Furniture maker Christina Hilborne, from Victoria, BC, on exotic woods, design inspiration and living and working on the west coast.
Q & A with Christina Hilborne
How long have you been building furniture?
What sort of furniture do you specialize in?
Contemporary, mixed materials. Mainly tables, benches, desks and the occasional bed and dresser.
Tell us a couple of interesting things about your personal life.
The west coast forest is my church and my counselor. I don’t eat, wear, or use animal products in my designs.
If you were not a furniture maker what would you be?
Dr. Doolittle or a Canadian Jane Goodall
In order, what are the three most important items in your shop apron?
I don’t wear an apron – I wear jeans and keep my measuring tape hooked on my front right pocket and a pencil in my back left.
Do you prefer hand tools or power tools?
Power! I’m not very patient. Or accurate, for that matter. I especially like a CNC router. I can almost hear eyes rolling.
Solid wood or veneer?
Figured wood or straight grain?
Flowing curves or geometric shapes?
Both. I’ve been drawn to square shapes since I was a kid – my first favourite car was the Mini, later the Lada Kossak and 70s Ford Bronco, and now the Mercedes G Class. And I love houses made of shipping crates! But I’m also entranced by spirals, curves and repetitive circles.
Black walnut and edge grain Douglas fir.
Least favourite wood?
I’m not a fan of exotic woods, not because they’re not beautiful, but because they’re from far away and require a lot of fossil fuel to get here. If I lived in Hawaii I’d be using Koa all the time. Also, given that they come from so far away, I can’t be sure how they were logged … in a responsible sustainable way or greedy, destructive clear cut? So when I’m not working with Kirei board (such a great panel product, except not always fun to work with) I buy salvaged timber from small local mills as much as possible. It’s such a cool experience, driving into a big yard piled with huge logs and slabs and an Alaskan mill in the centre. I say I need a chunk of fir or cedar in such and such dimensions, and they cut it while I watch.
Hilborne made this wall sculpture during a six-week residency at Anderson Ranch, in Snowmass, Colorado. While building this piece she experimented with a few of new techniques, such as metalsmithing and text transfer. (Photo by Christina Hilborne
The ‘body’ of this piece is a solid chunk of Douglas fir. Hilborne made this piece after attending the Emma Lake collaboration in Big Lake Saskatchewan, where she was introduced to, and fell in love with, surface texturing combined with metallic leafing, thus the silver-leafed bubbles. (Photo by Christina Hilborne)
Quotes from Christina Hilborne
I’m an afternoon and evening worker. I’m not a super early riser and when I get up I like to make veggie juice, shower, putter in the garden and do some yoga. After that, and some coffee, I’m ready to work. Well … clean up from the day before, and then work.
I don’t see myself as a true woodworker – I don’t live and breathe woodworking. It’s more something I ended up doing because I enjoyed it and was vaguely good at it. I do things simply, and my favourite parts of a project are the design part and the finished part. There’s a sense of relief – usually mixed with surprise – that it turned out well and that the client is going to love their new piece.
I don’t know where I get my design inspiration from. I’ve always had trouble answering this question … I make what pleases my eye. I don’t see something and say, “Oooh I’m inspired, I’m going to make an end table based on that thing I just saw.” I just start doodling, and the doodle takes a shape that I find attractive. That being said, it’s clear that being a child of an architect in the 60s and 70s shaped my aesthetic. My dad had a distinct sense of style, and I have inherited it. Thanks, dad.
My work says I was a child of the 60s. aAnd it also says, if people look a little closer, that I care about our planet, the environment. Kirei board is made out of what used to be a waste product – sorghum offcast. When working in solid wood, I use local salvaged timber or repurposed wood around 80% of the time. I guess it also says I’m stubborn – by no means am I wealthy, but for some reason I keep doing it.
I am so lucky to have easy access to massive chunks of red cedar and Douglas fir. Often the slab determines what the design will look like.
I would tell up-and-coming makers two things: 1) Create a series of smaller pieces that you can reproduce fairly easily – these will tide you through between commissions; 2) Have a secondary source of income at least for the first five years.
I prefer commissions – I really enjoy working closely with clients and having them be a part of the design process. In the end they feel like they had a hand in the piece and like it that little bit extra.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.