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ldfw4: industry interview – andy keir – curiosity allotment

ldfw4: industry interview – andy keir – curiosity allotment


When we caught up with Andy Keir of Curiosity Allotment, he was working with Clint Sheldon to ensure summer can take place at The Faversham.

They were sat on stacks of broken down pallets, piles of twisted old nails were strewn at their feet, and a laptop reggae soundtrack was fighting with a cloud-covered sky about the status of the sunshine. They’d also lost their vital piece of measuring wood, and were debating whether work on the summer house they were building could continue by eye.

If you’ve been to Belgrave Music Hall you’ve seen Andy’s woodwork; it’s in Outlaws Yacht Club too, where he still has some more bits to do. The shelves at Village Bookstore in the Corn Exchange are bespoke Curiosity Allotment productions – “We’re still adding to and taking away from that” – and when new Indian street food and craft beer bar Bundobust opens on Mill Hill, that’ll be Andy’s work as well. Then there’s the fit-out of Dots Printhaus’ workshop, a treehouse within a treehouse planned within Lord Whitney’s studio, and lightboxes galore…

“Yeah, I’ve left a trail of destruction!” says Andy. “There’s either a load of OSD [aka OSB, aka oriented strand board] or scaffold boards, which are kicking around all over the place now. Everyone asks me where I get my wood from and I used to be quite open about it, but now I’m a bit guarded because I don’t want everyone to know!

“There are a few places that are taking my style, but I like that – nobody is going to do things exactly alike, there are always going to be little changes, and that’s how we progress. I’m not original, I take images and copy a lot of things, and that’s just how you do it.”

That attitude is in the tradition of Italian designer and furniture maker Enzo Mari, whose 1974 book Autoprogettazione was an open source book for furniture.

“It was just blueprints – for tables, chairs, bookshelves – and it made it affordable for anyone to make fashionable furniture in their own home. I made a lot of those out of pallets when I was at university, and still make a lot of his stuff now. I’ve done one of his tables for Urban Outfitters, and he’s really good for the chairs we’re doing here today.”

The Urban Outfitters connection is Andy’s job away from Curiosity Allotment, as a display artist charged with interpreting Urban Outfitters latest shop style guides at stores across Europe. But given more time Andy hopes to return to the sculptural artworks that sent him down the interior design path at university.

“I’d started by doing more media based stuff, like photography and film, but it wasn’t working out for me,” he says. “I was just floating in my final year, and one day I went in and found a load of materials the first years were using for a furniture building project. I did that project with them and was allowed to keep all the surplus materials, and started building more things and learning how things are put together.

“I started making bits of furniture, but more sculptural things. I used to buy a lot of old cheap furniture from Poverty Aid, and things I found in the street, and take it all apart and put it together again in a way it wasn’t built for. I used to build big rooms, more like massive climbing frames and playgrounds – my degree show went from being one little room to this big monster with loads of different kinds of videos and sounds going on, and there was even a bar in there. At the exhibition everybody was asking me what it meant but I didn’t really have any explanation for it.”

Andy doesn’t want to have to explain why he wants to bolt two wardrobes together, he just knows that he definitely wants to feel the enjoyment he gets when he bolts two wardrobes together.

“I don’t want to get caught up in the whole art thing, because I don’t really understand it, and don’t want to understand it or be a massive part of it. I just want to do it for my own reasons. I’ve never actually designed something and made it without a client being involved, which is a time thing.

“I think that element that was really always fun gets lost a bit when you work so hard. I’ve done seven days a week now for about eight months, and I need to put that fun back into the making – sculpture was where it started, so that has to be a massive part of it.”


Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

Photograph by Shang-Ting Peng

The conflict between commercial production and pleasure in design and making was another area that Enzo Mari explored in his work for the mass-manufacturer Danese, and as Andy looks ahead to loosening up his working schedule, it’s still with Leeds in mind – “a lot of people leave but I don’t think I agree with that – I got my education here, and I think you should give a bit back” – and with the pleasure he takes in his work at the forefront.

“What I used to do with broken furniture has carried on through my work, it’s just become more functional – and it’s still amazing to be able to take something and turn it to a whole new use. I do it every day, and I love it. Obviously I’ll whinge about taking thirty pallets apart and things are laborious, but you do that and then it’s all about the end product. To think that was a pallet and now it’s this – I do love it.”

The labour increases when important pieces go missing, but the frowns caused by the loss of their measuring plank lifted from Andy and Clint just before we left, when it turned up in a pile of pallets ready for their new summerhouse use. The sun still hadn’t come out, but a few more planks nailed in the right places would see to that.


Originally published in The City Talking issue 13