Peters, Alan George (19332009), furniture designer-maker, was born on 17 January 1933 at 8 Sheep Street, Petersfield, Hampshire, the son of George Peters, toolmaker, and his wife, Evelyn Gladys Amy, née Weeks. Touring around the countryside with his father at a young age kindled Peters's love for nature and inspired his interest in wood. He was educated at Petersfield and Cowplain schools. At the age of sixteen he became apprenticed to Edward Barnsley, the foremost English furniture maker of his time and a leading figure in the arts and crafts movement, a period which had emphasized simplicity of form and truth to material. Peters spent seven years at the Barnsley workshop before completing a teacher training course at Shoreditch Training College in Egham, Surrey, where he gained a diploma with distinction. He then worked as a schoolteacher. In 1959 he met his future wife, Laura Robinson (b. 1940), who at the time was reading English at Royal Holloway College. She was the daughter of Arthur Robinson, of Lincoln, and they married at All Saints Church, Bracebridge, on 18 August 1962. She offered dedicated support to Peters throughout his career. They had a daughter and a son.
In the same year as his marriage Peters won a scholarship to study interior design at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. Also in 1962 he established his first workshop, at Grayshott, Hindhead, Surrey, where he took on his first apprentice, James Druce, and later Kevin Harris. He became known for his understated, clean-lined furniture designs. He paid particular respect to the movement of wood. Timber, he said, is like a sponge, continually taking in moisture (Broun). In 1968 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Designer-Craftsmen.
In 1973 Peters moved to Kentisbeare, Devon, where he converted some old farm buildings into workshops. He took on Keith Newton and Stephen Hopper as apprentices and many students for work experience, including, among others, Jane Cleal, Colin Freeman, Robin Furlong, Michael Fortune (from Canada), Roger Holmes and Peter Kuh (from the USA), Jurgen Kramer (from Germany), Samir Saba (from Sweden), and Sean Treacy (from Ireland).
Peters, alongside John Makepeace and Martin Grierson, became a key figure in the Seventies British Craft Furniture Revival of small independent workshops that was in general a reaction to the unimaginative and hidebound mainstream furniture industry in Britain, although Peters himself had no concerns about this but just wished to run a creative workshop of his own. In 1975 he received a medal of excellence from the Society of Designer-Craftsmen. The same year he was awarded a Crafts Council bursary to visit Japan, where he studied vernacular wooden architecture. Along with a Churchill fellowship in 1980 to South Korea and Taiwan this marked a turning point in his approach to making furniture, with him focusing less on decoration and more on structure and form. A good example was his Bowl table made in solid ash. The adzed fruit bowl recess in the solid stack-laminated top with all components shrinking/expanding together was unmistakably Peters's work.
In 1984 Peters's book Cabinetmaking: the Professional Approach was published; it soon became a classic reference work, forging his reputation worldwide. In 1978 he was asked to revise The Technique of Furniture Making, by Ernest Joyce, the furniture makers' bible. Throughout his career he lectured abroad, particularly in New Zealand, Australia, the USA, and Canada. In 1990 he was appointed OBE for his services to furniture making. His furniture designs were displayed in museums in Bath, Cheltenham, Bristol, and Leicester, and were purchased by the V&A in London and as part of the Craft Study Centre collections.
Peters's final workshop was established at Minehead, Somerset, in 2002, the same year he received an Award of Distinction from the American Furniture Society. However, soon after this he began to develop vascular dementia and stopped making commissioned work. In 2005 Jeremy Broun filmed footage for Alan Peters: the Makers' Maker, but in that year Peters ceased any meaningful workshop activity. He died of bronchopneumonia at Orchard Court, Harp Chase, Taunton, on 11 October 2009, and was survived by his wife, Laura, their daughter, Christine, and their son, David. The last piece he worked on, in 2005, was completed in 2010 by Andrew Lawton, who had worked with him in that year.
Alan Peters was not just an impeccable craftsman but also a modest innovator who made an art of his craft. He once said that If some day someone regards a piece of my furniture as a work of art, it's a bonus, but that's not my motive in producing it (personal knowledge). He had a distinctive style, with the rare skill of producing timeless pieces such as his ebony fan table and dished table. His innovations included protruded tenons through carcase sides (allowing for timber movement) and exposed pins on drawer lapped dovetails (showing honesty of construction). He was known for stroking the wood, and he also touched most who crossed paths with him by his down-to-earth manner. To a generation of woodworkers he was the foremost British furniture designer-maker and part of his legacy was the integrity he expressed in his work and in his dealings with others.
J. Broun, Alan Peters: the makers' maker, book and DVD (2009) · The Times (24 Oct 2009) · The Guardian (29 Oct 2009) · Daily Telegraph (31 Oct 2009) · The Economist (5 Nov 2009) · WW (2009) · personal knowledge (2013) · private information (2013) [Laura Peters, widow] · b. cert. · m. cert. · d. cert.
South West Film and Television Archive, news footage
Alan Peters: the makers' maker, documentary, J. Broun, 2009
Wealth at death
under £138,000: probate, 8 April 2010, CGPLA Eng. & Wales