The God of small things

By Alessandro Raschellà

It is a marvelous bright sun drenched day on the Ij banks when I meet Roger Doughty for a weird pre-summer combination of cappuccino and ice-cream. Arguably the weird combination pattern is also embodied by Roger himself. He is an Englishman living and working in the Netherlands and one of the most delightful enthusiastic encounters you can come across.

No, the weird association is not given by the fact that he is an English AND an enthusiast!

Rather than that, it resides in the fact that this talented man, apart from working wood in a deeply intriguing way I’ve never seen before, is also an employee of municipal transport company GVB, driving the little bus formerly known as opstappen which takes people up and down the Prinsengracht. I have no problem to believe he’s trying to make things in a different way, customer oriented and just more interesting as a bus driver, despite I cannot figure out exactly how.

But it’s his real passion and original job that triggered my curiosity and made me wanting to meet him: wood. He can make everything you can think of out of it. Furniture of course, but surely more than that. His real scope and talent comes out when talking with people, upon hearing their ideas and needs for what they cannot normally find in stores or simply don’t know how to make feasible. And then he makes it! He feeds on the enthusiasm of the people’s reaction and listen to their advises to improve his products. In this way, virtually, every article he creates is unique.

While we are all bombed by messages urging mass-scale promotion of sustainable awareness and take pride if we recycle our own garbage, this guy is actually doing something easy, simple and clever in his field, a field that is, to some degree, responsible for deforestation. During his time-off, in fact, he’s not tired to drive yet again in his APE vehicle through the city, collecting the wood we usually dispose.

Once in his lab in Noord Amsterdam, he cuts it in different patterns that will fit his latest project and glues them together according to the intended design. He prefers soft wood

and sloophout wood, which are characterized by a high degree of flexibility; although he does not mind working with MDF, which simply is nothing more than compressed garbage. On smaller scale articles, like accessories (bags, wooden jewels and the like), he also implements wood with fabrics and especially natural yuta and hemp. Interestingly his line of accessories comes out of the leftovers from his bigger projects. This is striking to me as not only his creations are genuinely beautiful and incredibly original, they are also 100% sustainable and nothing gets wasted.

When I get overexcited about this feature and I want to turn him into a contemporary hero, he modestly dribbles my compliments and rather sees his commitment to the earth as a survival attitude, not only for the whole mankind, but for himself in the first place.

With the up-coming and huge impact of multinationals like Ikea and with the possibility for the former Eastern European block citizens to work in the EU countries at cheaper rates than their counterparts, the competition had become stiff, admits Roger. It was impossible to make it to the end of the month and many of his once colleagues were forced to shut down. And that’s why he decided to turn things around and make unusual wood objects, thus differentiating his products dramatically. He laughs when I label his attitude ‘social Darwinism’ and once more I appreciate his being grounded, an attitude that springs out from a varied and experienced background.

Roger started up in England making patterns for a foundry and from there he developed his love for details and little neat things. Despite during the years he accepted the weirdest requests, including making wood bondage equipment in a Brisbane brothel, and has eight barrows in permanent exhibition at the ‘Hay’s Galleria’- an art gallery in Central London, what he really craves to create are small things and (p)articles that can be folded, putting his skills to the test and pushing wood texture beyond the boundaries. He likes the idea of clearing the normal concept and usage of the materials he employs, turning wood into a prêt-a-porter items and he succeeds so well in this that one of his wooden bag will be used to accessorize the 4th year fashion collection at RMIT in Melbourne and his creations arose the interest of the London Design Center Archives that holds some of them.

 Roger is currently restoring a 70 year old garden house to (hopefully) is original splendor. Besides this,  he can build complete items of furniture to peoples specific requirements. He is busy with a fantasy furniture line that I'm impatient to see, and keeps on evolving his wooden bags to new shapes and different materials, now to hold laptop computers, for example: an elegant way of disguising what would otherwise be an attractive item to steal. His stunning wine holder was very successful as a corporate or private gift item. Also as a promotional product incorporating exclusive wine products. This also morphed into other designs for whisky or sake.

 

Should you be interested in Roger Doughty work or would like to ask his advise, challenge him by sending an e-mail to doughty@xs4all.nl or by  phone at 0613257716. And remember that his policy is to use his imagination to create what people want!