Meet the Makers: Nicholas Shurey

In partnership with Toast, we meet a Copenhagen-based woodworker carving functional objects into tactile sculptures.

Nicholas Shurey believes furniture should fulfill more than just its function: it should be sculptural in its own right. The British-born, Denmark-based designer has a background in interior architecture—including stints at Space Copenhagen and Studio Toogood—but has now given himself over to making hand-carved wooden pieces that sit “somewhere between furniture, object and sculpture.” Only a year after taking up woodwork, his often-playful, multifunctional creations have earned him a place in Toast’s inaugural class of New Makers—a mentorship program for designers working in contemporary crafts.

What made you switch from architecture to woodwork?
Last summer I left a stressful job. Rather than going straight into another, I decided to do something fun for a month. I found an opportunity through Workaway to go to Switzerland and work with a shepherd-cum-sculptor called Werner, who came from a fine art background. I spent five or six hours a day helping on his farm, and in return, he let me use his workshop and taught me how to carve. He started by asking me to draw from life, then moved me on to making small clay maquettes. Eventually, he let me loose with the chainsaw, which is what he uses for his own works.

How did a holiday become a new career?
After my month was up, I returned to Denmark. It was a beautiful summer, and few architectural studios were hiring as many go into standby. I bought some carving gouges and experimented on wood in the communal courtyard below my apartment, realizing how much I enjoyed carving and being outside in comparison to my previous job. So I drew on my savings and started working as a set stylist, assisting on editorial and commercial shoots, so I could have a consistent income while I got established. It almost feels like a luxury doing something I love so much and only worrying about form, not clients’ wishes.

What drives your work now?
I want to make sculptural pieces that you can’t help but want to touch, rather than being static pieces that you observe. When I got into sketching the human form, I noticed that the curves you see in architectural plans are so satisfying. I wonder if their similarity to body shapes are inherently familiar and appealing to us.

Where do you get your raw materials?
The smaller bowls in beech that I’m making for Toast are from trees that were felled in one of Copenhagen’s big parks. I was cycling through, saw men stacking logs, and asked if I could take some. They said I could grab as many as I wanted so I came back and filled up the car. It was green wood, so I had to strip the bark and seal the ends so it could slowly dry out. Working with it, you have the sense that it’s living. You put it down for the night, and in the morning, a crack that was a hairline before has opened.

Which of your pieces have people responded to the best?
The walnut bowl is playful. It started as a present for one of my sisters: she had an idea of a fruit bowl that would look like a smiley face when you put various fruit in the right positions. I took that further and made an ambiguous design, perhaps a face but perhaps a landscape.

Toast is inspired by material cultures from around the world. How does travel influence your perspective?
There’s an incredible legacy of Danish designers—that’s one of the reasons that I moved from England in the first place. Then going to Switzerland prompted a change in my design philosophy: rather than adding things, as in architecture, there’s a purity to taking a chunk of wood and removing material until you’ve got the final outcome.

This is the second in a series of profiles produced in partnership with Toast to mark the launch of the New Makers program; a long-term initiative to support emerging makers and foster contemporary craftsmanship. Nicholas Shurey is one of five New Makers selected, alongside Alexandra Hewson, Takahashi McGil, House of Quinn and Blue Firth.


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