Kenneth McGill

Mettle in Metal

by Brett Levine
Photo by Jerry Siegel

For furniture designer Kenneth McGill, the journey to furniture was unexpected, but the skills to do so were not. “Growing up my family owned a cement company,” McGill explains, “so I had a lot of opportunities to learn to weld, to see people making parts, repairing large equipment and generally finding ways to get the job done.” This can-do attitude formed the foundation of McGill’s transformation from interested welder to furniture designer and maker.

“Basically I’ve welded as long as I can remember,” he muses, “and I realized I could take these skills and make custom dining and office furniture and tables, chandeliers, and other custom pieces.” McGill also did interior fitouts, including the pieces for the Jennifer Hunt Gallery.

He describes himself as a functional artist rather than a furniture designer. This approach has led him to have some intriguing opportunities, particularly in the area of historic preservation and restoration. “I get asked to do a lot of restoration work,” McGill remarks. “I use techniques like hot riveting that allow me to either repair or reproduce pieces with the feeling of the original. I do a lot of work for historic cemeteries or other organizations that need specialized metalwork that feels like it has been done with traditional methods.”

Commercially, he prefers to spend more time in the workshop and leave the marketing of his work to a team of professionals he has partnered with over many years, although he will work individually on commissioned pieces. “I work mainly with and through a range of interior designers in Birmingham and Destin. I have a workshop in both places,” he continues. “I opened my first workshop in Navarre Beach in 1994, and was there until 2002, when I opened a workspace in Destin. I also have a small workshop here in Birmingham, so I can move between the two and not have to constantly be hauling or shipping pieces.”

Working with interior designers allows him to create unexpected one-off pieces for specific clients rather than create a range of production furniture that is sold through a series of retailers. “I do love having the freedom to understand what a client needs and to simply produce a design. While I can and will sometimes remake a work, I prefer to try to tailor each piece to the client.” Projects include custom office suites, as well as interior works.

He also has an unexpected history of working in what you might term the fast lane. “I used to custom-build and customize race cars,” he laughs, “and I’ve even fabricated a jet car!”

Materially, McGill works predominantly in steel, although his tabletops include exquisite examples of limestone and wood designs. He sources a lot of his stone through Fragments in Birmingham which he describes as an incredible resource.

McGill understands the opportunities that social media creates, so he uses his Facebook page, Kenneth McGill Designs, as both an image repository for finished works and as an information resource for pieces that sometimes become available.

Quite simply, he loves to travel between his two workshops, work on commissions, spend time with his family and create beautiful works. “I get to spend time in my workshop, and make pieces I love. I’ve really always just tried to let my work speak for itself.”

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