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Philip Koomen appointed as special advisor

posted on October 5, 2015
Philip Koomen, Sylva Foundation

Philip Koomen, Furniture and Wood Special Advisor, Sylva Foundation

Designer-maker Dr Philip Koomen has been appointed as the Sylva Foundation’s Furniture and Wood Special Advisor.

Talking about his voluntary appointment Philip Koomen commented:

“I have been involved in the work of the Sylva Foundation since advising the charity in its ground-breaking OneOak project (2009-12). Since then I have been pleased to help the foundation shape the vision and direction of its Wood programme, which came to life in 2015 with the opening of the Sylva Wood Centre. The charity’s work is in line with my own professional practice and vital if we are to foster a new generation of designer-makers using home-grown and other sustainable timbers. I am therefore really delighted to take up the role of Furniture and Wood Special Advisor.”

At the age of 22, Philip set up his first professional workshop at his parents’ home in Henley-on-Thames in 1975, having studied Furniture Design & Technology at Buckinghamshire College. He moved to his current workshop at Wheelers Barn in Checkendon, South Oxfordshire in 1984.

Philip’s vocational path was inspired by the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. He is committed to a sustainable approach to furniture design that celebrates wood and contributes to a greater understanding of our environmental responsibilities. Furthermore, he is dedicated to providing training for aspiring designer-makers; many past members have since set up their own workshops in Britain, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, Germany and Australia.

Philip and his team have produced the equivalent of over 120 years of furniture for private and institutional clients, including the stage furniture for the Hay Festival, the choir stalls for Dorchester Abbey and various overseas clients, including the international investment bank Fidelity. He has recently been commissioned by Oxford University to design and make a range of furniture for the new Blavatnik School of Government.

Philip earned a PhD in Sustainable Furniture Design from Brunel University. His doctoral research included the creation of a local cycle, sourcing and processing non-commercial timber from local estates. The resulting furniture was showcased in the touring exhibition Out of the Woods: a Sustainable Approach to Furniture Design that began at the River Rowing Museum, Henley in 2004, and “affirmed his status as one of the finest craftsmen in wood in Britain today.” BBC Homes & Antiques, 2004.

He has been awarded several fellowships, including a life fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts. In 2004 he was amongst a select group of designers invited to Buckingham Palace to celebrate the contribution of the design industry to the nation in recognition of “excellence in design”. In 2014 he was awarded a prestigious Arts Council grant to research his creative practice. The outcomes formed part of his “retrospective” exhibition, Forest to Furniture: Ideas in the Making, at the River Rowing Museum, shown this year. He also initiated and co-organised a successful symposium and public event, Ideas in the Making, on the nature of creativity at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History for over 1500 visitors.

Philip regularly exhibits, lectures and judges at design forums and academic institutions including Singapore,Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, France, Belgium, Dubai, USA and UK.

Philip Koomen’s website:

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OneOak pedestal table by Philip Koomen

posted on July 13, 2012

Master designer-maker Philip Koomen has played a significant part in the OneOak project: from guiding the sectioning of the tree after its felling, bringing partners and contacts to the project, advising on milling, grading the boards, and helping in the promotion and general steering of the project. Read more about Philip Koomen’s involvement in the OneOak Project.

In one of the last of a series of posts telling the stories of the OneOak makers and their OneOak products, we tell the story of Philip Koomen’s making of a stunning pedestal table.

One of the two OneOak boards marked ready for cutting

One of the two OneOak boards marked ready for cutting

Philip had the use of two boards from the OneOak tree. He kept all his offcuts and sent them to his son Jody, also a designer-maker.

the table top and model

The actual table top marked out and a model of the table. Notice how the figure has been matched to mirror itself.

Philip Koomen using a Veritas block place to smooth the octaganol pedestal

Philip Koomen at work using a Veritas block place to smooth the octaganol pedestal for the table. Designing the tapered octaganol pedestal was a mathematical feat aided greatly by Google Sketchup! Photo (c) Living Woods Magazine

The table compliments a chair that Philip designed recently as a speculative project. The table top has a diameter of 1.3m which is a little smaller than he would have liked but the availability of OneOak timber excluded anything larger. He says it does make it rather convenient in size as it now fits in an estate car! It has been finished with oils specifically to make it more robust as it travels with the OneOak touring exhibition over the next few months.

The OneOak pedestal table nears completion

The OneOak pedestal table, by Philip Koomen, nears completion. Photo (c) Living Woods Magazine

Philip’s table will be on display at Art in Action 19-22nd July. There it will join dozens of other items made from the OneOak tree, including a coffee table made by his son Jody.

Visit the website of Philip Koomen Furniture

Category: OneOak project, Wood

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Join us for talk and show at River and Rowing Museum

posted on March 11, 2015
OneOak project event at the Henley River and Rowing Museum

OneOak project event at the Henley River and Rowing Museum


On Saturday March 21st, at the River and Rowing Museum, join Sylva’s Jen Hurst and Master Craftsman Philip Koomen for a ‘forest to furniture’ talk and tour of the stunning wood craft exhibition.

Two years on the OneOak project continues to inspire people with its unique message of sustainable forest management, creativity and education. Find out how Sylva is building on the success of OneOak to launch a new national education project for teachers and educators.

For more information, and to book you place, click here

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Opening of the Sylva Teaching Barn

posted on January 22, 2019

Last Wednesday evening we opened the doors of our brand new Teaching Barn to promote the vision for the Sylva Wood School.

We enjoyed showing our trustees, funders, collaborators and friends from industry around our well-equipped teaching venue and explaining future planned developments for the Wood Centre.  Some of the creative businesses we host also opened up their workshops, highlighting the incredible community that has rapidly developed over the past three years – it was clear to see the potential for any students coming onto the site to learn from such a diverse range of experts.

Teaching Barn at the Sylva Wood Centre

Teaching Barn at the Sylva Wood Centre

The feedback from the evening was overwhelmingly positive.  It was wonderful to see the furniture industry well-represented by Dids Macdonald and Tony Smart of the Furniture Makers Company, designer-makers Richard Williams and Philip Koomen, as well as representatives of heavyweights such as William Hands and Ercol.  We look forward to further strengthening our relationship with the sector to teach and guide people into the industry.

Joseph Bray, Head of Wood School, shared his thoughts on the future of education in the wood sector focussing on the opportunities to deliver excellence in education and business enterprise.

“Schools have changed from woodwork to much broader D&T and over the past 10 years the decline in entries to GCSE has reduced by well over 50%  The emphasis of these courses has significantly moved away from making! Colleges offering vocational furniture training can almost be counted on one hand and University level craft programmes have declined significantly some closing workshops and some closing all together.  Often graduates are pushed out into the world with varying levels of support and guidance.

“An exception to the rule is our close neighbour Rycotewood in Oxford.  We hope to enhance our close relationship continuing to work closely with staff, students and graduates.

“The future can feel bleak, however we exist outside the formal education system and as a creative and flexible organisation we are able to offer a range of programmes that will plug some of the gaps.  We plan to build a schools programme for those unable to access making on the school curriculum. We will provide workshops and skills training to students who cannot access this at college or University and we will continue the excellent work already started in providing support for graduates within the community of creative enterprises that make up our site.”

Joseph is midway through an inspiring Churchill Fellowship, travelling to world-renowned institutions delivering furniture craft education in USA and Europe.  He is investigating how they continue to support students to learn craft skills in light of the challenges within the education sector and how students are supported on graduation.  This experience is especially helpful at this stage of the development of our Wood School. He is off to Europe in March and we look forward to hearing what he has learnt on his return.

We are currently delivering a programme of weekend courses using some excellent external tutors as we build up to the launch of a range courses in the summer and beyond – watch this space for some exciting opportunities.  Read more

Sylva Foundation is very grateful to the following funders for their support in constructing and furnishing the Teaching Barn: Aspen Trust, D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust, Oxfordshire LEADER, People’s Postcode Lottery, Shanly Foundation.

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OneOak coffee table

posted on July 11, 2012
Designer-Maker Jody Koomen has completed his making of a OneOak coffee table. It was made using Philip Koomen’s off cuts.
OneOak table by Jody Koomen

OneOak table by Jody Koomen, with his two year old daughter Maya

Talking about his work Jody explained:
“I decided on this table design because it is very minimal and can be made using a small amount of timber, which, in my case, was the key problem to overcome. I very much enjoyed working with this highly charactered oak and it was very satisfying to make the knots and splits a central feature of the table top. These defects or imperfections in wood are often regarded as inappropriate for fine furniture; however, to me they bring a piece of furniture to life and allow the personality of the tree to be revealed.
I originally designed this table as a dining table; however, I thought it would work equally well as a coffee table. To give you some indication of the size of this table I’ve included a picture of my two year old sitting at the table.”
Category: OneOak project, Wood

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Telling tale of how tree lives on

posted on May 8, 2012

One of our OneOak Makers, Philip Koomen, was featured last week in an excellent article in The Oxford Times. Also, our CEO Dr Gabriel Hemery gave a talk at Philip’s workshops last weekend as part of Oxfordshire Artweeks.

You can read The Oxford Times article here

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Father and Son team start work on OneOak furniture

posted on March 20, 2012

One of Britain’s leading designer makers, Philip Koomen, has started work on his OneOak piece of furniture. We will be following his progress over the next few months. He is collaborating with his son Jody Koomen, also a designer maker, who will be using the offcuts from Philip’s work to make his own pieces.

Philip has been an advisor to the OneOak project, assisting in the specifications for the milling, and helping to bring together many of the designer makers.

Philip Koomen and Jody Koomen, furniture makers

Philip and Jody Koomen, father and son furniture designers and makers, in front of their OneOak boards outside Philip’s workshop in south Oxfordshire

Philip’s workshops are based in south Oxfordshire (see Philip Koomen Furniture), while his son is based in Northumberland in the north of England (see Jody Koomen Furniture).


Category: OneOak project, Wood
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OneOak fine furniture competition

posted on March 12, 2012

Last year, students from Oxford & Cherwell Valley College’s (OCVC) Rycotewood Furniture Centre worked with all the school children in the OneOak project to design outdoor seating (read more). The students based their designs on the work of the children, and five schools are now proud owners of some unique seating in their playgrounds, made from the green (unseasoned) timber of the OneOak tree.

One year later, the remaining boards cut from the main stem of the OneOak tree have been seasoned and are with many professional furniture makers, joiners and craftspeople. Some of the boards were donated to OCVC for a fine furniture competition, and students there have been hard at work drawing up plans and scale models for their entries.

Last week an expert panel came together to view the entries. They were Joe Bray from OCVC Rycotewood, Dr Simon Fineman who is Chairman and CEO of  Timbmet, Dr Philip Koomen of Philip Koomen Furniture, and our own CEO Dr Gabriel Hemery.

OneOak fine furniture competition judging 2012

OneOak fine furniture competition 2012 judging panel. Left to right: Joe Bray OCVC; Dr Simon Fineman, Chairman & CEO Timbmet; Dr Philip Koomen, Philip Koomen Furniture; Dr Gabriel Hemery, CEO Sylva Foundation

The judges were delighted with the number of entries and their quality. It was exciting to see the talent emerging in a new generation of craftspeople. It was difficult making our decision but two winning entries were identified. The makers will be informed today and we will make a full announcement on this website soon.

The two winners will be donated the OneOak boards to make their winning designs; the furniture pieces joining our OneOak exhibitions from July onwards.

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OneOak timber in the hands of Makers

posted on November 22, 2011

A major milestone was reached in the OneOak project yesterday. The timber was removed from the drying kiln at Deep in Wood sawmill, and the Makers came to collect their boards.

OneOak Makers - November 2011

Some of the OneOak Makers gathered in the timber shop at Deep in Wood

Makers present included Philip Koomen, Derek Elliot, Robert Ingham, Philip Clayden, Simon Clements, Martin Damen, Terry Hardaker, Pathway Workshop, and students from Rycotewood Furniture Centre (Oxford & Cherwell Valley College) led by Chris Hyde and Joseph Bray.

These makers will be working mostly with the main sawn boards from the OneOak tree, and their products will join those already made by other makers from its branchwood and waste products. All Makers will now get underway in making a myriad of wooden objects from the OneOak tree’s timber, in readiness for our major exhibitions from Summer 2012.

Our huge thanks to James Binning and team at Deep in Wood for hosting the event and for their generous support of the  OneOak project over the last two years.


Category: OneOak project, Wood

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OneOak exhibition at Blenheim Palace craft fair

posted on June 2, 2010

We took the OneOak project to the general public during the three day Art, Design and a Taste of Summer craft fair at Blenheim Palace over the three day May Bank Holiday weekend.

Hundreds of people came to the stand to watch our film of the OneOak felling, to watch carvers from the Oxon & Bucks Branch of the British Woodcarving Association (Brian, Jeff and Liz), and to see original watercolours (Rebecca Hind), botanical drawings (Sarah Simblet) and photographs of the OneOak tree (Sam Scott-Hunter). Philip Koomen’s iconic Pondlife Bench attracted plenty of attention.

We really enjoyed talking to all who came to see us, especially the many discussions we had around the subject of sustainable woodland management.  For some people found the idea of felling a 160 year old tree was challenging but when we discussed the ideas behind the project and the notion of bringing Britain’s woodlands into management, often opinions changed.  Clearly the idea of using more locally-produced wood receives plenty of support but forestry, and foresters, need to work more on public communication.

We are extremely grateful to all the people who came to see us and joined with us in so many interesting discussions.  It was great to see some of the children from our partner schools coming along with their families.  We are especially grateful to those who supported use at the exhibition:

Category: OneOak project

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