Furniture and Related Objects

Depending on the level you wish to study, the furniture courses give students well-rounded woodworking theory and skills that enhance your employment prospects and work towards becoming a professional furniture maker or conservator. You will benefit from close connections with the heritage sector, study trips, placement opportunities and visits from industry experts.

Take a Virtual Tour of the studio and college.

Levels 4 & 5: Foundation Degree in Furniture
The Foundation Degree in Historic Craft Practices specialising in furniture allows our students to embark on more and more challenging projects which may incorporate your own designs. In the second year you can choose to develop your furniture making and finishing proficiency or begin to develop basic skills in furniture restoration. Ideal for those wanting a hands-on career, away from an office desk.

Level 6: Graduate Diploma in Conservation Studies
Allows you to further your interest in conservation and progress to the MA Conservation Studies.

Level 7: MA Conservation Studies
The global industry standard for conservation.

Students are provided with objects from historical and private collections to work on (from archaeological finds to decorative arts objects), to acquire and practise both established and developing techniques. Recent examples include a c.1786 ceremonial Verge from The Admiralty, oriental lacquer boxes and an 18th century chair owned by Horace Walpole from Strawberry Hill Trust. You will have the unique opportunity to undertake interdisciplinary work with students from other specialisms, for example where an object is mixed materials, to broaden your understanding of a variety of materials.

Significant emphasis is placed on developing hand skills through practical work. In conservation, your application of treatments to historic objects will be underpinned through understanding both structural and decorative materials, their properties, identification, degradation and stabilisation.

Your projects will use appropriate methods to document objects and assess their condition, discuss treatment strategies, and take part in decision-making. Outcomes are recorded, discussed and communicated as part of learning through practice. The work will increase in complexity and throughout your time you will work with increasing autonomy.

After you graduate and career progression

The College’s extensive links with museums, conservators and professional bodies in the heritage sector opens up an impressive range of work placement opportunities. 

Foundation degree graduates go on to work in the trade as professional furniture makers, designers or repairers, or pursue further education. Placement opportunities in year two, allow students to experience a real workshop environment.

Graduate Diploma students often choose to further their studies on the MA Conservation Studies which includes a six week work placement. Alumni typically then go on to work as conservators with public and private collections within the heritage sector, nationally and internationally, with conservation businesses or as independent conservators, furniture makers, designers or restorers. Examples include: 

  • The Maritime Museum in Rotterdam
  • Conservation Letterfrack in Ireland, Brighton
  • Museum and Knole House
  • The Royal Collection Trust
  • Science Museum
Read more in our interviews with alumni

Facilities

The specialist furniture workshop is equipped with a full range of power and hand tools and individual workspaces for each student. There is a dedicated finishing area, and a separate machine shop. Students also have access to facilities shared with other departments, including:

  • Analytical laboratory
  • Photography space
  • IT suite
  • Specialist library

The on-site College Art and Conservation Library has thousands of specialist books and journals and all students have access to specialist databases in the IT suite.

Find out more about the facilities

Before coming to West Dean I managed a woodworking workshop in Sydney for an environmental charity. Our goal was to prevent perfectly good furniture items and furniture history from going to landfill. It was in this time that I came across Shayne Rivers and Nick Umney’s Conservation of Furniture and came to find the world of conservation.

West Dean College was the obvious choice for me to go and train and learn; a furniture conservation programme with a dedication to craft and practical skills as well as a foundation in science and ethical contexts. We get the opportunity to work on actual objects, practising and testing our own hand skills in balance with theory and science. 

If I think about my time here, the biggest delights have been in meeting so many like-minded people and visiting so many professional establishments (in particular when we all travelled to Vienna). Being able to talk regularly with passionate students and professionals has been amazing. 

Shane Orion Wiechnik, Graduate Diploma student

Tutors

Norbert Gutowski

Subject Leader
Associate Fellow of the HEA

Norbert is a furniture maker - conservator with almost two decades of tutoring experience, who has also worked extensively as a fine antique furniture conservator- restorer.

Tristram Bainbridge MA ACR

Subject Tutor, Furniture and Related Objects

Tristram works as a contract furniture conservator at the V&A and in private practice. He has lectured in conservation at the City and Guilds of London and at Camberwell College of Art.

Courses

  • FdA Historic Craft Practices - Furniture

    The Foundation Degree in Historic Craft Practices is designed to give you well-rounded woodworking theory and skills that will enhance your employment prospects or allow you to continue your studies in higher education. Furniture making projects become more challenging and may incorporate your own designs. In the second year students can choose to develop furniture making and finishing proficiency or begin to develop basic skills in furniture restoration/conservation.

  • Graduate Diploma Conservation Studies

    The Graduate Diploma provides the theoretical and practical knowledge and experience necessary to start your career as a conservator and to begin to develop an area of specialisation. The programme is designed to be accessible from both the humanities and science study backgrounds. 

  • MA Conservation Studies

    The MA Conservation Studies equips you with the high level specialist skills sought by the conservation sector. This rigorous and highly respected programme draws on an extensive sector network, nationally and internationally, including industry bodies such as Icon.