By Karen Carruth

It’s not what I expected, the Chippendale International School of Furniture. Anything with school in the title offers a vision of tidy, busy, a place for everything, and everything in its place. What I find, to my joy, is a massive, slightly chaotic, rambling farmhouse which has been converted, extended, built onto over the years, to house the only independent furniture school in Scotland and all the unique characters that are inside. 
What makes it different from any other furniture school is that here, the school will turn students from novices into confident design-led cabinet makers within 30 weeks. That’s roughly half the time it would take if you followed any other school curriculum.
Founder and school principal, Anselm Fraser started the school some 30 years ago, after training with the renowned Michael Hay-Will, and he is today regarded as one of the UK’s leading exponents of the art of furniture making and design.
Unconventional and a little eccentric (not my words, I heard it many times from the students, but referenced fondly), Anselm marries the 18th century value of Thomas Chippendale with 21st century techniques. He doesn’t just talk the talk, he runs his own award-winning bespoke kitchen, furniture design and restoration business, Anselm Fraser Furniture – ensuring he brings his practical experience to his teaching. I meet him in a sprawling sitting room in the farmhouse, with random pieces of furniture all around the room, a cat on the sofa (I’d already met the school tortoise) and we have tea at the dining room table as we chat about what the school aims to achieve.
The school itself offers spaces to 25 students each year, each with their own workbench and they effectively join a community when they turn up at Haddington for their intensive training. 
The approach to teaching at the school is very simple - they believe that only by living and working with wood everyday can a student excel in this chosen discipline. 
Anselm tells me that he was told many years ago that his vision for this school was impossible, and he is pleased to prove doubters wrong. 
He adds: “Commissioning a piece of furniture is, to make a sweeping statement, a rich man’s game. So we have to prepare the students for the market that they have to reach. 
“They have to be ready in both a practical way with their skillset, but also they have to be taught how to market themselves and use PR to their advantage.”
With this in mind, the school is launching the Fine Furniture Guild, which will be a website that will bring together the collective skills of the school’s alumni, giving customers a one stop shop to access the level of workmanship and design capabilities that are available from former students. 
Successful students will have free membership of the guild, and the school will take care of the marketing and PR, giving students an online springboard for their work to be showcased to a wider audience under this collective umbrella of excellence. 
The school is a not for profit enterprise, as the guild will be, with any profits being ploughed back into the upkeep and development of the school’s facilities. 
Currently the school is attracting pupils from all over the world, men and women, as well as a wide range of ages. 
Having a chat with some of the students who are still in the school completing projects and picking up commissions, they all mention that it is an intensive course, there’s a lot to learn in the time given. 
Anselm continues: “You have to be totally committed, and open to learning. We do offer one week taster courses which give an overall view of what happens at the school to see if potential pupils think it would suit them.
“Quite often our students are people who are leaving the rat race and are looking for a second career, some often have taken early retirement and want a more fulfilling, skilful career. 
“There is nothing more enjoyable than making something with your own hands, whether you take a lump of clay and create a beautiful pot, or you take some rough wood and make a useful piece of furniture. That is a great pleasure to the craftsman.”
The school takes its responsibility for its students’ future careers seriously and offers incubation spaces, which are work areas that can be rented at discounted rates to give students the chance to start their business without the inevitable start-up costs associated with kitting out a workshop with everything a furniture maker needs, particularly if starting from scratch. 
These incubation spaces vary in size and students can use the school’s equipment and central location, as well as a mentoring and advice service from the tutors in order to give them as many opportunities as possible to make a successful business.
Economics are a force to reckon with in all industries, but particularly in the luxuries market, and Anselm makes the point that students have to learn to diversify in order to ride the ups and downs of the market place. 
“They have to learn to widen their horizons, take on commissions, offer restoration work, get into bespoke kitchen making, there’s a good market for tree houses at the moment, and I always suggest they take on an element of teaching. There is a market for offering classes to the retired, who have time on their hands and want to learn a new skill. 
“If they can do that, then they can make it. I’ve a student who has diversified into making wooden surf boards in Fife, and doing well.”
Anselm is passionate about reviving the Scottish economy by bolstering small businesses, and stresses that he was disappointed some 20 years ago when the Scottish Development Agency visited the school when he applied for a small grant, and they wouldn’t support the school. 
He says: “The Scottish Government should be supporting small businesses with a money incentive if the company has proved it has stayed in business for 10 years. Whether it is making furniture, pottery, a florist, whatever. They should be given something along the lines of £10k from the Government to support the seed businesses in Scotland. The money should then be used to invest in the company for new equipment or whatever is needed to move the business forward. The government has the money, it should be investing it more wisely.”
The school’s location has brought financial benefits to Haddington and the surrounding areas, it brings around £1m to the local economy made up of income from accommodation for the students, for the students’ visiting families, and food costs etc. 
Speaking of money, the costs of attending the school is a commitment in itself. The 30 week course costs £18,750, although there are various discounts available. That is one of the reasons the school fits the course into as short a time as possible, they are aware that students would otherwise have to fund accommodation and living expenses for longer. The fees cover all tuition, use of all the machinery, and all materials.  
The qualifications gained at the end of the course are recognised by SQA, those being two HN units, one in polishing and finishing, and the other in furniture making. 
Graduating students also receive the Chippendale International School of Furniture certificate, which is a prestigious award to bring to the workplace. The course year runs from October through to April in three 10 week blocks. 
At the end of each course, the school holds an end of year exhibition, showcasing the students work, both at the school and in Edinburgh - last year at the Scottish Parliament. 
Richard De Marco (Scottish artist and promoter of the visual and performing arts), chooses the best piece from that year’s exhibition and the creator is awarded a prize. 
I wander around the workshops, empty at the moment as ‘school’ isn’t in, but there are a few students who graduated in the summer, who have rented workspaces to work on commissions they have picked up, and they all come from different backgrounds, from all corners of the UK and they all talk about the need to do something more creative with their lives. 
Ex-policeman, Grant Palmer reached a crossroads in his life and he knew he had to decide between a career in the police long term, or take a totally different route. He saved for 18 months in order to fund the course. 
He said: “I really feel like I have finished the course fully confident in my future; I admit at the beginning I had no confidence in my ability, apart from the occasional DIY project at home, I was a novice; it was a hit and hope choice and it has been a fantastic year. 
“The pieces I have made are high end contemporary furniture, which is what I enjoy doing, and I hope to go into bespoke kitchen design, I’ve set up my own business called Dovetail and Rabbet already and I am looking forward to the future with my own business
It may appear to be a large financial outlay to train at the Chippendale school, but it also seems clear that any commitment you make as a student will be matched by the school to make sure you have every opportunity to succeed in a high end market that can bring just rewards for the committed.

Student's profile: Sandy Redpath
Sandy came to the Chippendale School straight from school, and at 19 he made the choice of a career in law or a career working with his hands and he feels he has made the right choice.
Sandy specialises in leather work as well as cabinet making, and one of his four final exhibition pieces was a stunning leather and wood armchair. “I feel like I’ve been in a bubble while I’ve been here. I’m currently renting a space at the school as I’m working on a kitchen commission, and the school often has work it has received that it offers to the former students to complete.”

Student's profile: Adam Stone

One of the most sellable pieces shown was Adam’s ten seater oak dining table which folds down to a coffee table. Adam still treats the design as a prototype as he is still working on finding a way of fitting all the seats inside as well, which would be an amazing feat of design and one that would be commercially very successful.
There are around 80 pieces of wood making up this design, all the internal moving elements are made from wood, and it remains totally level when moving it from dining to coffee table (no spills). Adam has started his own business at

Student's profile Daniel Brophy

Daniel, from Dublin, was a chef, but he was finding it tough work, and he was looking for a change. “I aim to make something special and unique, and I care about the details. I’ve had a great year here. It’s been eye opening just how much work is involved in making bespoke pieces. This last month has been really special, and I feel absolutely confident in my abilities now.”
Daniel shows his range of bicycle coffee tables, created by upcycling bicycle wheels into a usable, and stylish piece of furniture. “I’m excited to expand the range of bike tables. I love the idea of using waste and making it usable again.”

Student's profile: Ewan Ogilvie
Ewan has been renting space at the school for the last three years after graduating. Ewan specialises in stunning bespoke kitchens, there are various projects in different states of completion around the workshop, as well as restoration work. Ewan shows me how the technology of cabinet making has evolved, he uses a program called Sketch Up, which allows him to meticulously measure rooms and then give an accurate image of how the finished room will look with all cabinets in place for the client to approve. He can then add veneers to give an almost picture perfect vision.