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Meet the creator: Richard Thomas

4 March 2019 / Meet the Creator /

Richard Thomas

As the re-creation of The Glasshouse nears completion – we’re waiting with bated breath – we’re bringing you a series of three fascinating interviews with some of the creative professionals involved.

Richard Thomas was commissioned by interior designers Martin Hulbert Design to design and create two pieces for the luminous new interior of The Glasshouse. But first we asked him to brighten up the plywood in The Grove’s reception, which hides all the work taking place. The result was this stunning wall of plates – the very plates that had been used in the old restaurant. This wall comes down in a matter of weeks when the lavish new space is unveiled.

Read Richard’s light-hearted how, whys and wherefores below.

We love the plate wall but never know what to call it – what’s its proper title?
It doesn’t have a proper name as such, but me and my friends call it ‘The Great Wall of China’…

Hoarding by Richard Thomas

Photo by Bruno Rondinelli

When The Glasshouse re-opens, it’s the end of the story for the plate wall. Will you be sanguine, or sad?
I don’t think I’ll feel sad because that was its intention all along. In fact I see it as a last hurrah for the plates.

Be honest. How many plates did you break in the making of it?
Only two! I was really happy with that. A few of the test plates broke when I tried to get them off the wall.

How did you actually stick them to the wall?
I get a lot of customers asking me this! I used a trade brand of contact adhesive, which is really, really strong. People press me for the name of the brand, but it’s really unfortunate, it’s called ‘Sticks like shit’. Excuse the swearing but this is literally its name. It’s a testament to its strength that, as I said, some plates broke as I pulled them off the wall.

Did you think about how many people had eaten their dinners on these plates?
Kind of, when I was putting them up, because when you look closely they are marked. One of the guys working at The Grove did actually comment upon how many times he must have eaten off these plates!

Did you consider using cutlery too?
I did, but I like simplicity so cutlery would have made it too cluttered. I always try to achieve simplicity in everything I do. For instance, I make quite a lot of birthday cards for family and friends and I always use a simple repetition to make a nice pattern, like dots or scalpel holes in the same direction. I went a bit overboard with the last card for my girlfriend’s birthday: I bore a pattern of little holes into walnut wood and inlaid brass!

You’re making some more artworks for The Glasshouse, which will be unveiled when it reopens. Any hints as to what they’re like?
There’s a continuation of repetition, and there will be a little bit of colour. One of them involves plates again; the other one doesn’t. One is actually made up of two separate pieces that function as room dividers. Some of it is TBC so I shouldn’t really say any more!

What was your pathway to work like this?
I studied architecture, and though I really enjoyed it, by the end I knew I didn’t want to be an architect. I started working as a glass artist assistant as part of a project growing human noses! Then I worked for Conran for 3.5 years and became a design and fabrication manager. I left there to work for a bigger variety of clients, but I don’t know how I’ve found myself in this situation really – work just keeps coming along and somehow clients find me.

Richard Thomas design

What did you make at Conran?
I was asked to make really weird, fun stuff for their window displays and shop fixtures, including blinding pink neon windows full of huge moving perspex snowflakes and chandeliers; creating a beach complete with beach hunts; a labyrinth of scaffold structures to display rugs in a way that was reminiscent of a bazaar and a huge outdoor structure inspired by Tuscany in the summer.

How would you describe yourself – an installation artist or designer or what?
One of the reasons that I’m barely on social media currently is that I don’t want to be pigeon-holed. I have no reason to find my niche. I like to fall between the cracks. That’s important for my work and I never want a potential client to say, ‘oh he does this kind of thing not that kind of thing’. All I know is that I like problem-solving so, if anything, I’m more of a designer than an artist and sometimes I call myself a carpenter – as a get out to the question ‘what job do you do’ – I’m not a carpenter! Likewise, I enjoy working with people who are not sure about what they want. The name I trade under, Niblo, is a nickname which my mum used for me. It’s vague, and that’s important to me. I’m not a dedicated anything, and that’s important to me.

We spotted you on Instagram just a handful of posts. Our ‘Great wall of china’ is there, and this giant suitcase for Harrods.
Yes it’s probably the piece I felt the most relieved about when it was in place. The client was really happy, and that’s important to me. It was gratifying to make because it involved so many problems I hadn’t solved before, like the laminations and the giant buckle – I love the process of making as much as the finished thing. It took about six weeks to build, excluding all the CAD drawings, measuring the access route in Harrods and winching it out of my basement studio!

Favourite thing about The Grove?
It’s not stuffy. I like the idea that they’re open to experimentation and play.

Favourite dish you hope will be served up on the new plates when The Glasshouse reopens?
I’m keen to try the cauliflower dish from the tandoor oven at The Glasshouse, I love cumin!

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