Though today he’s best known for his dramatic contemporary furniture that fuses wood with concrete, Randy Mugford didn’t set out to design furniture. “Furniture found me,” says Mugford, who lives in Portuguese Cove, Nova Scotia. “I recognized that this was a lifestyle I could chase after, something that I could mature and take further.”
An entrepreneur always looking for new passions to pursue, Mugford worked for years as a graphic designer, with projects in publishing, retail, and brand management. “Everything in life moulds you and prepares you for the next venture,” he says.
But it was building his own house that became the launch pad for his biggest creative pursuit. “I did a lot of unique things in the house with concrete,” he says. “I did the tubs, showers, sinks, floors, and countertops in different colours and textures, all integrated with wood.”
He soon began making furniture to match the new surfaces. Encouraged by support from the Nova Scotia Designer Crafts Council, Mugford started designing and handcrafting benches, tables, countertops, and sinks.
He often finds inspiration while exploring the woods and barrens near his home. “I’ll be on a 10-K run and will think of a cool bench idea and sketch it out in my mind…Much like a painting, it changes over the course of the project. Not the dimensions, but the look and feel.”
As a self-taught artist, Mugford says local recognition doesn’t come easily. “It’s difficult in Halifax to get recognition as an artist, especially if you don’t have accreditation of an art program,” he says. “Being self-taught turns away about 50 per cent of people. We’ve been schooled to think that way.”
But a recent project is building his profile. Mugford was one of 45 wood artisans picked (and one of two artisans from outside of Vancouver Island) to create a piece for oneTree, an exhibition at the Robert Bateman Centre in Victoria. Artisans created works from the wood of one maple tree in the Cowichan Valley, B.C. that was felled last year for health and safety reasons.
Mugford designed a bench/coffee table made of the B.C. wood fused with Nova Scotia granite and cement. “It pushed me to join concrete to wood, to artistically cut the wood and place it in the concrete and then polish it out,” he says. “I was truly honoured to get into Robert Bateman’s gallery. I’m starting to get a whole new level of recognition. It’s increased tenfold.”
It’s also sparked him to create a new line of furniture featuring tree motifs inspired by the rugged landscape where he lives. “I got about 4,000 responses to one photo I posted on Facebook. That encouraged me to take it further.”