Luke Batten: Searching for simplicity

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Luke Batten, Deux cabinet. Photo: Mark Juliana

Words: Luke Batten

Often my design process vacillates between; how simple can I make this thing? And how simple is too simple? It’s a push-pull between production efficiency and preserving the design intent. Therefore, I find myself persistently pondering what is craft furniture and what is labelled commercial furniture, particularly with detail design.

Of course, it’s about creating an intuitively led, client specific result. However, questions about the business of craft are noteworthy, and as simplicity often correlates with production complexity and time, it’s a meaningful question to contemplate.

I discovered woodwork in my late 20s, which is much later than most professional craftspeople, yet found my style quickly. Due to my previous career as a product designer, I’m naturally captivated by the potential of waste materials, minimalism, efficiency, and batch production.

• Waste materials often constrain a project in unexpected ways
• Minimalism is about expressing the essential
• Efficient production pertains to economical material use and good use of time
• Batch production is revealing – often highlighting the quality of selected production methods

I aim to create well-made, honest and efficiently produced craft furniture. The results are often visually minimal; however, they are rarely simple. Beneath something beautifully minimal are layers of complexity, and that is part of the challenge and appeal.

My body of work shows an inclination toward finding the simplest, easiest, and most efficient method of production without diminishing the user experience or compromising the design. Here are some examples of my work and the rationale behind it.

A minimalist cabinet

Deux is a small freestanding, solid wood cabinet which highlights proportion, joinery, and simplicity. Its simple rectilinear form is considered, well-proportioned throughout, complemented by interesting, exposed details. The intention was to create a minimalist cabinet at the scale of a keepsake box. The design explores the visual and functional relationship between carcase and stand through visual separation.


Luke Batten, Deux cabinet, detail and with maquette. Photos: Mark Juliana

The cabinet rejects a distinct historical style, yet rather centres on two contrasting yet complementary volumes – a cube as the carcase and a square pyramid as the stand. Contrasting timbers define each individual component, and its purpose in relation to the cabinet – American walnut (carcase) with rock maple (stand). A generous shadow line between each further enhances the divide. 

The choice of joinery contrasts the simple aesthetic, luring the user closer to experience delicate details. Details such as dovetails, pinned mortise and tenons, a frame and panel door, a wedged door handle, and stainless knife hinges for the door. The structure is over-built without impacting the form and appropriate for a residential context.

Waste not

Swell is a handcrafted vide poche (which translates loosely from French as ‘empty pockets’). Its design focuses on waste material, batch production, and the illusion of additive manufacture. Workshop shorts, i.e. off-cut lengths, 300mm and shorter, are a persistent, industry-wide concern – Swell was specifically designed to utilise these. The aim was to hand- make a small, beautiful object from this waste material.


Luke Batten, Swell. Photos: Luke Batten

The result is a jewellery dish that presents two small, contrasting surfaces atop a circular tray. One is a plain flat surface and the other is a series of scooped geometric peaks, seemingly pulled out of the top surface. The intention was for the tray to have an alluring aesthetic both as an empty tray or filled with belongings.


Swell was created with a couple of jigs on the router table and disc sander.

Function-oriented design

Apex is a minimal table that references traditional milking stools. It combines traditional and contemporary craft principles such as joinery, utility, and production efficiency. It pairs a simple form with ornamental through joinery that pierces the top surface. The aim was to create a table that exists in the space between craft and commercial furniture.


Luke Batten, Apex table. Photos: Luke Batten

The design embraces simplicity to facilitate longevity—its timeless aesthetic complements a range of interiors and endures as styles shift. The aim was to find beauty in restrained, function-oriented design.


The Apex table was created with a couple of router table jigs and the tablesaw.

Structure as ornament

The Axis stool is an interlocking, solid wood structure that emphasises simplicity, production, and joinery. Minimalism led its design and production, delivering a visually simple craft stool that is efficient to make. The joinery serves not only as its form and structure, but also as its ornamentation – the leg assembly pierces the top, revealing a pleasing and ornate craft detail.


Luke Batten, Axis table. Photos: Luke Batten

The leg joinery creates an incredibly robust structure, through interlocking and extending the entire height of the stool. The stool uses just four components from a single board of solid wood and the fewest possible production processes.


The stool is created through a couple of 1:1 router jigs, a taper jig and a dado-stack.

Distilled elements

Watson focuses on use of the lathe, batch production, waste material and graphic representation. Like Swell, it was specifically developed to make use of workshop off-cuts. The design is inspired from drawings created by children – children have a distinct ability to distil almost anything into its most essential elements. A bird-like sculpture may be represented by just a couple of big eyes, a beak, and a cylindrical body.


Watson’s physical size and scale was directly constrained by the dimensions (typically 50mm square and less) of the salvaged material. Manufacture focused on the simplest and most efficient method of production, resulting in a straight tapered and domed cylinder for the body, a conical beak, and a pair of eyes that are flush with the body.

Watson was created using a lathe and a drill press.

Less is more

In a creative context, our natural inclination for grand gestures can be precarious. Addition is easier than subtraction, frequently resulting in too much design. Simple design is often overlooked or mistaken for something lacking. It represents however, a great sophistication, distilling complexity into something beautifully minimal.


Luke Batten, Fragment table, shortlisted in Maker of the Year 2024 awards. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Simple design is an intention to look deeper, to ask better questions and to even pause. Fostering inquiry by contemplating what is essential, gaining compelling insight by asking better questions, and pausing to check derivative and pre-existing ideas. Simple design is good design.

First published in Wood Review magazine, issue 119.

Luke Batten @lukebatten handcrafts bespoke objects in Canberra, Ngunnawal country. He has worked as a product designer and a graphic designer, and taught design, sketching and illustration at university level.

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