If wood could talk, what tales would this tale…? We’re looking at a stack of incredibly rare Georgian pine. In the shed next door there are oak floor planks, joists, roof trusses, gateposts and who knows what else stacked head high.
Much of this wood has been timber for longer than it was trees, it has lived well and worked hard as witnessed by the wear and tear, the scars, pits, paint and metalwork it bears. For now though it lies in rest, awaiting a gentle retirement as beautiful, functional furniture created by Roger Hazael.
For 35 years or more – the last 13 at Chilbridge Farm near Kingston Lacy – Roger has been making characterful furniture out of cast off, reclaimed and salvaged wood. Tables, chairs, chests, chopping boards, dressers, blocks, mirrors, mantles, shelves, frames, fire surrounds – if it’s made of wood it can be made from reclaimed wood. His clients are householders, couples young and old, interior designers, shops, hotel groups, anyone with the heart and soul and vision to see the beauty in something that has been used before, something that has already run a race but has more to give.
‘There are those who would say this is a load of dirty old wood and they don’t want it in their house, they’d rather have a new ‘plastic chair’,’ says Roger as he considers a particularly rugged example of well-worn oak gatepost. ‘That’s fine of course, I don’t object and I certainly wouldn’t criticise their taste. However, I would ask about the toll their new ‘plastic chair’ takes on the planet, the ecology and us as a society. What I use here already exists; it’s not even newly cut wood. It’s already in use and it guides me to what it will become.’
The reclaimed wood is stripped back using a combination of industrial grinders and high-pressure water blasts until all the loose and rotten wood has been removed. That can drastically alter the shape of a piece of wood, which is why the legs of Roger’s furniture don’t always match, surfaces are unevenly distressed and hard straight lines occur only occasionally.
‘I set off knowing I’m going to make a mirror or a table or whatever and I can visualise how I’d like it to turn out but it’s largely pointless as I have to be guided by the wood.
‘People need to know there’s another way of buying furniture. They can go to the familiar chain stores in the out of town retail parks – and there’s a place for all that, they often have top designers – or they can come to someone like me who will make something that’s a one-off. Your £800 table that anyone can buy might cost half as much again, but it will in all likelihood last a great deal longer and take on more character.’
Roger considers an occasional table made to a brief from the interior design team of a high-end hotel group. It looks old, a little primitive even, but it sits well, is easy on the eye and is eminently tactile – a charming match of form and function.
‘They wanted to see the joinery so we’ve got the mortise and tenon works and dowel details. It’s not finished and there are one or two things I might have done differently, but otherwise I’m really happy with it and if the legs look as if they held up a barn roof in rural Dorset for 250 years it’s because they did.’
It’s all about the story. In 2008 when the Branksome Park bungalow in Lakeside Road where the author JRR Tolkien lived from 1968 until his death in 1973 was demolished to make way for two energy-efficient luxury houses, Roger got his hands on the wood and turned it into new things for other people’s houses.
‘We certified it as Tolkien’s wood, not that it means anything really. Somewhere in the office I have a door handle, Tolkien’s door handle, what could I do with that?’ he asks then pauses a moment.
‘What happens is people go into old buildings and re-order them, which is fine, I end up with the wood. But when they take a chainsaw to wood that has stood there dependably doing its work for 200 years it’s an act of violence. It’s quite disturbing. We get it back here and let it rest. It has to be treated, looked after again before we bring it back to life. The old rot has to be stripped back, cut out and most of the ironwork removed, although I have left old pulley systems and things in some pieces. It’s the same with carpenter’s marks, they were put there possibly hundreds of years ago, they are part of the story.’
Some of the pile of old oak came out of a large house near Verwood that Roger worked on years ago for the then owner. After the house was sold a lot of the wood was removed and Roger was able to secure a good portion of it. When the new owner decided they wanted some bespoke furniture made they found their way to Roger and he recently completed a strikingly handsome console table made out of wood that came from their house.
‘There really is only one house in the world where that table should go and the new owners are so happy to have found it. They’re young, but they get what I’m about and the story of that wood and their house, well you couldn’t make it up.’
And what about that Georgian pine; what will that be?
‘I don’t know yet. I’ll probably end up swapping some of it for wood that a colleague has but I don’t. It seems the only way to trade in something that special, it’s beyond money.’
Indeed. As with so much in this sawdusty sanctum, it’s a different way of doing business in a business built on doing things differently.
• First published by Dorset Life – The Dorset Magazine