Each handcrafted wooden piece by Rusling Furniture Makers celebrates the glorious irregularities of the tree from which it is made
For Dannie Rusling, owner of the eponymous Scottish design company, Rusling Furniture Makers, what is most important is the “story” of the pieces he creates: knowing about the trees that are used to make them and – in collaboration with his clients – exploring their transformation into something new.
“I always ask my suppliers to send me pictures of the tree before I buy the wood,” he says. “Anyone can go into a shop and buy a table. But my customers don’t just view a table as something you can stick your dinner plate on. They enjoy knowing where the tree came from. They get interested in the whole story and we work together on the design.”
Working with wood runs through Dannie’s blood. His grandfather, a chief petty officer in the Royal Navy, used to make wood carvings on his boat and, fascinated, the young Dannie began making things in the family shed to sell to friends and neighbours. “It’s a bug that bites,” he says. “The £5 saw that you bought at a DIY store when you’re 12 suddenly turns into a £100 saw. And then it becomes a £1,000 saw.”
Having completed an apprenticeship in cabinet making, Dannie started his company in 2001, first making furniture from his own workshop, before moving into larger premises in Inverness. In 2005, itching to expand his creative vision, he trained with a master craftsman from Germany. Since then, he has been making bespoke, handcrafted furniture for both residential and commercial clients in Scotland and beyond. Rusling Furniture Makers, which now employs a small team of cabinetmakers, is based in the Highland village of Marybank.
Dannie’s clients range from “a local family that’s maybe worked and saved up for something” to “vast estates with project managers”. His materials are sourced from all over the world: local Scottish elms and burrs; walnut and cherry from North America; oaks from Siberia. “I like the timber to do the talking,” he says. “I enjoy working with wood that has lots of character, with a natural edge, to create a shape or design that is clean and modern-looking at the same time.”
His favourite projects are those that have stretched him or challenged him creatively. “I particularly enjoyed making a huge round table – around 10 feet in diameter – which had the natural form of a tree,” he says. “It had no legs, just a central base, like a trunk, with the table top spreading outwards like branches. So it ended up looking like a really old oak in the centre of the room. And, recently, we did a project for the National Trust, which involved making curved windows – not our usual kind of work, but good fun. We had to replicate windows that had been made over 120 years earlier.”
In 2020, Rusling Furniture Makers will be exhibiting a series of uncommissioned, original furniture designs to potential new clients, in its first ever London showcase. It’s a chance for Dannie to flex his creative muscles and he says he relishes the opportunity to have complete design freedom. But he admits that, in general, he loves the collaborative aspect of working with clients. “What I enjoy most is watching somebody get excited about something that could be really boring, like a chair or a kitchen. When you go into it in a bit more depth and play about with it, everybody gets so much more out of it.”