Exploring Interior Design With Alastair At Free Bird Interiors

Annotated main elevation of a recent concept and completed project for a local client.

Alastair is the owner and director or Free Bird Interior.

Designer, director, and installer, Alastair built up the business from small beginnings.  He still gets involved in the workshop whenever he can.  He is the face of the business on the YouTube Channel and member site where he gives away lots of advice for the benefit of other woodworkers. 

He has appeared as a set carpenter on the BBC and Netflix ‘Interior Design Masters’ series, and produces an occasional Podcast.

Once trained as an architect Alastair moved into cabinet making, entering into the global pandemic ready to help as many people as possible create their dream homes.

After setting up and running a successful furniture company in Sheffield called Free Bird Interiors, he begun to find this skills were needed in the world of cabinet making, so he started teaching other like-minded business owners how to use SketchUp and other 3D modelling and rendering tools. 

DAY lounge units, coloured with lighting.

What does your current workflow look like?

I only go to see customers after receipt of a down payment on a quote which we provide after a phone call and brief email exchange.

My aim is to leave the customer’s house after the first survey and design visit with drawings signed off ready to move straight into production.

After meeting the customer and surveying their space, I open up my Sketchup template drawing on my laptop, with standard scenes already set up. 

I draw the customer’s room accurately using straight lines and push pull to raise the walls (3 sided interior view). Add moldings, and enough furnishings from my components library to make it recognisable.  Grab a pre-drawn dynamic cabinet – typically an alcove cupboard with shaker doors.  Stretch it to fit the space.  Same with upper bookcases etc.  Tweak the dynamic component settings with the customer’s input – changing materials, door style, adding cable outlets etc.  Go into the cabinet side panels and push-pull a hole for a power socket etc, lining up with the surveyed location of a socket on the wall.   Check it all with the customer, then add dimensions to the scenes – for example a front elevation view showing heights and shelf spacings (the dimensions will be isolated to this scene only).  Separate scenes will show cabinet internal depths etc.  

I want the customer (and my workshop) to know exactly what is to be made.  It’s a communication tool and a delegation tool.

The theory is that this drawing is literally all ready to be outputted to the CNC machine and/or panel saw with an absolute minimum of additional work.  This is not always possible but I am constantly improving the system to make it possible!

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What is your most memorable project so far?

Probably the one attached with angled shaker doors, lighting, and display shelving around a bed.   The finished result conceals a number of challenges including depth changes and sloping floor.  Different parts of the design subtly line up in ways that were quite difficult to achieve.  Meticulous planning in SketchUp made this all possible.

Free Bird Interiors most memorable project from design to completion.

The Cabinetsense extension is now essential to how I use SketchUp.  It gives me more power over scene management, and most vitally it has enabled me to create parametric (/dynamic) cabinets with machining data automatically outputted to my CNC machine.  

My second most used extension is Profile Builder 3, which allows me to quickly add realistic details to a customer’s 3D room drawing with skirtings and other moldings quickly applied from a library of common profiles which I have created.

Alastair begun his design journey as an Architect before entering the furniture making space.

I have used Layout and I appreciate it’s capabilities for creating multi-layered presentation drawings, with title boxes etc.   However I don’t find that efficient or necessary in my line of work.  I can sell my work with good quality photos of similar past projects.  Then I can best help the customer to visualise their own project by orbiting in 3D using Sketchup itself on my laptop.  I make extensive use of scenes, controlling the visibility of different aspects of the drawings using tags (layers); sections; and style settings, to create a range of separately annotated viewpoints within the same model.  I can quickly jump between them, and update them on the fly.  I find it more efficient to simply output these views as Jpegs for emailing to the customer, than to present them via Layout.

The grey and oak alcoves attached below are an example of a semi-automated design-to-production process using the CabinetSense extension. 

Predrawn dynamic cabinet components were dropped into the model, resized to suit the space, then made more bespoke with added shelves and dividers which automatically size to fill gaps due to their embedded dynamic program.  These were then automatically exported to a cutlisting program.

The grey and oak alcoves attached below are an example of a semi-automated design-to-production process using the CabinetSense extension. 

I used various CAD programs previously, 2D and 3D.  Sketchup seemed more intuitive and fluid.  I see it as an extension of my thinking process at the design stage – block modelling shapes, and laying out proportions with guidelines etc, often moving, stretching, erasing and redrawing.  But it is just as well suited to working precisely, allowing me to plan exactly how things will be built in real life once the basic design is decided.

To see more of Free Bird Interiors work, 3D modelling designs and renders, you can find him on social media here:

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