Or E: All of those things and more? The answer, of course, is E, certainly in the eyes of its makers – the team at Simon Thomas Pirie Furniture at Briantspuddle near Bere Regis in Dorset. The oak bench they’ve steam-bent and scorched is going to be installed in Dorchester’s Tudor Arcade, outside of Waitrose and Fat Face, at the start of May. So how does Simon Pirie hope his creation will impress the eyes of its beholders and the backsides of its users?
He said: “I hope people will get a sense of fun out of it, I hope it will be visually stimulating, and I also hope it will spark conversation, because in a sense it is a conversation piece.
“It’s a practical piece of furniture with a few quirks, but it is first and foremost a conversation piece, somewhere people can meet and talk and people watch.”
In the video above Simon explains that the bench is partly inspired by traditional love seats, in which people sit side-by-side but back-to-back, so the bench is divided into a series of separate chairs.
Simon said: “The chair that you see as you walk down the arcade towards the supermarket will be face on towards you and the idea is that it will feel quite throne-like. The person who gets that seat is going to feel quite important because they are going to have the whole vista of the shopping arcade coming towards them. I’m looking forward to getting that kind of long shot down the arcade to see who’s got that prime seat.
“It might be me on occasions, I suppose.”
Simon Pirie trained in the 1990s at Hooke Park College near Beaminster in West Dorset. The college was set up by the internationally renowned furniture maker John Makepeace to encourage a generation of “entrepreneurs in wood”. Simon has been running his own fine furniture business for 12 years, until now working largely with individual clients.
The Dorchester bench is different. The result of a public art commission, it’s a significant new venture.
Simon said: “We wanted to create something special for this. I mean, we’re known as fine furniture makers. Public art is relatively new for us, and it’s an area we’re looking to expand into.
“This is the first piece that will actually go in situ, so it’s an important job for us.
“We’re working with architects and commercial companies rather than individual clients and that’s a little bit different for us, so it’s a groundbreaker.
“It also manages to encompass lots of other areas of interest, like steambending, like high-tech manufacturing techniques, and like scorching, so there’s lots of elements in there which are very exciting for us as furniture makers.
“And I guess the slightly quirky joke from my perspective is that, if you look at it from above, it’s actually in the shape of a question mark.
“So, there is that kind of question – What should it be used for? How can it be used? Hopefully it has that sense of fun about it, because you don’t want want to be too po-faced and serious.”
Simon said that he has always had a hankering to do outside furniture, and the chance to fulfill that wish in Dorchester has been gratifying.
“It’s our county town, it’s where local and regional government is based, so it’s good to do it in Dorchester.
“It’s a gem of a little town, it’s a beautiful place, and the arcade where it’s going to be the visual centrepiece is having a refresh.
“Despite the general air of gloom about the economy there’s actually quite a lot of optimism in Dorchester, there’s new projects and new buildings, so it’s an exciting place to be.
“It’s our local county town, six or seven miles away from our workshop; it feels very nice.”
Editor’s Note: I’ve been interested in Hooke Park College and people associated with it ever since I first went there about 18 years ago. Simon Pirie is part of the group of people who’ve spread out from there across Dorset… I made the video above with Stephen Banks (“Dorset Scouser“).