A Cat Labyrinth, #ProjectPossible & Wickes


Research from Wickes reveals that Brits are tired of over exposed celebrities, with almost two in five (38 per cent) admitting that they are less responsive  to celebrity endorsements than they were five years ago.

 Wickes conducted the research to celebrate the launch of its new advertising campaign which features the stories of real protagonists and their remarkable projects. Craftsman Paul Bullen, architect Alex Haw, screw artist Andrew Myers, marine biologist Maya Plass and primary school teacher Samantha Eckland were all chosen by the brand to showcase the extraordinary ways in which they use conventional DIY products in their everyday work.

Paul Bullen, Free Range Designs:

South African-born Paul creates beautifully hand-crafted furniture from reclaimed and recycled wood, sourced from the local rivers and forests on the edge of Snowdonia National Park. In the advert Paul constructs a chair, using Wickes’ Aluminium Oxide Green Sandpaper***. After filming the advert, the chair in the film was donated to a children’s school.

Alex Haw, Designer and Architect:

Producing ingenious concepts, using natural materials, Alex is passionate about creating delightful spaces and experiences. Alex creates a labyrinth of fun for his cat, Suxy, constructing bridges and walkways up and across the walls in his flat, using Wickes’ Scandinavian timber***, grown for between 80-120 years.

Head of Brand Communications, Matthew Gaunt, added: “Our films are a reflection of Wickes’ core values and represent our continued focus on the importance of product quality. Whether you are renovating a room at home or working on your children’s school project, we have more than 13,000 home improvement products in stores up and down the country.

To find out more about Paul Bullen, Alex Haw and the other three protagonists’ stories, visit www.wickes.co.uk/real-projects.



We have been lucky enough to grab a few minutes with Alex to find out more about him and #ProjectPossible

Please introduce yourself to our readers.

I’m Alex Haw, an artist/architect. 

I’m the founder and director of atmos – a design company doing work that’s (hopefully) both meaningful and beautiful ; that solves problems with grace.

How did you get involved with Wickes and this project?

The rather brilliant director of the films, David Baksh, had made a lovely film about our gargantuan CNC-cut Worldscape table. 

He was working on some ideas for films for Wickes and got in touch, asking if we’d be interested, and outlining his initial thoughts. We leapt at it.

Furniture for cats was something that had arisen in his conversations with the client, Wickes. We simply elaborated on his initial idea.

What is it about wood that you love so much?

It has infinitely more character (and that’s kinetic as well as visual) than any other material; more visual grain; more natural variation, swirling with all kinds of little material stories..

It expresses frozen time – a snapshot across generations, mapping growth like some kind of ultra-timelapse – all times collapsed into a single surface.

It’s always different, always bursting with life.

And yet its affordable, malleable, sculptable – and generally requires minimum energy input to carve it.

It’s both kingly and common.

What was the first piece that you ever created?

If you mean as a human, I imagine I was drawing the moment I was born, but the 1st physical, architectural thing I recall creating was, funnily enough, also for animals – and also, in some way, using wood – the wood product of cardboard.

It was a miniature maze for my pet gerbils, including an observation tower from which they could take a cable car. Not completely a million miles from catscape’s undulating aerial shelves, I guess.  

 If you mean as atmos, well – the line is a blurry one. I’d actually started out making videos more than installations – things like Clone Into My World, which explored the layers of time and psace in Kylie’s Come Into My World video, or Aviation Elevations, a visual exploration of transparency versus reflection, filmed in the corporate offices I once worked at whilst designing the news satellite terminal for Heathrow Airport (while I was working for Richard Rogers.

Our 1st installation was, like the gerbil install, also cardboard. It was the result of a workshop I led with artist/fabricator Mike Smith, where we explored the strength of corrugated cardboard by building a massive stepped landscape – a bit like the Giants-Causeway – that filled the entire room of the bar at the Architectural Association. We seem to have done a lot of stairs or ramps or things that in some way help lift the body into the air; that as the start.

The landscape was made by all sorts of extruded forms which were then capped with a polycarbonate tile, so you felt like you were walking on air, and could look down into the very deep structures to see how they worked.

Some of them doubled as tables or seats, and we even put a few bum-cams in some of them, relaying video to TV monitors in others, so you could watch the moment people sat down from afar.

 Do you have an all-time favourite piece?

Something I’ve created? Probably the yacht stairs – the project we call ‘Mediterations’ (http://www.atmosstudio.com/Mediterations); 

I’ve never seen anything quite like it elsewhere, and it achieved against the odds, fabricating something that’s both highly functional, and highly visually complex.

The engineering (by Fluid Structures) was quite brilliant, with each of those thin fibres engineered right down to as slender an element as possible.

What would you say to someone who is interested in working with timber?

Test out your ideas. The physics of the material may have different ideas to the ones you have.

Timber has a massive personality; you have to listen to it.

 Do you have a number one rule that you follow when doing DIY?

Keep your tools in pristine & logical order. Otherwise you spend half your time hunting & grunting.

LOW RES Timber2Please tell us about the Cat Labyrinth we can see in this video…

Catscape’s a riff on shelving – fabricated for felines – and designed to show off Wicke’s wide range of timber studs and slats.

It starts out as a simple series of tapered, fairly ordinary strips, which suddenly explode into a wild playground of aerial ramps and rollercoasters as soon as you turn the corner; you stumble across the wildness.

The curves are all calculated to accommodate the exact positioning of the slatted keyboard of strips, which become thinner as the curve tightens, and wider as it levels off to horizontal.

(I can almost imagine the sounds that the cat’s feet might trigger as she dances across them – more treble the thinner the strips – and pitch-bending upwards the tighter the curve)

The 8 shelves all do different things, but though some are designed for humans – they’re all designed for cats (we did a lot of research into the kind of spaces that cats generally love).

Some shelves curl round to become a split level of double desks; others create ramps for cat access, or shelves for storage; the higher ones shoot across the room, wiggling towards the light of the window, which they shoot through to provide little outdoor walkways. The windows can be left almost shut, yet the cat can still sneak out at high level and sun herself.

What is your favourite type of wood to work with and why?

I love oak because it is so available, affordable – and meaningful. 

It’s a huge trigger to the English and European psyche – a deeply symbolic form that effortlessly touches our hearts.

Where should people look for advice when starting out with DIY projects?

I guess that depends on the extent & level they’re working at, but the general unavoidable answer is simply – the web; it has forums and info for everyone, and provides  extraordinarily uplifting evidence on how much people are willing to help each other in this new sharing economy.


About Author

Founder of Eclectic Enchantments blog, Erika has also been a beauty writer, fashion writer and Beauty & Accessories Editor for a large online magazine before starting Erisea. Erika lives with her dog, Hendrix and beautiful baby girl. She suffers with Fibromyalgia and CFS, among other illnesses which leaves her housebound much of the time. Her passion is writing.

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