‘I take an idea to design - and then to build and installation. Some designers never get to see the end result, but I get the satisfaction of going to a client and producing the finished product.’
A joiner and carpenter specialising in interior furniture, design and cabinetry, John Dowle has picked up much of his craft on the job; powered along by a childhood ambition to, one day, build his own house.
Despite having a carpenter dad at home, John’s woodwork career began in Australia - making furniture with his brother-in-law. The Oz experience helped John focus when he returned to the UK and began scouting for apprenticeships.
He eventually choose and completed a carpentry apprenticeship with a UK building outfit. It was the perfect opportunity to plug gaps in his knowledge - and to learn up the theoretical base underpinning his chosen craft.
After a few years in Sussex, working with oak and specialising in oak framing, John went back to Australia. When he returned to the UK, John focussed once again on furniture making and took the reigns at a Chiswick workshop. And he quickly won over the neighbourhood.
“The workshop was just off a cobbled street – and we ended up working with several houses on that street. It all felt very local, and the pieces we made were all unique.”
Having compiled a diverse and creative portfolio, and with former clients his biggest advocates, John decided to take the plunge and go solo. He arrived at Building BloQs in 2013.
“A friend of mine works here which is how I came to know about it,” he said. “I was working on a kitchen up here, and I got the chance to refit a four-story pub (the Culpepper) in East London. But it was way too big a job for me.
“Then, when I was working on a bench next to a chap called Neil, I just asked if he wanted to do the pub refit with me. He agreed, and we got the job. We worked together for a year and the result was stunning.”
For John, the Culpepper refit - when he and Neil joined a team of designers, builders and makers - is a project he’s particularly proud to have worked on. And by combining forces with a fellow maker, John immediately tapped into just one of Building BloQs’ added extras.
“BloQs brings together likeminded people – it creates a support network. As well as making contacts you get advice from peers. And if you need an extra hand (which you do all the time) people are here.
“For me, BloQs was a stepping stone: it helped me to decide that this was the path for me.
“If anyone wants to take their business or ideas further, without the commitment of paying for a workshop, you can do it here – with mates all around.”
John is certainly someone who wants to take his business and ideas further. His company, Designed Woodwork, is consistently servicing new orders for a market where, contrary to popular perception, there’s still a huge demand for skill and craftsmanship.
“There will always be a desire in humans to want something unique. There’s huge demand out there and, as a maker, you just need to tap into it... and that part's up to you.
“Last summer I had three big jobs on at once and you get better and better at it. It’s daunting but you gradually step up to the challenge each time. And then you take a bigger one!”
For anyone considering learning a trade, or going solo with their making skills, John's only too happy to convey the excitement of delivering new work to clients and going above and beyond to make a truly unique item for someone who'll appreciate it for the rest of their life.
“Taking an idea and producing a finished product the client's happy with is a privilege,” he said.
“My advice for anyone considering this path is to go for it, to stick at it, and to come to somewhere like BloQs – somewhere that provides service, support and a community.”
Whether it’s bidding for varied and large-scale projects, or tapping into new networks, it’s this community that’s helping skilled makers like John add new strings to their business bow.
And with the skills of fellow BloQs members behind him, John’s house building project may be only a matter of time.