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Barking Up The Right Tree

Troo Heath-Crew

"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 

 The Clerkenwell Collection

 The Clerkenwell Collection

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.

Bespoke HQ Fashion Launch 

Bespoke HQ Fashion Launch 

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 Glamorous Butler Console drawer detail

 The Glamorous Butler Console drawer detail

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.

Tree Couture studio room 

Tree Couture studio room 

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!

Extra-Curricular Creations

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.

The Sartorialist Mirror 

The Sartorialist Mirror 

Other Highlights

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. 

 

Financial Times - with Tree Couture's Ah-Mwa bottom centre 

Financial Times - with Tree Couture's Ah-Mwa bottom centre 

-       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. 

Hand-selected boards of European Walnut ready to begin its journey at the Tree Couture atelier 

Hand-selected boards of European Walnut ready to begin its journey at the Tree Couture atelier 

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!

Laddy - Barking up the Right Tree.png


All Things Bright and Beautiful...and Blossoming

Troo Heath-Crew

The thing about The Clerkenwell Collection is that, despite its structure of bricks and mortar, it simply never stands still.

Whichever day or night you step over its threshold, there’s loads going on, whether it’s wine tastings, fashion shows or launch parties, photo shoots, shopping sprees, or gallery viewings.  And the clientele you find in there are as eclectic and excitable as those that run the show and/or exhibit there.

Last night was no exception.  For those of you not yet in the know, Tree Couture is in the enviable position of calling The Clerkenwell Collection our ‘home from home’ – our spiritual, retail and show home! We show our limited edition collections of handcrafted solid wood furniture there and share the lovely two-storey space with a brilliantly diverse crew of other designer-makers and creative businesses. And last night we held a seriously fun Meet the Makers evening – a collaborative event with our wonderful artisan wine and champagne merchant friends The Perfect Cellar, our fabulous British tailoring buddies Bespoke HQ, and our gorgeous ‘wearable art’ designer-maker allies Guirado Design. 

It was a treat not just to meet up with our own friends and clients but also to meet those of the other businesses and have the chance to wax lyrical about the wonders of wood, our individual furniture pieces and our vibrant London workshop (our other home), and explain what ignites and drives our passion. Passion for what we do and quality in what we do are without doubt the common threads that tie all the ‘residents’ of The Clerkenwell Collection together.

One of our guests explained last night how much she loved coming to events at TCC as they were so refreshingly non-corporate, not in the least ‘sales-y’ and simply fascinating, enlightening and friendly.  Which pretty well sums up what goes on in our vibey little corner of Clerkenwell.

It’s mad to think this breath-of-fresh-air of a retail gallery and events space has only breathed life for a handful of months, but it most definitely feels that it’s already in full bloom! So do come along and check out everything that’s on offer here if you share our passion for all things bright and beautiful, and most certainly blossoming.

Click on the gallery below to view the images from the evening.

Ticking the Box

Troo Heath-Crew

It has been quite an exciting few days since our ladies Ah-Mwa jewellery cabinet was featured in the special festive edition of the Financial Times’ sumptuous How to Spend It magazine. With both hard copies and the online version of the heavyweight pink British broadsheet and its supplements being available worldwide, you have an instant insight into just how global our markets are these days.  We have had visitors directed to our website from multiple corners of the globe all curious to know more about this rather special collectible piece in Tree Couture’s current collection – the ladies Ah-Mwa.

ah-mwa.jpg

In luxe-guru Lucia van der Post’s article, she discusses the great merits of jewellery boxes, the most significant being that they provide a means of tidily storing one’s jewellery, and avoid “lovely pieces living in chaos in a variety of drawers”.  The storage aspect was indeed the starting point for my decision to design and make a ‘treasure trove’ for jewellery; but beyond that, I wanted it to be somewhere in which a whole jewellery collection could be both curated (how often do we forget what lurks at the bottom of the drawer or still in its original box?) as well as elegantly showcased. Whether it’s stamp collections or shoe collections, the aficionado simply has to have a place to show off his or her beloved pieces in all their glory!

The inspiration behind creating this and a number of my other designs comes from a desire to celebrate and reinvent pieces of furniture that have fallen out of use over time - in this case the solid old jewellery armoires from the art deco era. With a highly distinctive contemporary styling and functionality, we reintroduce these once-loved pieces well and truly into the twenty-first century.

The ladies Ah-Mwa is indeed a solid and substantial piece, a celebration of craftsmanship, made entirely of solid hardwood (not an ounce of veneer or MDF to be found!) and lined in soft, buttery leather throughout.  It has an amazing capacity thanks to its seven drawers (plus a concealed compartment for private papers) each individually tailored to showcase its designated items – from earrings and rings, to bracelets and watches.  And its mirrored bi-fold doors open out to fully display four open fronted necklace cases.

As with all Tree Couture pieces, each one is handcrafted by myself and my small and exceptionally talented team of fine cabinet-makers in our London atelier, before being inlaid with a gold makers mark and numbered.  Only fifty of these pieces will ever be made – which adds to its collectability and makes it a lovely investment piece (far prettier and indeed useful than a government bond!) and even a future heirloom. 

We are working on a small batch of five right now, all made from a particularly beautiful stock of American Black Walnut that I acquired recently, two of which have steamed pear wood accents and three have detailing in English prehistoric bog oak (dating from 3300 BC – yes really!).

Each piece has the option to be customised to order so you can choose exactly how you’d like your drawers to be configured, or what colour you’d like the internal leatherwork or the decorative trim inlaid into the doors on the cabinet.  And if you’re in or planning a trip to London, we’d love to welcome you to come and see an example of our Ah-Mwa in the most lovely store and gallery in London’s vibrant Clerkenwell – The Clerkenwell Collection. And so that the boys don’t feel left out, we have also made a fabulously handsome version for men!

So if you’re looking for the ultimate luxury Christmas gift, this may just tick the box – indeed a very substantial box!

Crafting the New Luxury

Troo Heath-Crew

 I recently came across a thought-provoking article exploring a shift in consumer’s perception of ‘luxury’.  Entitled Craft the New Luxury, it examines this new appraisal of what constitutes luxury, as well as the changing place in society of ‘craft’. Author of the article Professor Bruce Montgomery, a design consultant and Professor in Design Craftsmanship at Northumbria University, believes he understands where this newfound love of craft is coming from.

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In The Thick of It: Tree Couture Takes On Number 10!

Troo Heath-Crew

For someone who has what I like to describe as a ‘healthy’ curiosity, it’s always quite a thrill to have a peep through a keyhole, or take a snoop behind the scenes of somewhere otherwise out-of-bounds, and last week I was given the opportunity to do just that and go through one of the world’s most famous front doors, into a secret world where powerful people have been taking the most important decisions affecting Britain for the last 278 years!

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Uprooting A Monumental Artwork

Troo Heath-Crew

Artist Giuseppe Penone, since growing up on the fringes of a forest in Northern Italy has, like me, always had a deep fascination for trees. They have been the subject and point of inspiration of a significant part of his life’s work and his recent exhibition Spazio di Luce, which closed in October after a year’s residency at London’s Whitechapel Gallery*, is no exception.

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