"I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past." Thomas Jefferson
Just like Jefferson, we at Tree Couture like to think of ourselves as pretty progressive, forward thinkers, with our sights firmly set on the future and the shining lights on the horizon, but at this time of year particularly, as we plunge headfirst into a squeaky clean, brand spanking new year, it’s always quite a nice moment to have a little ponder, a quiet reflection on the past.
It's never a bad idea to check you're barking up the right tree!
It doesn’t require much effort on our part to acknowledge that 2013 was a seminal and pretty spectacular one for us at Tree Couture. If 2012 was our year of birth, then 2013 spanned not only the toddler phase, and our standing on our own two feet, but also probably the equivalent of our first bicycle ride without stabilisers! It’s been a tremendously exciting year and one that left us somewhat out of breath, but panting for more!
New Horizons in London’s Clerkenwell
As 2013 dawned, we were at full tilt prototyping and making our display pieces for our new gallery, retail and events space – The Clerkenwell Collection – which was being fitted out for its glorious grand opening in March. Teaming up with other terrifically exciting designer-makers and small independent creative businesses, we have watched TCC grow and blossom into a really exciting and thoroughly eclectic destination store, with a constant flow of events ranging from Meet the Maker evenings and wine-tastings through to fashion shows and launch parties.
Our Wood Offspring
We have placed some special pieces of our solid hardwood furniture on display at TCC all with very distinctive personalities but all very much from the same family – a chip off the old block, you might say! Amongst our creations, these are just a few of the characters you might bump into there:
Firstly, there’s The Splendid Squire – a rather magnificent fellow, this grand and elegant beast of a desk is a thoroughbred stunner, with a shard of silk-fused glass running along his length and a single yet huge (2-metre long) concealed drawer.
You also won’t fail to catch The Glamorous Butler – a maverick of a console table, sleek, charismatic, proud and charming, yet incredibly helpful, as all good butlers are, in decluttering and secreting away all your hidden treasures (and pockets full of knick-knacks!).
The Yogi-Yogini Mirror is a charming, double-sided cheval mirror of walnut, bronze, copper and steel, who floats around with his leather-lined drawers in all his grandeur on castors, and has an incredibly quiet yet powerful presence.
Then there’s also the Ménage à Bois nest of tables – a cheeky little threesome of solid wood and silk- or metal-mesh-fused glass beauties with loads of attitude, particularly when the spotlight’s on them. Plenty of other discoveries have been added over the last year to our collection and it’s wonderful to have had such amazing feedback from both clients and visitors to the gallery alike.
Back at the Atelier
Since the gallery launch, we have been working hammer and tong (well, the woodworker’s equivalent - chisel and mallet?) at our London atelier on producing small batches of these creations, every one always a little different from the next. Being strictly Limited Edition, we mark each one with a unique number and once we’ve made our agreed quota, we never make that design again. We are supremely proud of what we’ve made to date, the work and effort and, indeed love that has gone into each of the pieces and we are always very excited at the prospect of sending our little babes of wood out into their new life where they will hopefully bring lots of joy, beauty and functionality into their new homes and will be passed down the lines from the current generation of ‘guardian’ to the next.
In addition to Nikolay and I, 2013 saw the arrival of our third cabinet-maker, the kind and very capable Adam who has brought another great shot of enthusiasm and exuberance to the workshop and who has introduced some nice touches to our working week such as homemade cakes at teatime on Fridays!
Through the year we have made a few pieces of furniture specifically as charitable donations, including two double-sided wall-mirrors made of scores of individually crafted sections of solid hardwood and inlaid with mirror-finished copper. These mirrors, which we named The Sartorialist, were donated to the JLS Foundation raising money for Cancer Research for children as well as to The Amy Winehouse Foundation generating funds for the homeless. We also made a collaborative piece with tailors par excellence and fellow Clerkenwell Collection residents Bespoke HQ – Suit in a Box – a sumptuous suede-lined valet box which is off to New York shortly to auction off for The Amy WInehouse Foundation.
It’s hard to sum up a whole year in just a few paragraphs as there were so many special moments that added so much colour and vibrancy to life at Tree Couture in 2013, but here are just a handful of my personal highlights:
- One of my greatest thrills is that we added nearly two dozen young hardwood trees to our arboretum on beautiful protected land in Herefordshire where we set up our Tree Planting Programme. A native hardwood sapling is planted for every piece of furniture we make, and thanks to working a lot this past year in walnut and pear wood, we established a small orchard and nuttery in there which are really going strong.
- In November we put out our very first press release – which featured our Ladies Ah-Mwa – a fine handcrafted cabinet for curating and showcasing a collection of jewellery and accessories. It was immediately taken up by the Financial Times’ How to Spend It Christmas Edition and was given a wonderful exposure.
- Being part of a small delegation invited to discuss the position and future of small businesses in the craft sector at Number 10 Downing Street in late summer was a particular thrill. It was fascinating to get behind that famous glossy black door and quite an honour to be able to share views with other growing creative businesses and the ministers and advisors who help shape the policies that affect us. Getting to meet Larry the Downing Street cat (originally from the fabulous Battersea Dogs and Cats Home), however, had to be the absolute highlight of the day!
- We have made some amazing new friends and acquaintances throughout the past year, but we were particularly thrilled to welcome new neighbours into our little mews in 2013: namely two amazing design studios run by Glithero and Phil Cuttance. Apart from the fact they have become special friends to us at Tree Couture, it does feel really special to be part of this little North London enclave of creativity.
- We also developed a brand new website which we’re really delighted with, and even have a little video on there on us in action at the workshop!
- On designing and prototyping a new piece of furniture, many elements often from disciplines outside wood technology have to be introduced and tested. The biggest challenge for me in this sense in 2013 was the engineering involved in the pivoting mechanism of the huge cheval mirror – Yogi-Yogini. I was determined to get pairs of silver chiming meditational balls (the Chinese Baoding balls) to adjust the angle of the full-length mirror on its pivots. We calculated height and weight, tipping point and centre of gravity, and consulted experts in physics and engineering, and even designed and had specially made flanged, threaded nuts but just couldn’t get the mechanism to work. So it was a eureka (pivotal!) moment when, together with Nikolay, we discovered that all our test failures had been a result of the wrong kind of lubricant on the wrong kind of stainless steel. When we finally got that right and saw the mirror swing so gently and effortlessly back and forth by changing the position of the balls, it felt as good as if we’d just invented the wheel!
- But probably the greatest delight of all comes from looking back at the big picture – seeing that, even in really difficult economic times, with a lot of will, and determination, tonnes of hard work, a super-talented, enthusiastic and energetic team and an amazing support network – we have achieved a great deal – created a strong foundation and a body of work that we’re very proud of and passionate about, and that will outlive us all.
Back to the Future
And back to looking forward….! Yes, there’s a huge amount to look forward to as we turn our heads now towards this new year. There is so much plotting and planning and twiddling of proverbial (and non-proverbial!) moustaches going on – but the overriding theme is one of huge excitement.
A major development is that we are making great strides in terms of growth. We are about to sign a lease for a wonderful new space to expand into, create a new upholstery department to explore so many new creative ideas that are brimming over, set up our own spray booth to do the finishing of all our solid wood pieces in-house, and develop further prototypes for future collections. We have a beautiful reserve of premium quality hardwoods exclusively from sustainable forests, and new designs are constantly bubbling away and taking shape in my head which will be hugely exciting to turn into a reality.
Finally, we'd like to extend a huge thank you to all our clients, followers, supporters and co-conspirators for all your encouragement and support throughout this last year - please do keep checking in on us as there’s always so much going on and we’d love to share this next stage in our journey with you. We hope you agree that, when it comes to Tree Couture, we feel we’re very much barking up the right tree!