In the quiet setting of the Glendalough Hotel in Laragh, Dave Stapleton had the chance to speak with James Grace, a man with a perpetual passion for wood, to learn his story.
James is a traditional timber framer based in Dunlavin, with a passion for wood, design and craft — he is the owner of Grace Design, a company which creates bespoke architecture and furniture solely with wood.
‘I’ve worked with wood as far back as I can remember’ he said.
“My earliest memories of wood are of hammering nails through a couple of pieces lying on the floor of my father’s shed and examining them curiously to feel the strength, weight and all the other sensory things that children do with natures most-used and most-often overlooked material.”
James originally plied his trade as a carpenter, but always found himself displeased when the beauty of his woodworking was ‘covered up’:
In 2008, James set out to build a home for his family, utilising a method named ‘post and beam’. This was the catalyst that inspired James to set up his own company, with the beauty of wood at the heart of his new vision.
“When I built a post and beam style house, it really made me fall back in love with the beauty of woodwork. The finished home was quite unusual compared to most in Ireland, despite this primal art being employed by kings, craftsmen and peasants alike for thousands of years” — James wished to echo the architecture of the past, in a modern format.
With newfound vision and passion, James set up Grace Design, a small business aiming to craft furniture and sculptures from wood. With James and his wife at the helm, they couple veered their ship into unknown territory waters of business start-ups “with just tools and a workshop”.
Despite being set up during the economic down turn, Grace Design nailed itself as a formidable design team in a niche market, crafting many projects for different clients; unique garden furniture for hotels, coastal and private installations, to name a few.
In 2014, James said it was time to expand; the company expanded their services into bespoke architecture. The team also expanded; Grace Design became a formidable trio with expertise in antique restoration, green woodworking, carpentry and structural design.
The work done by James and his team is inspired by Japanese architecture, which was clear when he spoke of his fondness for its’ lasting structural integrity and beauty: “Look at all the structures in Japan that are crafted from wood — they have stood the test of time, and are truly beautiful.”
James told me they like to source what they can locally, with douglas fir wood sourced from Wicklow being their main choice of material. The pieces the team crafts are made to last, while maintaining a beautiful aesthetic: “When we design a piece, we aim for it to last at least 50 years, and even then small sections can be replaced to maintain a piece.”
When Grace Design takes on a project, James’ emphasised that each project is met with a personalised and unique approach: “We work with the client to find out what you’re looking for, and create something that nobody has ever seen before.
“We aim to create shapes and structures that will not only be lasting in a structural sense, but will incorporate beautiful architecture that will resonate with people, and will never have a end life.”
When working on a design or structure, Grace Design offers clients the option to incorporate wood from the local area for that particular project, to add an optional extra personal touch.
The team focuses on highly detailed and unique finishes when creating architecture, and also aims to incorporate designs that date back years — but it’s not just the beauty that makes timber frames so appealing, according to James.
“Wooden structures are the safest in fires, hence why fire doors are created from wood. Wood also prevents mould condensation in a home, and can help one recover from sickness faster.
“Steel and concrete structures emit carbon, but when you use timber you’re helping reduce carbon — wood really does just tick every box.
“Wood in Ireland is wasted on fences, if we continue the way we are going in Ireland, we won’t see structures made from Irish timber in years to come.”
Another aspect James highlighted was the company aims to do what they can to help the environment: ” We work entirely without power tools when creating a piece.”
To learn more about Grace Design, check out their website at http://gracedesign.ie/