Triclimb Designer – An Interview with Christine Dunford
Chris thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. In one article on the Babipur blog you mentioned how you always loved working with wood and designing from an early age. What inspired you? What cultivated your love of woodwork and helped introduce you to it?
Chris is the talented lady behind the creation of what is fast becoming an ever evolving Babipur favourite product, the Triclimb and it’s range of accessories. I was delighted to interview her over email to find out a bit more of her background in woodwork, and the design process behind Triclimb.
I grew up in the country so there was always lots of space for tinkering. I would build huts and dens over in the fields with my brother, especially during the summer holidays. My Grandfather was always making or fixing something in his workshop – woodwork, metalwork, all sorts. I would spend hours investigating every single drawer and tool. We were always keen to help and thankfully he had the time to let us!
As far as I know children are introduced to woodwork in secondary school is that right?
Normally it’s in secondary school, yes. Although, I have seen a basic introduction to the subject of Design and Technology being given at primary level, but it’s not very common. It really depends on the skillset of the primary teachers and whether the school can afford to bear the cost.
How did you find Design and Technology at school?
Design and Tech is a great subject – a subject which allows those who study it to discover and develop their creativity. I was really blessed when I was at school, because my secondary Tech teacher was brilliant. We had the freedom to explore and choose our own projects, and that’s not easy for a teacher as it involves a lot of prep work. I taught Design and Technology myself for a few years and I know it is so much easier to give everyone the same project – everyone gets the same source materials and they all make the same thing in the same way. But it was such a privilege to watch the pupils in my classes develop their skills and discover that they have the ability to create something great.
I have been wondering how to nurture a young child’s interest in this area and where as there are classes children can go to for sensory play, swimming, football, gymnastics, gardening etc. Are there currently groups or classes that can introduce carpentry to children in a safe and interactive way? I thought of the Montessori learning with natural wood approach but that’s all I could think of.
Well, I’m sure there are classes available in some areas, but they aren’t as widespread as I would love to see. I haven’t found anything locally to my family -but it would be my dream to set something up – how cool would that
be! Maybe one day that could become a reality. If there’s nothing near you though, you can encourage your children yourself, even if your own skills aren’t that great! I did a little tester for my middle daughters birthday; we made bug hotels by hammering together pieces of wood and filling them with various materials to create a habitat for mini-beasts.
For anyone reading this who would be interested in cultivating a love for wood and creativity with their children, as I previously mentioned I could only think of Montessori learning with natural wood approach and the lovely natural wood toys and open-ended play that we find on Babipur. Apart from this which we all already know, what would you suggest?
Get out there and do it, give them tools, let them have a go. Drill a hole, screws a screw in, sand something, let them experience fixing something. It doesn’t have to be fancy – just getting them used to handling tools, seeing how different materials work. There are some good resources out there – check out a book called Harvey the Carpenter, which introduces children via a story to various tools of the trade and has a template and instructions at the back for making a wooden toolbox. We did it last year with our then 7,5 and 3 year olds and they ALL had a blast!
What happened after you left school? Did you study anything to do with your passion for wood or enter employment in this area?
After school, I spent 4 years studying furniture design and craftsmanship in Northern Ireland, then on to England for a year where I completed a Bachelors and then a Masters in Furniture Design and Technology. After I graduated, I worked for a central London design consultancy in Covent Gardens for a while before moving to Wales where I did some freelance work for Red ploy designing school seating solutions. I then went on to do my PCGE and taught Design and Tech for a few years. So – yes, very much so!
When did the idea of the Triclimb come to mind and how was the whole process birthed?
Well it’s a pretty long story! After the birth of our third child, it would have been a real struggle to return to teaching. So instead, I set up a small business making and selling Rainbow Boxes – wooden bookcases that I designed for children. Babipur were one of my stockists, which is how I met Peter and Jolene. They had a real vision to bring the Pikler-style triangle to the UK and into the mainstream, and they asked if I’d consider doing the design work. That was a brilliant challenge and I jumped atthe opportunity! After much research, many prototypes and a couple of wrong turns I came up with the final design as you see it today. The response was overwhelming; I started off making the frames myself but it quickly became clear we needed to grow and expand to meet demand. We’re still doing that now if I’m honest!
As to the name, I can’t really remember how I came up with “Triclimb”, but as soon as it popped into my head I knew it was a winner! Although a lot of people pronounce it “try-climb”, the “tri” is actually welsh for “three” and it’s pronounced “tree-climb”! I love the play on words – It’s a triangleand it’s made of wood (i.e. made of tree.) That’s why Peter and Jolene came up with the fabulous tree logo!
What can you tell us about the Triclimb?
Triclimb is a pikler-style climbing frame designed to encourage, enhance and engage little climbers.It’s an open-ended toy, designed to encourage children to be active, imaginative and creative in their play. Ours gets used for climbing, jumping, sliding (with the Miri attachment), as a den, a seat, a fortress and loads more! It’s designed and built to the highest safety standards using FSC certified timber. It’s safe from birth all the way up to 100Kg, which means adults can play too if they want to! It also folds away for easy storage. Check out @triclimb_designer on Instagram, there’s loads more information on the Triclimb there including all the features that make it so unique and special.
What have you developed since the Triclimb?
Building on the success of the Triclimb, we have already started to expand the range. We have the Miri slide in full production – a slide attachment for the frame which locks into place using our Trifix locking mechanism. It’s really simple, no tools needed – simply lift, set and drop. We also have a stainless-steel wipe board / play tray accessory for the Triclimb called the Biri which has been a real success.
And there’s loads more to come! We have had a Triclimb Mini and Ladder designed, tested and ready to go – just waiting for them to roll off the production line now. We have also have another product coming which is the first of its kind – the Archi, a rocker/climbing arch which folds and connects to the Triclimb using the same system as the Miri slide.
Customers will also soon be able to buy extra Trifix joints for the bottom of their Miri slide (or one day, their ladder) which will allow you to connect the slide between two Triclimb units, or from a Triclimb unit to the Archi. Once we have all that available, you’ll be able to buy a whole climbing system that can be connected together in loads of different ways!
Without giving away anything that you don’t want to disclose yet, what is next for Chris and this wonderful adventure of creativity that you are on?
Haha, Who knows?! I always have a million ideas flying around my head. Some might see the light of day, lots probably won’t. Actually, just this week I’ve hit upon a really cool idea which I’m going to spend some time developing. And beyond that… I think Triclimb as a brand has huge potential beyond the current planned range.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
I’d really like to thank Peter and Jolene. They’ve been absolutely brilliant in turning the Triclimb dream into a reality. They have so much energy and enthusiasm, and it’s a real joy working with them. I’m also grateful to all our customers who have given us such positive and helpful feedback on the products so far. We’re always wanting to improve and refine, so if you have any comments we’re always up for hearing them.
Thank you Chris it has been an absolute pleasure interviewing you. We all appreciate your time, your vision and your hard work. We look forward to the future of Triclimb!
Interview by Jo Le Page.