is to design light, comfortable chairs that will enhance any room, whether it be established or modern, without being dominant . Simplicity provides adaptability.
Simplicity provides adaptability.
Tell us a little bit about your background – how did you originally get into the design and making of furniture, what did you study, etc.
I completed an apprenticeship in carpentry/joinery in my late teens and from there worked through my 20s variously as a carpenter and joiner before falling into set-building for film, television and theatre. It was whilst set-building that I began building furniture, both pretend for shows and real for clients in between shows. Utilising my joinery skills in such a way was a revelation so it was an easy segue to full-time furniture making for me.
Later whilst working at a woodworking school in Melbourne I was introduced to windsor chair-making by visiting American maker and teacher, Peter Galbert. The impact was immediate and my passion for this type of making was ignited. In learning to make windsor chairs by hand I increased my knowledge of wood and woodworking tenfold.
There are not many other wood trades that brings you so close to the source and forces you to understand it’s strengths and weaknesses so as to utilise it to best advantage. The first windsor chairs were built approximately 300 years ago and some of these are still being sat on. I would say that is an ample testament to the durability afforded these chairs by their incredible joinery.
Do you find the processes of making your chairs- being hands-on- important in informing your process and design?
The success of these chairs structurally has everything to do with the timber selection and then how that timber is worked. I am able to create a lightness of look due to the fact all wood selected has straight grain running continuously from one end to another. I achieve this by splitting the wood straight from the log (riving) or following the grain on the bandsaw. Continuous straight grain brings the strength of the tree to each chair component. This process plus all of the joinery requires careful techniques that are best achieved by hand with hand-tools designed specifically for each job. To me a handmade chair contains organic qualities that we ourselves possess and this aspect makes them pleasing to the human eye and hand.
To me a handmade chair contains organic qualities that we ourselves possess and this aspect makes them pleasing to the human eye and hand.
In terms of materials, are there particular woods that you prefer to work with?
As mentioned straightgrained species are requisite as is inherent strength and as windsors originate from the northern hemisphere the go to timbers have been oak and ash for legs and backrests with elm for seats. However, more and more I am gravitating toward using suitable Australian species such as blackwood, silverwattle and alpine ash.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
Coffee is first while I think through the day ahead and priortise looming deadlines and jobs. I usually already know exactly what needs to be done from what I have worked on the previous day, but being a one man workshop I need to make sure I’m moving everything forward so a little planning is required.
After coffee I basically jump into it. Stop once for lunch. Then work through to about 6.30. The work is very physical and can be tiring but I really love it.
The work is very physical and can be tiring but I really love it.
Finally, and very importantly, where can we find Bern Chandley Furniture products?
My chairs can be ordered by email via my website; bernchandleyfurniture.com or via Instagram; @bernchandleyfurniture
I also have a small selection of chairs in the showroom of Porcelain Bear in Collingwood, Melbourne, and online at Handkrafted.