What are your earliest memories of your parents’ influence?My earliest visual memory is of seeing my father welding his desk in the basement of Kensington Palace where we lived at the time. I was about five years old and I remember being very enthralled by the physicality of it and the thrill of seeing things actually being made. He was always making things and he was also very busy working on the aviary for London zoo, all of which seemed very exciting to me. I think there I saw very early on that for him designing and making couldn’t be separated – they went hand in hand. He taught me how to draw, how to throw a pot, how to look at things. My mother would take me to the National Gallery and let me look at just one picture which I had to really study and then we would go home again. I do this now with my own children. My father was always taking us to wonderful private houses and gardens where he would embarrass us deeply by turning up announced because he wanted to show us something – somehow they always let him in. I remember in particular going to Rousham in Oxfordshire with its great William Kent landscaped gardens. He also always made sure that we didn’t shirk the work involved in having things – if we had a pony we had to muck out the stables, clean the tack. What I call the ying and yang – pleasure always had to be paid for in some way.
What was your next step after school?John Makepeace was running a school for craftsmen in wood and that seemed to be the right place to learn more. I was very inspired by the great variety of skills that he taught there – turning, veneering, bodging and so on. And the challenge for me was not just to go on producing the sort of things he did but to try and make things even better. My father had drummed into me that fine craftsmanship alone wasn’t enough – it can sometimes be used to make very unlovely things – the actual end product had to be beautiful too.
How did you get your first break?I was incredibly lucky because I then met Fleur Rossdale who was just putting on an exhibition of British Interior Design in Regent’s park showcasing the work of leading Interior Designers and she got Derek Frost to ask me to make a huge cabinet for his room. My mother came to see it and the whole exhibition got a lot of attention which meant my name became known.
How did you get started?Well after that I opened a studio in a friend’s workshop down in Surrey next to the station. There Matthew Rice and I made a vast screen, inspired by Tuscany and featuring some very simplistic trees, which we sold to Willis Faber & Dumas, the insurance company. We then made more screens – they were all very large – and we became rather known for them.
What gave you the confidence to open your first shop when you were still so young – just 23?Well one day Miriam Stoppard came all the way down to Dorking to the studio and bought a screen. She and Tom then lived in a lovely house where the screen looked quite wonderful. I kept asking to borrow it back to take to exhibitions such as one I was asked to take part in America. And it was then that Miriam said that I needed a shop, somewhere to show my work and so in the summer of 1985 we opened a small shop at No. 1 King’s Road, right down past the World’s End.
What made you move to Pimlico?A friend said that I really shouldn’t be all the way down there - that I needed to be where my customers could more easily see our work so in 1993 we moved to Pimlico to the site where a shop called Casa Pupo that I had often visited with my mother used to stand. We just had a smallish space on the corner but it did change people’s perception of us – we looked like a serious business. Our turnover jumped from being absolutely tiny to over a million a year and from being just five people we became nine.
What were you selling?Well at first we made only to commission – mostly dining-room tables, desks, beds (one for Elton John I remember), lots of big landmark pieces. But then we realised that now that we had a shop we had to have things that people could buy and so we made some accessories, things like fruit bowls and some beautiful veneered boxes in burr oak.
What were the most exciting things you made?We were lucky enough to be commissioned by many of the best interior designers and patrons – people such as Tessa Kennedy, Nina Campbell, Martin Summers – to make lots of interesting marquetry pieces. I liked working with our designers to break down perceived notions of how things should be and to make things that are pushing at the boundaries. We also make quite a lot of special pieces for collectors – things like a vast backgammon table that we’re making at the moment for a new club. They are always challenging.
What has given you the most satisfaction over the years?I don’t have an ego about being the big designer – I take great pride in being a maker. I’m most proud of the people that we’ve nurtured over the years, many of whom have left us to start their own businesses. We’ve been a meeting place for craftsmen. Then I love handing over projects to clients and seeing their pleased faces when we’ve delivered something that more than meets their expectations – that is always a moment of great joy.