Furniture craftsman ditches mackem accent to sell to stars
A small Tyneside furniture company is reaping the rewards of national exposure after it was asked to create a bespoke gold sofa for the latest series of Alan Carr’s Chatty Man show on Channel 4.
The Original Sofa Co on Gateshead’s Team Valley is one of the few makers in the UK to produce top of the range artisan sofas using traditional construction methods and labour intensive hand dying techniques, meaning one Chesterfield can take up to 13 working days to make and can cost up to £12,000.
Owner David Robinson was asked to create a four-seater Rockingham sofa in gold foil leather for guests which have included actress Keeley Hawes and comedian Lee Evans who was particularly quick to compliment Carr on his “impressive” set.
“They originally wanted a very blingy silver sofa but changed it to gold,” said David of the £4,000 bespoke sofa which took six days to craft.
“My wife was particularly pleased to see Justin Timberlake on it while the guys in the workshop enjoyed seeing Rihanna perching on it.”
David has a raft of VIP clients including Harry Potter actor Jason Isaacs, film producer Will Butler Sloss and Gladiator actress Connie Nielson as well as Saudi oil barons and MPs. His company has also furnished the reception of Google HQ in London, Harvard University’s staff faculty and the Urban Retreat at Harrods amongst others.
However the 35-year-old dad of two from Sunderland had to change his strong mackem accent in order to be successful and took elocution lessons aged 18 on the recommendation of his University course tutor.
“I used to be a very broad mackem,” said David, who now lives in West Moor, Newcastle with his wife Debs, a construction lawyer for Muckle. “When I was 17 you wouldn’t have had a clue what I was talking about. I would just mumble. It was terrible. Having elecution lessons was one of the best things I ever did because we deal with people from all over the world and you have to be able to communicate effectively and efficiently.
“I’m not ashamed of it. It’s one thing being a little bit colloquial and letting people know where you’re from, but if you really want to be taken seriously people have to be able to understand you.”
David’s interest in Chesterfields was piqued after selling an inherited reproduction to a pub 12 years ago. “I got hooked and by the time I’d filled up two garages and the utility room, I realised there was something in it,” he said
Before long he had five industrial units full of furniture. He recruited a craftsman to restore the sofas and learnt the art himself, before discovering antique designs.
“I asked myself why this 150-year-old piece of furniture hadn’t fallen apart like most people’s furniture and learnt all about the frame, the construction and the fillings,” said David. “It was like looking at the engine of a Bentley.”
David decided to create a brand new made to measure range using the same traditional methods he’d discovered by dissecting 18th and 19th Century antique pieces. Much like a fashion house, it features four levels ranging from entry level (Manner Four) to the high end signature range (Manner One).
A typical Manner One Chesterfield costs around £8,000 to £9,000 and takes 13 working days to make using traditional hammer and tack construction methods. Inside you’ll find traditional eight point hand tied loose coil springs, coconut hair and horse tail filling which retains resistance and a lambswool lining. Only the top 1% of the world’s finest leather from Italy and Scandinavia is used, before it’s finally hand dyed afterwards.
Although 90% of clients choose leather, the company also has access to a wide variety of quality designer fabrics. “We’re the only company in the UK that offers our full range in Manner One,” said David. “There is really nothing else like it in terms of quality. We never cut corners because we want to make the best you can make so it really is the epitome of artisan crafting.
“Hand dyed furniture retains an intrinsic value. It’s the original shabby chic. These pieces are so rare and so difficult to come by that companies are starting to make them out of antiqued and distressed leathers, but there’s no substitute for the real thing.”
Now the new sofas account for 80% of David’s business while the restored vintage and antique models make up the other 20%. And from September 25th, The Original Sofa Co will be the only North business to feature on invite-only luxury goods website www.1stdibs.com, which is a favourite with the likes of Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs and Diane Von Furstenberg.
Although still a relatively small crafting house with a team of seven, David has the feelers out for a London showroom and is looking at the Kings Road, Fulham Road or Mayfair. He’s also bought a share of Northumberland furniture company Trunk Reclaimed, which has created kitchens and chef’s pods for the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Jimmy Doherty.
Ultimately David believes his new legacy pieces will be the antiques of the future. “We want our furniture going through Christie’s doors in 50 to 80 years time,” he said. “As they’ll be worth more than people are paying for them now.”
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