From coding to craft: Fergus Somers on life as a furniture designer

From coding to craft: Fergus Somers on life as a furniture designer
Fergus Somers, of Benchspace in the Marina Commercial Park, Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

FURNITURE maker Fergus Somers, from Turners Cross, made a major career change in his 30s and is now working to assist other people who want to do the same.

Mr Somers sells furniture he designs, currently primarily light shades, as well as teaching others the art of furniture-making at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, but at one time was in a very different line of work.

“Like a lot of people who get into this line, I wasn’t originally a furniture maker,” he said. “I was originally a computer programmer.

“It was a fluke that the company I was working for closed their offices in Cork when I was in my early thirties. I was at a loose end and I noticed this course in Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa on furniture design and something in me said ‘I have to do that’. I’ve never looked back.” 

He is part of Cork Craft and Design, who are currently holding multiple events around the city for Cork Craft Month and said his is a story he sees over and over again.

“I find the same thing with a lot of people I meet who changed over. Playing around with wood and stuff is something they did in their childhood and then they gave it up for the serious years. I was very much like that.” 

From writing lines of code, Mr Somers now creates light shades, a specialism that came out of a chance suggestion.

“They were born out of an idea a few years ago for an exhibition we used to do in Cork. I made a large scale one mostly for research because I was trying to experiment with shapes and new materials, not very traditional materials. Someone suggested that I make it smaller, that people would like them for their houses and it seems to be quite popular. That’s the thing when you talk with other people, you will always get another idea.” 

Collaboration is one of the reasons behind his latest project, undertaken with fellow members of Cork Craft and Design and others.

“I experienced myself when I was coming out training how hard it is to get a workshop set up, how hard it is to get into business,” he explained. “A lot of craftspeople are used to working on their own and it is very easy to become shut off or isolated, both in terms of your creativity and your business.

“So the idea of this venture is to create two things. One is to provide facilities and the other is to build a community where people can share ideas and experience and collaborate on projects.” 

The venture is Benchspace Cork, a not-for-profit shared workshop in the Marina Commercial Park. Their goal is to provide affordable access to work benches and machinery to local furniture makers and designers. They are focused primarily on graduates and those starting out, many of whom are coming to design as Mr Somers did.

“This year, most of my class are that kind of early thirties to forties age. They have life experience from other things and they are drawn to something more creative. That makes them really exciting to work with, they are very motivated and very clear in what they want. 

He added: “They are very creative and have a lot of experience from other areas to bring to this and that makes it really exciting. Seeing that talent and energy, you want to see those people succeed.” Mr Somers sells his work at the Cork Craft and Design shop and exhibition space in St Patrick's Woollen Mills in Douglas, as well as online. The shop will be one of the focal areas for Cork Craft month, with workshops, exhibitions and demos taking place between now and September 3.

“It began years ago as a pop up shop in the city originally and eventually became a permanent feature in Douglas, so I and a lot of craftspeople have work there.” 

One of the joy of a life in design is the opportunity to work in a number of different ways, from creating your own designs, to collaboration and the opportunity to pass on skills. It is something Mr Somers is familiar with, having gone from being a student to a teacher at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, via years of working for both himself and others.

“I was working for a few years in furniture after qualifying there,” he said. “Bit by bit I started to do practical classes with the college and in time it turned into a full-time thing.

"It has been quite varied.” 

For more information about events during Cork Craft month, check out www.corkcraftanddesign.com.

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Benchspace Cork is based in the Marina Commercial Park and is open to those in need of work space and access to tools and machinery.

Start-up furniture makers and specialist woodworkers can use the space for work and also benefit from meeting and collaborating with other designers. The creators of the workshop say they wish “to allow makers turn their passions into their professions”.

“It has really just started this summer so we are at an early stage, the fitout is nearly complete now and we are looking for people to talk to us about starting businesses in craft,” Fergus Somers said.

They have options for those interested in starting businesses at the workshop and those who just want membership and access to workspace.

There will also be courses taught there from September on. Interested craftspeople and designers can find out more at www.benchspacecork.ie.

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