February 09, 2017
Discover artisan furniture for your home - Steve Maxfield
Steve Maxfield is an admired Vancouver furniture maker – his company British Custom Furniture has been on the Kabuni radar for a little while now. One of our featured Kabuni artists, this British born cabinet maker now calls the West Coast home.
Steve’s transformation to artisan craftsman has been a bit of a slow burner. Privy to the furniture world from an early age – his grandfather was a cabinet maker – Steve followed in his footsteps once he finished school, becoming an apprentice at his business. Not immediately wowed by the world of carpentry, his grandfather's retirement seemed the opportune moment to leave the furniture business. Returning to college to study art and design, Steve proceeded to dabble in a number of fields before returning to woodwork later in life. His colourful career has included time as a truck driver, training to be a teacher, and an illustrious career in sales with a recruitment agency.
While his path deviated away from professional cabinet making for a time, Steve’s aptitude and interest never dwindled. On the side, he continued to make use of the hands-on experience he gained in his youth. Quickly he earned the reputation among family and friends as the “go to guy” for all things practical and furniture related, taking on small projects as favours. It was in 2008 that things came to a head. Being a successful director for a recruitment company began to lose its shine – even the generous financial rewards weren't enough of an incentive. Weary of life on the road, he yearned for a greater sense of fulfilment. Entrepreneurially minded and driven by ambition, he decided to set up his own business. Returning to cabinet making, he founded Isaac Hurst Fine Furniture – a tribute to his grandfather and great-grandfather, both master carpenters.
Steve has since moved to BC, carrying his time-honoured techniques and practices with him. With a change in country, a change in name seemed appropriate – his company is now known as British Custom Furniture to reflect his British roots, and British Columbia location. Steve’s recent bevy of tables includes a masterfully designed Surf Dining Table. Mimicking the shape of a boat hull and handcrafted from locally sourced Black walnut wood, it has that perfect West Coast vibe. While his Mission Table a timeless, handcrafted table for four, is generously sized for those homes where space is not a concern.
And what about Steve's design process? “When designing a piece of furniture I always have to consider the limitations relating to cost and function but in the main I will try and incorporate some exotics like Burr or Spalted woods because of the wonderful grain patterns. Currently I am using some locally sourced Barn Oak which is heavily weathered on the outside but still very solid internally.” Burr and spalted woods are both rare and prized by any craftsmen for their natural quirks. Burr wood (usually hidden at the base of the trunk) for its spiral and twisted grain pattern – the result of physical damage, fungus, insects and mold. Spalted wood for its bleached-like appearance – the discolouration caused by fungus. The most intriguing aspect of this wood is the dark lines. Demarcated areas, created by the lines, are nature's clever way of protecting against other invasive rot species. Nature's imperfections and peculiarities become visual delights, and add real charm.
For Steve, the favourite part of the business is the collaboration between maker and designer. With a creative eye, and an expert designer in his own right, he’s at ease coming up with design concepts, or working with the customer/home owner’s vision. His priority always being to produce one-off artisanal pieces to complement customers’ personal tastes and budgets. Starting out with a blank piece of paper and a bit of a brainstorm, he's got dining tables, games tables, Nursery Suites to entire interior design projects all covered.
A career high point? He describes the buzz he felt after completing a commissioned project for a Russian billionaire back in 2009. Tasked with designing, as well as making the piece, Steve's bespoke dressing table made the local UK headlines: its new home in one of the then most expensive houses in the UK, a £140m mansion in Henley-on-Thames. Well-publicized, it led to other commissions for Steve and business has since continued to flourish.
By Clare Langrishe