Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, John Bird moved to the Cayman Islands in 2004 when the opportunity presented itself. Since then he has orchestrated the design and construction of wine cellars, bar tables and entire interior spaces for many landmark restaurants in Grand Cayman and scores of custom furniture, walk-in closets, kitchens and outdoor spaces for private residences. His work ranges from classic to contemporary and showcases a diversity of wood in a strikingly beautiful manner through his superior design and craftsmanship.
The highly revered designer admitted he hasn’t always had an artistic flair and that he tapped into the ribbon of artistry that ripples through his family. Nevertheless, he is an award-winning designer and artisan with over 20 years of custom wood work experience, and his work speaks to his community to quality and innovation.
What is your professional background?
I have a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. I wanted to get into teaching but that didn’t work out, so then I decided that I wanted to become a wood worker. I gave myself four months to figure it out … and it worked! I was a glue-and-screw kind of guy. I made everything out of reclaimed materials. I loved what I was doing and people were buying [my pieces].
About two or three years later, I had an opportunity to apply for a position at Parnham College in Dorset. It’s a two-year course and they only accept 11 students each year. You’re in the middle of nowhere in this huge house. It’s quite idyllic and amazing. Parnham taught me traditional joinery and design. My diploma is in furniture design.
What inspires you most when you’re designing a piece?
I get inspired through all sorts of things. Music helps a lot, but it can anything, really. I comb through lots of magazines and websites. Over the past 20 years I’ve been introduced to a lot of high-profile designers in the world who have influenced me in different ways. I also have a lot of books full of tear sheets of ideas. So really, my inspiration comes from everywhere.
Do you design and sell pieces that have not been commissioned?
Not much anymore. Before I came to Cayman and I was on my own, I had time to do whatever I wanted to do. I would put on a show twice a year to sell the pieces. Now I focus on the custom-ordered pieces.
Is there a specific piece that you have created that is the most memorable?
There are thousands of pieces that are memorable but there are a couple of pieces that I designed in Cayman that stand out in my mind. I’m pretty proud of the bar at Calypso Grill, which I built, and the bar and interior at Barolo. Before I came to Cayman, I had just bought 18,000 linear feet of reclaimed Douglas fir wood for flooring. My boss at the time said to bring it with me. Now, it’s the flooring at Copper Falls Steakhouse.
Right now, we’re working on walk-in closets and a few pieces for residential property. We made a desk from logwood for their wine room, which we sliced in half and took the two exposed sides and laid them side-by-side to mirror each other. I’ve also been working on a series of live oak wood benches for their yard and have carved in ripples to mimic the canal the benches will face.
How has your work changed over time?
When I first started in Vancouver in the 1990s, a lot of houses were being torn down because of the influx of Hong Kong immigrants who fled their country in 1997 during the handover from England to mainland China. They came to the west coast and bought a lot of land and started building houses. When they returned to Hong Kong, all of these houses ended by in the dumpster, so I reclaimed the wood. Then I went to school at Parnham and the contemporary modern feel [was there because I was] using reclaimed wood, so I did that for several more years.
I love using reclaimed wood – it’s where I started – but there’s very little [in Cayman] to use. And for a long while mostly everyone in Cayman was of the frame of mind to buy everything in containers, and a lot of the work I was doing was cabinetry. Now I’m going back to my schooling with the furniture I make, truly designing innovative pieces that are unique and timeless.
Where can people see some of the work you’ve done?
Aside from the work I’ve done for Barolo, Copper Falls and Calypso Grill, I’ve designed pieces for Tukka, Waterfront Urban Diner and Yoshi Sushi. I designed the wine cellar at Hemingway’s and Lobster Pot. I also made the boardroom table and several smaller pieces for MaplesFS, and I created several small benches for Walkers, which were given as awards.
What would you create is you had unlimited resources?
What I would really like to do in the Owen Roberts International Airport is a huge wooden mural of Stingray City on a wall, with about 15 or 20 stingrays and ripples carved throughout. That would be a highly intense job, but I would love to do it.
To commission John Bird, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Published: Skies Magazine, March 2015
Featured Image Photo Credit: REAL LIFE Magazine