PUBLISHED: 11:13 13 January 2014 | UPDATED: 11:13 13 January 2014
He has profound dyslexia which put him back at school but he has beaten critics to become a renowned craftsman in wood. Tim Winser tells CATHY SAYERS about his journey to success at Cornwall’s Cotehele
If you go to Cotehele today, the chances are you will find yourself salivating at the beautiful woodwork to be found there in the gallery. Its maker is South West-based craftsman Tim Winser. I find him waiting to meet me on the steps of his studio in Ermington, Devon. It’s a sunny evening and he’s playing his guitar. Next door is his van. Before we even go inside to the studio, he shows me proudly how he’s fitted out the dashboard with especially crafted wood panelling. On the outside Tim has honed the paint of the vehicle so it has a vintage rust look.
“I love my van,” he says as he opens up the back door to show me inside. “It took a lot of work to get that paint just how I wanted it.”
It’s clear that everything Tim does is well thought out and original. Inside his studio he picks up a plank of wood he’s already shaped. “This is going to be the back of the table.” he says. “And these are the legs…and I’m planning for it to have a glass top.” The wood is English knotty oak hardwood and has taken some fashioning to get this far. For Tim the character of the wood, even if it doesn’t dictate the design, is certainly the motivational force behind the end result. A completed hardwood table nearby is an example of this. Tim is now oiling this work which has a large piece of beautifully grained spalted beech wood jutting out from the main frame and yet also forms part of the seat. I press it thinking it may not withstand the weight of a person sitting on it. But it’s as hard as the wood is. In other words Tim has designed the seat to match his materials perfectly.
Tim seems settled in his studio. He loves the countryside around him. “I love Devon and when I have a break, I sit on the doorstep looking at the trees. My girlfriend works in London and when she’s complaining about the sub, I say well I’m looking at the fields!” The workshop and the kit inside is the product of years of struggle to get Tim’s talent out. He explains he was considered disruptive at school. He puts this down to profound dyslexia. Formal education was a trial and he emerged with just one GCSE in woodworking. After that he was considered lucky to get an apprenticeship with Princess Yachts in Plymouth. There he developed his joinery skills working on luxury interiors of super cruisers. He took the opportunity to make use of any offcuts: “I made funky chairs for people to sit on in their breaks. I also used one piece of wood to carve the shape of a hand.”
Tim’s formal education was at Buckingham University where he obtained an HND in furniture design and making. After that he worked on the sets for Mary Poppins, amongst other projects, at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal. This was a real highlight. “They leave you to get on with say, making a wall, going off into the distance with a round corner with bricks made out of tiny bits of ply. It helped me with creative designs. I knew what could be achieved.”
Funnily enough Tim saw the same production of Mary Poppins when it toured to Australia. After working at The Theatre Royal he decided to travel there.
“I worked in the mines at Port Headland. Although it was fantastically paid, I was bored and so quit to do my own thing by renting a workshop space,” he admits.
The West Country later beckoned and the Prince’s Trust came to the rescue. Tim had started to learn business skills in Australia by making bespoke commissions. He put the experience to good use when the trust gave him £1,000 to set up his own studio. “All you see above you,” he says pointing at the ceiling, “I put in. But there are still lots of things wrong with this space. In the winter it’s colder inside than outside!”
"“I love my van,” he says as he opens up the back door to show me inside. “It took a lot of work to get that paint just how I wanted it.”"
Tools are essential to Tim’s trade and he’s picked these up along the way since the age of 15. “They all have stories: my dad joined Plymouth Woodturners and bought a lot of stuff from the families of old craftsmen when they passed away.
Tim is ambitious. He wants to be able to afford bigger and better kit. He realises he needs to sell himself more. “The business has been small and slow because no one knows I’m here.” But word is spreading and so is his name.
The National Trust’s Cotehele in Cornwall is showing and selling his work. “He is an inspiration,” Helen Eynon explains from Cotehele’s gallery. “He turned up here in his van with this most marvellous bench we commissioned and you can see he’s incorporated the words Cotehele within the design which we are delighted with.” Cotehele has other works by Tim; a range of one-off products which are all individually designed and crafted.
There is a wonderful and varied display of his work ranging from both hardwood and softwood tables to beautiful jewellry boxes and necklace stands. Even the simplicity of using the bark of a holly tree as a tealight holder is effective.
Tim sources wood locally wherever he can find it. A supplier on Dartmoor at Hexworthy provides much of the hardwood. Tim is using birch plywood to make two bedside tables. “I don’t charge enough! I must learn!” He says ruefully as he shows me the neat workings of the drawer. I can do technical drawings but make most of my work straight from a sketch.”
Tim is determined to prove his childhood detractors wrong by being successful in his chosen field. I ask what would be his dream commission. He hardly pauses for breath. “I’d like to build a wooden house in a forest and live in the middle of nowhere. Oh and yes, I’d also like a mini ramp for my mates to come for skate board nights!”
You get the feeling that at some point in his life this will happen as Tim not only has a rare talent but a rare determination to overcome obstacles and fulfil his dreams. n
To see more of Tim’s work on display visit cotehelegallery.com or call 01579 352724