Oakland's presently produce five major ranges: The York, the Winchester, the Westminster, the Salisbury; and the Coventry. These are distinguished by their overall style, by the wood used, by hardware, and by the elements available within the range. This leads to many possible permutations. Each unit is itself made up out of a number of subassemblies and components. Overall there are some 22,000 separate parts described on paper records.
For example, the York range includes dining tables, chairs, and sideboard elements which can be made up in different ways. The style is very simple, even severe, set off by an inset carved leaf motif, and featuring square cut corners and rectangular cross sections to the table and chair legs (rather than a turned cross section or a pedestal design, for instance). The wood is oak, which is finished in various ways: a light finish, a dark finish, and a limed finish. The table is available in two basic sizes, both of them extensible with removable leaves. The smaller can accommodate up to eight people, while the larger can manage 14. Chairs are available with straight backs and in carver style. The sideboard elements come in three different base sizes: one, two and three door widths. Each segment can be equipped with a simple cupboard, or with a drawer above a cupboard below. Several different tops are also available: an open shelved "dresser" top; a glazed display top; and a bookshelf top. Different widths are available to suit the base sizes. There are alternatives for the handles, etc.: iron ring style; brass ring style, and simple wooden knobs. Because of the great expense of oak, all the flat surfaces are made up of carefully selected veneers, matched to look like solid wood. The contrasts with some of the other ranges, where veneers are used as decorative panels with ornate inlays to set them off.
Table: top surface: end pieces (2) blockboard surface veneer end edge side edges (2) leaf inserts (2) blockboard surface veneer edges (2) subframe inner box section solid sections (4) size a woodscrews (8) extender nut unit size b woodscrews (2) outer box section solid sections (4) size a woodscrews (8) extender bolt unit extender bush extender bearing size b woodscrews (4) leg assemblies (4) solid stock castor size b woodscrews (3) size c woodscrews (12) [attachment of table top ends to subframe] size d woodscrews (16) [attachment of legs to subframe] extender handle
The design process
Rowan Gregory and the team of design assistants are all familiar with the idiosyncrasies of wood as a material. This is essential as otherwise items might not be strong enough for their purposes. One of Oakland's hallmarks is the intimate union of the characteristics of natural timber with functional design. Essentially, however, the design of basic items is standard and traditional in derivation. The design activity concentrates on alterations in the overall look of a range, and in the precise element combinations that are catered for. Rowan is very interested in using modern technology such as CAD to streamline the production side of the design process and to facilitate the wider use of decorative motifs and elegant cabinet making features such as dovetailed joints on solid timber pieces. The new panel shaping machine Rowan helped to develop was a step in this direction. It enables complicated cuts to be made in panels, enabling the automatic replication of, for example, relief carving. Rowan's contribution was to help devise a "clever" adaptive randomisation program. This enables variation in replication to be achieved. It is also able to cater (up to a point at least) for variations in the natural characteristics of the timber being machined. Together, these features enable the machine to provide a convincing emulation of the unique variation found with hand carving.
Another key specialty of Oakland's is the design exploitation of specimen timber opportunities. When these become available, the design team work out a limited edition of one of their main ranges using the specimen stock. In some cases this might involve the adjustment of key parameters for better strength. In others it might involve little more than the substitution of the specimen for the usual timber. A final feature of Oakland's approach is the bespoke side of activity. This is a major expressive outlet for Rowan Gregory and the design team. However, it requires very careful costing and control to avoid undue disruption to their main lines of production.