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Ruskin是十九世紀著名的社會思想家、慈善家、藝術收藏家與美學家，在工業革命興起，資本主義當道的英國，他厭惡沒有感情、沒有個性的大量生產，他提倡勞雇關係應該是有感情、有公義的，經濟發展要關注的是國家與人民的福祉，而不是個人財富的累積；Ruskin在1875年於Sheffield為工人創立藝術博物館，希望整天庸庸碌碌的工人也能體悟世上美好的事物，特別是只有權貴才能接觸的藝術品、手稿與地質收藏。兩件事反映了Ruskin在社會主義與美學的影響力：一、讀完Ruskin對十九世紀資本主義與工業化反思的著作─《Unto This Last》，甘地說：「我決心根據這本書的理念，改變我的人生。」；二、今牛津大學的美術學院就是以Ruskin命名。
之所以造訪東倫敦這家由Ruskin之書命名的傢俱店「Unto This Last」，是因為朋友在這裡工作，進入這家店第一印象是「很美」、「很乾淨」，全店走極簡主義，除了用色單純，牆上掛的每張流程圖與產品說明圖都再再回應其極簡、精準的精神，也因為其乾淨的佈景，店內常被借來拍商攝。不過這傢俱店厲害的地方是「本身也是工廠」，工廠與店內是一個空間，只用玻璃窗隔開，任何人都可以參觀，可以跟老闆交流。當今製造業紛紛關閉出走，宜室宜家扁平包裝傢俱席捲全球下，這家強調「在地製造」與「城市製造」的傢俱店更顯不凡。一般人聽到「倫敦市中心製造傢俱」，會認定其價格不斐，但是Unto This Last老闆Olivier Geoffroy的宗旨是「在地工藝，平價傢俱」，讓「英國製造」的事實不要成為市場阻礙。
Ruskin討厭工業革命帶來的大量生產，因大量生產的分工太細，工人往往只負責製程的一小部分，對於成品往往是疏離與陌生的，他認為大量生產的製品沒有情感也沒有美感，在其著作《Unto This Last》中他大力提倡「工藝回歸」，即從「大規模的工業製造」回到「手工藝」與「在地製造」，Unto This Last就是一個銷售點與工廠結合的傢俱店，市中心的展示間後就是作坊，顧客下訂才開始製造，現今，「英國製造」已是稀有，更不用說「倫敦製造」之可貴。
Unto This Last老闆Geoffroy深受Ruskin影響，不想讓自己的傢俱市場僅限於社會權貴，所以他有著很偉大的理念，他要賣的是「倫敦製造的平價傢俱」，如何使倫敦製造的傢俱以平價出售？Unto This Last使用數位控制工具機精準、彈性地切割木板，以減少製材浪費；此外，「下單才製造」的商業模式減少囤貨風險；最後，只限倫敦當地配送更大大減少了包裝成本，Unto This Last推行只用毛毯包裝與使用三輪車在城市間運送，這些都是「倫敦製造」但能「平價出售」的推手。
住倫敦的朋友們，若有購入傢俱打算，不妨考慮這家Unto This Last，你買的不只是一件設計作品，也是一個理想。
Never thought I would see the name John Ruskin again so soon in a furniture shop in east London.
The first time I knew the name John Ruskin was on the exhibition “The Ruskin Collection” in Millennium Gallery in Sheffield city center, and the second time I saw this name was in this furniture shop.
Ruskin was a famous philanthropist, social thinker and the leading English art critic of the Victorian era. In a society totally dominated by industrialization and Capitalism, Ruskin thought that mass-production was reducing the quality of items and removing any sense of emotional experience. He further thought that there should be warmth and public welfare in pursuing economic growth. Ruskin founded St. George’s museum in Sheffield in 1875 to bring the eyes of the working class objects that originally only the wealthy can access to , such as architectural drawings, copies of Old Masters and geological specimens. He hoped to give the working man brand new sights and experiences. Ruskin’s influence on Socialism and aesthetics is indubitable, and we can see this fact in lots verifications: Gandhi determined to change his life according to Ruskin’s teaching after he read Unto This Last, a book criticising Industrialization and Capitalism in 19th century by Ruskin. The art school of the University of Oxford is named after Ruskin.
This east London furniture shop I visited was called Unto This Last, and yes; it got its name from the John Ruskin book Unto this Last. It is not an ordinary shop you would expect. This is the furniture shop that actually manufactures furniture in London! Nowadays, it is really rare to see any product manufactured in UK, not mention products that manufactured in London city center! My first impression about this minimalist shop was “beautiful”, “simple” and “clean”. The main colours you can see are original-wood colour and white, and every sign and flowchart tells more about the spirit of simplicity and accuracy. However, appearance is not the only part of this shop you would feel “wow”, and the part really amazes you is its philosophy. The owner of this shop, Oliver Geoffroy says “Local is Logical”, so he sells and also manufactures furniture in London, and both in the same space! When you visits the shop, behind the showroom is the workshop, and every customer can just go to Geoffroy or other furniture maker to have a conversation about the shop. Everyone must want to ask “wouldn’t it be very expensive if it is manufactured in London?” The answer of this question is NO. What Geoffroy wants to bring consumers are the experience of local craft and furniture with affordable price.
Unto This Last is one of the most important books on criticising the economy of Industrialization in the 19th century. In this book, the author John Ruskin advocated a return to local craftsmen and workshops. This claim deeply affects the owner of Unto This Last, Geoffroy. Not only can you notice the picture of John Ruskin on the wall when you walk into Unto This Last, but you can also see other ideas of John Ruskin in every detail of this shop. These ideas of John Ruskin are “promotion of aesthetics”, “return to local craftsmen” and “Belief of Socialism”.
/// Promotion of Aesthetics
Besides being a famous social thinker, Ruskin was also a leading English art critic of Victoria era. For instance, it is recognised that the fact Turner has the reputation of Landscape Painting Master is significantly contributed by the champion of Ruskin. Apart from art critics, Ruskin hoped to bring art and beauty to everyday life. Ruskin set up an art museum for the iron workers in Sheffield; he dedicated himself in promoting the understanding and appreciation of good art for everyone. The shop Unto This Last is the best case of realising Ruskin’s idea, aesthetics of living. Its workshop emphasised precision and elegance. The simplicity and smooth curves of its furniture can light up any space.
/// Return to Handcrafts
Ruskin hated the mass-production by the Industrial Revolution. He thought that workers were often only in charge of small parts of the final products from assembly lines, and which caused them very indifferent to the products. He thought products under mass-production were soulless and lack of beauty. Therefore, he promoted the idea of a return to handcrafts and local manufacture. Unto This Last is exactly a furniture shop that combines a point of sales and a factory. The exhibition room in the city center is also their workshop that where all the products are manufactured. They only start manufacturing after a client places an order. Nowadays, to see any label with ‘made in UK’ is already really rare, not mention one with ‘made in London’.
/// Public Welfare
Ruskin thought: to build a truly beautiful society, we needed not just beautiful objects, and we also needed to remake it politically and economically. Therefore, later on Ruskin’s life, his focus has shifted from “the study of beauty” to “the reform of political and economical system”. He dedicated himself to promoting workers’ right and the public welfare. He thought employers shouldn’t just focus on getting profit and exploit employees. The true definition of wealth was to make something meaningful and enrich life experience.
The Owner of Unto This Last, Geoffroy, was deeply influenced by Ruskin’s ideas, and he didn’t want to build furniture just for the upper class. Therefore, he had a really noble idea, and that was to sell “affordable furniture made in London”.
However, how to make furniture in London and sell it with an affordable price? Unto This Last uses digital cutting tools and one piece flow system to reduce material waste. In addition, the “made to order” business mode tremendously cut down the warehousing cost. Last, the business only delivers products to London without using any packages. These are the reasons to the answer of “affordable furniture made in London”.
If you live in London and are thinking of buying new furniture, have a visit of Unto This Last. What you will get is not just a piece of furniture, but also a dream.