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Construction students turn old pianos into bespoke furniture

Posted: 07 July 2022

Construction students at West Nottinghamshire College have used their creative skills to transform two antique pianos into bespoke furniture.

Jack Bond, Kane Swain, Yestin Price, Branan Brown and Maddie Esswood turned an old, damaged Jokisch & Hahn upright piano into a stylish coat rail and boot store, and crafted a custom-made drinks cabinet out of a vintage Allison small grand piano.

Carpentry and joinery students Kane, Jack and Yestin painstakingly dismantled both instruments before giving them a radical transformation and customising them with practical and stylish accessories.

Brass hooks, a storage compartment and umbrella-holder were fitted to the coat rail, while the legs were removed from underneath the grand piano and re-fitted to one side so that it stood upright, before shelving, a wine rack, glass-holders, bottle opener and contemporary lighting were added to re-designed product.

Afterwards, painting and decorating students Branan and Maddie meticulously applied the finishing touches, painting the coat rail and boot store in shades of green, grey and yellow, and applying varnish and Danish oil to the drinks cabinet to retain its original character.

Restoration of the upright piano started before the Covid-19 pandemic, when wood occupations technician Ian Bradford tasked a group of then-students with breathing new life into the instrument as part of a project by the construction department’s learning company – a college enterprise designed to equip learners with industry-relevant skills to prepare them for their future careers.

Their efforts were halted during the various lockdowns, when students had to be taught online –so a handpicked group from this year’s cohort took up where they left off, supported by Ian and colleagues Reece Pridmore, Jordan Harrison and Dave Cope.

Several months later, while the refurbishment was still in progress, the department was asked to re-purpose a small grand piano – known as a boudoir grand – into a drinks cabinet, which they began working on last September.

Students spent around 300 hours making both pieces of furniture, removing their keys, strings and pedals, before rebuilding them using excess timber no longer needed in lessons, attaching new fixtures and fittings, and applying the final finishes using discarded paint and varnish. Inside the lid of the boot store is a block of wood painted in the piano’s colours so its new owners can find a perfect match if it needs repainting.

Ian, who oversaw the restoration projects, said: “Although the pianos were in pretty poor condition, we immediately recognised their potential. The students worked extremely hard to dismantle them without causing damage, sympathetically removing the parts that were no longer needed, before carefully re-assembling them and applying the new finishes to create two truly unique, beautiful pieces of furniture.

“They’ve used the skills gained at college to completely re-imagine two proud, old instruments that have their own history and story while retaining their individual character. They should feel very proud of what they’ve achieved.”

The Jokisch & Hahn piano, believed to be 80-years-old, was donated by a family in Caunton, Nottinghamshire, who no longer had use for it.

The Allison piano is thought to date from the 1930s and is owned by Dr Stephen Bullamore, director of music and master of the Song School of the Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene, Newark, who asked for it to be turned into something new after hearing about a previous piano conversion by the college.

It came into the possession of the Bullamore family in the mid-1980s, enabling Stephen to learn how to play. One of the family was an agent for musical artistes, acting for various famous pianists who would occasionally visit their home and practice on the instrument. One of these was Shura Cherkassky, the famous Ukrainian pianist.

Stephen retained the piano as he started his professional career, using it for teaching. When the trustees of the Thomas Magnus Foundation bought a new piano for the Song School, the Allison went on loan to renowned opera singer, Mark Wilde, until it was subsequently returned.

Stephen said: “With the passage of time the piano was in need of an overhaul. Such a restoration would have cost more to do than the piano would have been worth and could only have been pursued for sentimental reasons.

“Thanks to these talented students, working under the watchful eye of Ian, the piano has now been given a new lease of life in a different form.”

Stephen, who lives in the Song School building next to the church, from where he trains its choir, has now taken delivery of the piano-turned-drinks cabinet.

“I’m amazed at the imagination the students have shown in tackling the project and am absolutely thrilled with the end result,” he said. “It truly is a one-off piece of furniture and I’m proud to have it in my home.”

Jack, who studies the Intermediate Certificate in Site Carpentry, said: “It’s very rewarding to see the pianos go from looking past their best to looking as lovely as they do now. I like making stuff – that’s why I chose to get involved in these projects. Knowing the owners will appreciate them brings an extra level of satisfaction.”

Maddie, a Level 2 Diploma in Property Maintenance student who works as an apprentice technician at the college, said: “It’s been amazing to do this and I’ve learnt such a lot – not just about restoring the pianos but finding out more about the stories behind them. We’re doing more than just learning things in lessons – we’re getting involved in community projects, which is fantastic.”

Beginners’ Diploma in Carpentry and Joinery student, Kane, said: “It was good to learn to use new tools and machinery. We took a lot of pride in what we were doing and I’d say the results are pretty much perfect. Hopefully they’ll last a long time.”

These were the latest in a series of piano restoration projects launched by the construction department in 2018, when students turned a damaged, 100-year-old instrument into a gin bar. The custom-built item was subsequently purchased by a family in Riddings, Derbyshire, to enjoy at home.

Ian explained: “We wanted to give students who are ahead in their lessons, and who show a particular interest in their craft, a special project to work on outside of class.

“It’s about turning old things into something new while preserving their original identity.

“Above all, it gets students thinking outside the box, helps them gain transferrable skills and gives them extra motivation to achieve their qualifications.”

The Jokisch & Hahn piano-turned-coat rail and boot store is available to purchase at a minimum price of £300. The proceeds will help fund future restoration projects at the college.

Anyone interested in purchasing it should contact Ian by email at Ian.Bradford@wnc.ac.uk or call 01623 900262.

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