Rupert Blanchard, Salvager & Maker
If you go North from Shoreditch High St, up the Kingsland Rd, under the railway bridge, and turn immediately left down a tiny nondescript alley, you come to a metal door without any sign, that is the entrance to the secret world of Rupert Blanchard. Here you will find many wonders. You ring the bell and wait patiently for a while, and then you hear footsteps inside before the door opens and a skinny young man with a long nose and lanky hair leans out, clutching his black cat, and smiles amiably. This is Rupert.
Step inside and find yourself in what was formerly part of the Shoreditch Police Station and latterly a furniture factory, and currently the workshop, store and dwelling of Rupert Blanchard. Up on the wall are prized specimens of Rupert’s tubular chair collection, displayed in the way that others show hunting trophies. Turn and observe Rupert’s collection of errant drawers that have lost their siblings, all stacked up neatly. Step into the next room and admire Rupert’s collection of screen-printed milk bottles artfully arranged upon a roof beam. Beyond you will find a smaller room, with further collections stacked upon shelves. It goes on and on, like the opening shot of Citizen Kane.
“My obsession with drawers and collecting began at an early age,” Rupert admitted to me, “As a child, I would enjoy riffling through a large bank of watchmaker’s drawers that lined the corridor to my grandmother’s kitchen. Each tiny drawer was full of every useful object that you could ever need, an odd screw, a piece of string, folded plastic bags, buttons, paper and pens. Everyone should have a useful drawer.”
Rupert has developed a trained eye for the beauty of the disregarded and, as a consequence, lives at the mercy of his compulsion to hoard it, taking him to at least three car boot sales a week and connecting him to an elaborate network of scavengers, junk dealers, house clearance people, skip raiders and demolition workers. “Time will run out before the rubbish does,” he pronounced, pulling a long quizzical face, shaking his head and crossing his arms in bewilderment at his crazy hoarding instinct. Yet everything here is wonderful in its way, and Rupert has found means to give new life these artifacts once their original incarnation is defunct.
Taking lone drawers that survive from broken chests of drawers, damaged doors and fragments of enamel signs, Rupert contrives elegant pieces of furniture which allow the beauty of their constituent parts to be appreciated anew. It is a question not just of the aesthetic quality of the elements but also of their history – a personal matter for Rupert, witnessing the endless destruction that goes on in house clearance as the furniture of a dying generation is trashed. “You can see when people have saved money to buy a quality piece of furniture,” he informed me in melancholic contemplation of a sole wardrobe door, placing his hand upon it tenderly, “These are people’s lives.”
There is both poetry and humour in Rupert’s work, which plays upon the tension between an appreciation of the soulful nature of the material and the contemporary sensibility of his conception. And, there is an elegant conceit to his whole endeavour. Based here in this old furniture factory, and working with metalworkers and woodworkers based in the East End, using salvaged timber – much of which is from the East End – he has created a new industry producing appealingly idiosyncratic furniture, shop fittings and interiors to fulfil an ever-growing demand.
The inspired anarchy of Rupert’s sensibility is irresistible to me, and I especially like the cabinets laminated with fragments of old enamel advertising signs. Some were found patching up holes in leaky barns, others had been cut in pieces and were discovered in scrap yards and markets, none were in a condition to be of interest to collectors. Rupert built these cabinets from the recycled plywood that is the basis of most of his furniture, which comes from hoardings around building sites, providing a plentiful supply in the East End. The tops of the cabinets are teak reclaimed from a school science lab, still with its graffiti and marks that evidence its use – and even the hinges and screws are recycled from other furniture.
Everything that Rupert collects becomes a potential piece of a puzzle, just waiting to be reassembled in an unexpected new way to create unique furniture which declares the eclecticism of its origins. He has just completed a refit of Ally Capellino’s shop in Calvert Avenue and his work is more in demand than he can supply, yet in spite of Rupert Blanchard’s success, I do get the feeling that it is all an elaborate excuse for him to pursue his first love – trawling Outer London car boot sales for the lonely drawers and broken doors that are his unlikely passion.
Cabinet made from scraps of aluminium sections of a decommissioned London bus.
Designs copyright © Rupert Blanchard
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