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John Makepeace

"The sublime effect of exquisitely chosen materials, perfectly crafted to serve and enhance the human body and soul, makes John Makepeace's work overwhelmingly desirable"  

Dame Rosalind Savill

Born in July 1939, my sixty-five year career is often described as An Adventure in Wood.  As a child, I constantly made objects in wood, and was inspired by the great cabinet makers of Copenhagen as a teenager.  Design and craftmanship came naturally to me and it became my life from the age of eighteen.  Upon leaving school in 1957, I trained with Keith Cooper in Dorset, whilst taking a distance learning course to qualify as a teacher when the recently opened Design Centre and Design Magazine were timely resources.  I started my workshop in 1961.  

Modest local commissions led on to batch products for Heals, Harrods and then in substantial quantities, for Habitat. Recognition by the architectural and design professions resulted in being invited to become a Member of the Chartered Society of Designers.  Over the next few years I began to receive more substantial commissions like Liberty’s Centenary Dining Room, the furnishing of 120 rooms at Keble College, Oxford and boardrooms for Kodak, Grosvenor Estates and Banque du Luxembourg.  This early recognition led to commissions by numerous museums including the V&A, the Museum fur Kunsthandwerk, Frankfurt, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge and The Art Institute, Chicago.  

When the British Government formed the Crafts Council to improve and promote the work of artist-craftsman in 1972, I was a founding member.  The Commonwealth Secretariat appointed me as Consultant to The All-India Handicrafts Board in 1975, and I was subsequently invited by the European Union to continue my work there assisting craftspeople to raise the quality of their products. 

These experiences alerted me to the need for an integrated education for future furniture designers and makers going into business, so in 1976, I purchased Parnham House in Dorset, an eighty-roomed historic Tudor Mansion near Beaminster, Dorset.  This served three purposes: 


  • To provide larger workshops for my team of craftsman and our furniture making commissions.

  • To provide separately an education and training for aspiring furniture designers and makers in making, design and business management.

  • To engage the public with the concept of fine contemporary craftsmanship in wood as an integral part of our culture.


The Parnham Trust was formed to run the College and it rapidly gained an international reputation.  By 1980, the success of this initiative generated an unexpected level of interest in each aspect and we were receiving enquiries from around the world.


Through a furniture commission for Longleat House, I was introduced to the excellent forest estate there.  Having seen the benefits of forestry integrated with the construction and manufacturing industries in Europe, I resolved, rather than building extensions and enlarging the operation on a historic site, to widen the activities of the Educational Trust to embrace and provide a better understanding of the renewable source of our materials and explore a better use of our indigenous forest produce.

In 1982, the Parnham Trust purchased from the Forestry Commission Hooke Park, a local 350 acre broadleaved and conifer forest, on which to build a new campus, using the annual crop of forest thinnings as a future base for the Parnham Trust.  John initially asked Prof. Sir Ted Happold, Frei Otto, and Ahrends, Bruton and Koralek to address this challenge; subsequent stages involved Sir Ted Cullinan and Feiden, Clegg Bradley.  As there was no precedent for using small diameter timber in construction, a pan-European Collaborative Research Programme addressed the structural issues and developed new technologies and the craft skills to fulfil the purposes of the Building Regulations.  This resulted in a series of award-winning buildings for the new campus which have become international exemplars for the more efficient use of natural resources. After a very successful 25 years, the Parnham Trust campus amalgamated with another Charity, the Architectural Association, in 2001, which now runs its ‘design and build’ courses there. 


In this same year, I ceased directing the Educational Trust, and subsequently sold Parnham and bought Farrs, a historic house in Beaminster.  Here I have my design practice and gallery, and continue to work on many exciting commissions for clients around the world, including the UK, USA, Asia and Africa.  Having started my career as a maker, my focus now embraces woodland management, design and individual craftsmanship.


In addition, I am sponsoring a ten-year project with the Victoria and Albert Museum called Make Good: Rethinking Material Futures, which seeks to encourage the better management of trees in Britain.  At Hooke Park, Architectural Association students gain direct exposure to forestry, very relevant to the construction of more energy efficient buildings. 

I was awarded an OBE in 1988, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Furniture Society in 2004, and  from the Furniture Makers Company in 2010.  I am an Honorary Fellow of the Arts University Bournemouth (2009) and Hereford College of Arts (2013).

In 2016, I won the Prince Philip Designer Prize for my contribution to professional practice, education and public appreciation of design.  My work is exhibited internationally by the Sarah Myerscough Gallery.


In 2017, in celebration of the forty years since the launch of Parnham College, ‘Beyond Parnham’ was published. This tells the story of the College and Hooke Park, and 100 alumni reflect on their careers.

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