John Galvin Design

The Gin Cooperative's Spirit of Craft editorial feature series.

Published: 15th June 2018

Our new editorial series Spirit of Craft takes a look at the diverse range of skilled artisan makers working across the Scottish spirits industry. Through our exclusive editorial features, we want to highlight the fantastic people and Scottish businesses operating in the gin and spirits world that don’t make gin or spirits, but have the same passion and dedication to their craft as the gin and spirit makers. We’ve seen first hand how these highly-skilled makers, designers and producers play a vital role in supporting and contributing to the spirits industry and all play a part in helping further Scotland’s reputation for quality and craft.

John Galvin Design

Glasgow is a city famous for craft and creation. It’s a city with rich links to making, inventing and crafting something from nothing, a city built on taking raw materials and creating things that are built to last. Steel giants built in the Clyde shipyards that sped across the oceans to the far corners of the globe, or the box on the wall with the moving pictures and sound, the Television, invented by John Logie Baird who studied Electrical Engineering at the Royal Technical College in Glasgow and the University of Glasgow. Then there’s Glasgow’s most famous son of design, Charles Rennie Macintosh, whose furniture designs and buildings, including the world famous Glasgow School of Art, are held in the highest regard for both design, craftsmanship and quality.

Perhaps when you think of artisan carpenters and cabinet makers who produce unique, beautifully crafted bespoke designer furniture and homeware objects, the last thing you might think of is spirits packaging. John Galvin and his business partner Derek Wilson, and their skilled team of craftsmen, handcraft some of the world’s most innovative and beautiful packaging for a range of world-renowned and respected spirit makers, predominantly working with whisky distilleries.

Both John and Derek graduated at the same time from the College of Building and Printing in Glasgow with John opting to stay and work in Glasgow honing his craft, while Derek found himself transatlantic bound for New York where he spent his time in America developing his skills working for some NYC’s most respected furniture makers.

After graduating, John spent the next seven years working for Glasgow’s established cabinetmakers and furniture design businesses before founding John Galvin Design in 2008. Within a relatively short period, John’s reputation for quality and craftsmanship saw him designing and creating many unique and acclaimed pieces of furniture.

Working in partnership with many leading and renowned design agencies, including Glasgow’s very own D8, who have a growing portfolio of award-winning work for their work in the drinks industry, John Galvin Design has built a well-deserved reputation for being at the forefront of high-end, bespoke luxury packaging for some of the world’s rarest and most sought after whiskies.

John and Derek source all their own wood from Scotland and are proud of the provenance and traceability of the raw materials they use. John said “when you look at the grain on the wood you can really see the life of the tree and it’s history. When I come across a slab of wood and right away I can tell if this particular tree was originally from a mountainous hillside and exposed to the elements, or if a tree was near a river. We have a very good relationship with various estates across Scotland and can tell our customers where the wood we use for their piece came from”.

“We have slabs of wood here that are totally unique, one-off’s due to the way they have been shaped by the soil and water. There’s one piece we’re currently working on where the tree roots have taken the copper minerals from the soil and a local water source giving the wood some amazing tones. The only time we don’t use Scottish timber is when a client has a special request for a specific species of tree but even then we work with specialist companies who can provide traceability so we can understand the history of the wood and in turn ensures our furniture has transparency and provenance”.

It was John’s attention to detail, understanding of the different tree species and traceability along with an in-depth understand of the processes required to craft the raw material that caught the eye of distillers of Highland Park. They asked if John could capture the wonder of the cooperage and show the process and timeline of creating a whisky cask from the felling of the tree to the final barrel. This exhibition was installed at their Orkney Distillery along with bespoke seating and a 4.1 meter tasting table made from the distilleries Oregon pine washback.

Based on the success of this exhibition and quality of John and his teams work John Galvin Design was commissioned by Highland Park to create 275  craved bespoke Scottish Oak display cases for the release of The Highland Park 50 year old single malt. This was followed up with a commission for a drinks cabinet to celebrate and house Highland Park’s Orcadian Vintage Range, a super rare range of spirits which proudly sits in the Highland Park distillery.

As John’s reputation continued to grow, so did his relationship with the whisky industry. When whisky collectors and connoisseurs purchase and invest in rare and limited edition releases, that have a value of five or six-figure sums, they expect something extraordinary, something memorable, packaging that is a reflection of the rich history and story of these exclusive malts.

The Glenlivet 50 Years The Winchester Collection houses a secret gold key, hidden in a compartment that was designed to look like one solid piece of wood (it was made using over 16 intricate individual handmade elements) and the case also has custom engineered gold metal components surrounding the doors with hand airbrushed graphics.Once opened the two spring loaded doors open to reveal the 50 year old, 1964 single malt. With a bottle designed by artisan glass makers Glasstorm, and a stopper insert designed by silversmith Richard Fox, this limited release of 100 bottles were bought by an array of international collectors.

The Black Bowmore Single Cask series has been described as one of most famous and sought after bottles of whisky ever produced. Each hand crafted display case in the series captures the story of each whisky release in amazing detail. With a series of rings carved on the inside of the cabinet that represent the rings on the inside of a tree and the life of the cask. There’s a solid silver inlay representing each of the limited years Black Bowmore was released. There is also a sculpted solid oak secret compartment behind the bottle housing a vial sample of the precious liquid.This series was a collaboration between a number of Scottish craft makers and was led by the team at D8 Design.

To simply call what John Galvin Design creates as ‘packaging’ would be a crime. These are rare objects of art, hand crafted sculptures of precision, elegance and filled with wonder (and some of the world’s most sought after whisky). Each piece is testament to John and his team’s commitment to excellence, innovation and really pushing the boundaries of craftsmanship, with all packaging made by hand using a combination of traditional and modern techniques. Throw in the fact that every single bespoke display case must be as near to perfection as possible, you soon understand why most of these unique pieces can take upwards of 200 hours to perfect the prototype, not to mention the  months of development. Perfection really does take time.

John has also worked on a number of high-end, bespoke projects for distilleries and spirit makers, and it’s of no surprise he has some high-profile projects coming up in the next few months. To say John and his team are ‘carpenters’ would not do them justice. To say they are ‘cabinetmakers’ would be far off the mark. John, Derek and the team are artists, designers, engineers, true masters of their craft, dedicated and committed to excellence. This is recognised by the fact that John Galvin Design is an official member of Walpole – a unique alliance of 200 of Britain’s finest luxury brands including Bently, Harrods, Johnstons of Elgin, Laurent-Perrier and more.

Derek returned to Glasgow in 2010 after a number of years working overseas and caught up with John for a well overdue beer. The friends realised their love of wood, furniture and crafted objects that there was an opportunity for the friends to work together almost 10 years after they had both graduated.

In 2014, John and Derek established Faolchú, an old Scotts and Irish Gaelic word for Wolf or wild dog. Faolchú design and craft a range of bespoke furniture including their Cuillin lounge chair and Mora sideboard for a select number of international customers. All pieces are handmade using only the very finest materials and craftsmanship in the Clydeside workshop which recently underwent an extensive expansion  and refurbishment.

When you walk into any design museum in the UK in the next few years you’ll more than likely find an example of the High Backed chair by Charles Rennie Macintosh, the Television invented by John Logie Baird, the iPod by Jonathan Ive and guaranteed at least one object from John Galvin Design.

We wait with baited breath to see what John, Derek and their team produce for Decorex International part of London Design Week 2018, having won Best New Exhibitor and Best Piece on show in 2017 with the official launch of Faolchú.

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