Graduate learns from grandad to earn award

Joe Kennedy’s passion for furniture making really does run in the family.

From the age of five, he spent hours watching and helping his grandfather craft pieces by hand at the family home in Falmouth, Cornwall – and by 14 he had made a large number of toys and completed his first piece of furniture.

Now the Plymouth University graduate has had his work recognised nationally, after one of his pieces was named the best exhibit in show at the 2014 Young Furniture Makers Exhibition in London.

Joe, who has just completed the MA Design: Maker and Materials programme, was entered for the exhibition by one of his lecturers and said the win had come as a huge personal surprise.

The 22-year-old, who still lives near Falmouth, said:

“Friends and family have consistently told me they liked my work, and I have always enjoyed using my hands to make things. Besides my grandfather’s furniture making, his brothers were both masons, so there is a history of traditional skills in the family and it is great to be able to continue that. I am a perfectionist and am always finding fault with my own work – I never see a piece as finished, and keep looking for ways to improve it. But I hope this might give me confidence and recognition to spur me on in my future career.”

Joe Kennedy, who has just completed the MA Design: Maker and Materials programme, said:

At Plymouth University, I was challenged to think outside the box and look at new materials. It has pushed my boundaries and while, at heart, I would always prefer to use traditional methods and tools, I am now not afraid to explore new ways of work

After leaving school Joe, currently working as a bench joiner for a Cornish firm, completed a City and Guilds qualification and went on to start a Foundation Degree at Cornwall College Camborne, one of Plymouth’s partner colleges.

From there, he progressed onto the BA (Hons) 3D Design course and subsequently the Masters programme at Plymouth University and it was there that he really began to explore his talents and what might be possible. He said:

“In the past I have always worked with wood but at Plymouth University, I was challenged to think outside the box and look at new materials. It has really pushed my boundaries and while, at heart, I would always prefer to use traditional methods and tools, I am now not afraid to explore new ways of working. I know I still have a lot to learn though, and am now looking to gain more experience in a design business.”

Joe will receive his prize for winning the competition in January, with a trip to the Austrian factory of Blum, an international company specialising in the production of functional furniture fittings.

The annual Young Furniture Makers Exhibition is organised by the Furniture Makers' Company, and sponsored by Axminster Tools & Machinery. It featured exhibits from students at all levels, from foundation to undergraduate and postgraduate, with Plymouth University among the prestigious further and higher education institutions to exhibit in 2014.

Work by MA Design: Maker and Materials graduate Joe Kennedy

  • Joe Kennedy's work is inspired by traditional skills learnt by watching his grandfather from the age of five. ©Alex Walker

    Coffee table

    Joe Kennedy's work is inspired by traditional skills learnt by watching his grandfather from the age of five. ©Alex Walker
  • By the age of 14, he had already completed his first pieces of furniture. ©Alex Walker

    Aluminium table

    By the age of 14, he had already completed his first pieces of furniture. ©Alex Walker
  • During his time at the University, he learnt to work using new techniques and materials. ©Alex Walker

    Marble candle holders

    During his time at the University, he learnt to work using new techniques and materials. ©Alex Walker
  • He says it has allowed him to explore new ways of working. ©Alex Walker

    Copper lamps

    He says it has allowed him to explore new ways of working. ©Alex Walker
  • He says his award has come as a great shock and that it was amazing to know that people outside of friends and family like his work. ©Alex Walker

    Draughting table

    He says his award has come as a great shock and that it was amazing to know that people outside of friends and family like his work. ©Alex Walker
  • Joe now hopes to find the next stage of his career, working for a design business to gain more experience. ©Alex Walker

    Joe at St Agnes

    Joe now hopes to find the next stage of his career, working for a design business to gain more experience. ©Alex Walker