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In partnership with Toast, we meet the couple blending Japanese and Western woodwork techniques to create naturally beautiful homeware.

Together, Kaori Takahashi and Mark McGilvray are Takahashi McGil—a woodworking couple with two children and a fledgling furniture business. After meeting each other at Wimbledon School of Art, the pair married, moved to Torbay, Devon, and started their own studio following Mark’s forays into furniture-making in the garden shed. Their respect for nature is conveyed in their designs: lovingly hand-tooled furniture and homeware that has been thoughtfully designed to retain wood’s idiosyncrasies and live edges. Since founding the company in 2016, the pair have been initiated into the Devonshire Guild of Craftsmen, and now into the inaugural class of Toast’s New Makers program—a mentorship for designers working in contemporary crafts.

Let’s start at the beginning. How do you select your materials?

Kaori: Normally when we see wood, we can imagine what it’s going to be.

Mark: You don’t want to cut some bits of wood at all because they’re too beautiful. We’re big fans of George Nakashima, a Japanese-American woodworker who was into live edge furniture. The live edge is the outside of the tree—the bark is taken away, but you can still see the shape. It keeps that connection to nature. Using a wooden spoon is so much nicer than a metal spoon because it doesn’t get too hot or cold. It’s a joy.

How do you combine Japanese and European woodworking techniques?

Kaori: We use tools from both traditions, and the difference is interesting. With a Western plane, you push it to shave the wood. With the Japanese kanna, you pull it. It’s the same with a Japanese saw: You pull to cut, and with a British saw, you push.

Mark: We usually visit Kaori’s family in Japan once a year. When we go, we do a woodworking course, such as sharpening and using kanna.

  • Words:
    Bella Gladman
  • Photography:
    Cecilie Jegsen

What other treatment does the wood receive?

Mark: Kiln-dried wood is great for furniture because the grain is straight, and it won’t bend—it’s almost perfect. We’ll often use a really interesting piece of air-dried wood, with a curved grain and wonderful color, as a top surface. And last summer, we started learning lacquer work—our pieces for Toast include lacquerware.

Kaori: We use natural lacquer, which takes seven to eight layers. It’s a traditional lacquer technique that isn’t as well-known. It has to be the right temperature and it has to be humid to dry.

Mark: It feels good because it’s natural—you’re putting a bit of tree onto a tree. It’s completely waterproof.

How do you find working as a couple?

Mark: We don’t always agree on what we should do, but that makes the finished piece even better. It isn’t just one person’s point of view. I do my part and then hand it over to Kaori and she’ll finish it. It might not be what I would have done, but it ends up much better. I do all the woodturning and Kaori does most of the chisel work. She doesn’t want to turn!

Kaori: I think it’s a bit too dangerous. I can be quite silly!

Have you introduced your children to woodworking?

Mark: When I was growing up, I was surrounded by wood. My dad was a self-taught cabinet maker. Sometimes our children will be into it and other times they get bored really quickly. Our daughter made a tray and chopsticks, with guidance from us.

Kaori: The children make a competition out of it. If our son does better, our daughter gets really frustrated. Since our youngest has gone off to school, Mark and I have more time to work together.

How does it feel being part of the New Makers program?

Kaori: Even when we did our first stand at a craft festival, I thought “We’ve made it.” So, I’m so grateful we’re involved in this. Mark—what’s our goal? You say it!

Mark: To have more people know about what we make and to know that they enjoy using the stuff we make—that’s the best thing.

This is the first in a new 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. Takahashi McGil is one of five designers taking part in the New Makers program alongside Alexandra Hewson, House of Quinn, Nicholas Shurey and Blue Firth.

  • Words:
    Bella Gladman
  • Photography:
    Cecilie Jegsen
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