Is craft the new luxury? We’ve come a long way from luxury homeware being all about the bling. As we seek to buy less and buy better, many are casting aside showy and opulent designs in favour of timeless pieces crafted by skilled artisans using traditional methods.
In this blog, co-founder Bethan introduces her favourite British brands working to revive heritage crafts and manufacture in the UK. This new generation of British designers, makers and heritage brands is forging a bright future for traditional crafts that were once in danger of being lost.
Sebastian Cox, coppicer and furniture maker
I first met Sebastian way back in 2011 when I was working for Ideal Home magazine and he was exhibiting some of the furniture he’d made for his MA at the London Design Festival. In his white-box booth, the simple furniture made from coppiced hazel and woven ash as shone out to me for its natural beauty and honest craftsmanship. Today, much of the wood used to make the furniture is sourced from Sebastian’s own woodland in Kent, often combined with experimental materials such as mycelium - a suede-like material that comes from mushrooms - which Sebastian literally grows into beautiful compostable light shades.
Sebastian’s mission is as much about biodiversity as it is about design, responsibly coppicing his ancient woodland in the traditional way. The result is thoughtfully crafted furniture that showcases the hand of Mother Nature as much as it does the hand of the maker.
Image: Alun Callender
Alex Pole, blacksmith
From his smithy deep in Somerset cider-country, Alex Pole uses age-old methods to forge metal into beautiful kitchenware, axes and tools. He originally trained as a jeweller but today his work is on a larger scale, driven by a yearning to create objects that are perfectly designed to perform a specific purpose and function.
Most pieces are now made from steel and heated on a gas furnace, but the traditional skills of the blacksmith remain unchanged for hundreds of years. Alex now also runs courses and workshops, bringing his craft to life and passing on skills to the next generation.
Image: Homes & Antiques
Florian Gadsby, ceramicist
A little-known fact that alongside running The British Blanket Company, I’m also an aspiring potter. Florian Gadsby is a constant source of inspiration, not only through the timeless ceramics he makes in his London studio but by generously sharing of his skills through pottery video tutorials on YouTube and Instagram.
Perhaps this love of teaching comes from his own journey as a potter, working as an apprentice to master ceramicists in the UK, Ireland and Japan and taking inspiration from the renowned British studio potter, Bernard Leach. Today, Florian is arguably the most successful craftsman of the Instagram age, with his quarterly sales of 300-400 pots selling out online in under 30 minutes.
Hiut Denim, makers of jeans
Until 2002, 400 of the 4,000 inhabitants of Cardigan, a small town in rural Wales, made jeans. They made 35,000 pairs of jeans a week for three decades, when Marks & Spencer closed its last remaining factory, moving production to Morocco. Cardigan’s denim trade was over.
Nine years later, David and Claire Hieatt stepped up with a mission for their town to make jeans again. Having successfully built the clothing brand Howies, the couple set to work recruiting former workers (now in their 50s) back to the factory. Hiut Denim began trading in 2011, making just 30 pairs of jeans a week. Today, everyone from Meghan Markle to Radiohead have joined the legendary no-wash club, snapping up one of the 200 pairs Hiut’s grandmasters now make each week.
Annemarie O’Sullivan, basket maker
Based in East Sussex, Annemarie O'Sullivan makes contemporary baskets using ancient British techniques. She grows around 20 varieties of willow, which she harvests by hand on a half-acre plot near her home. Working from a wooden studio in her garden, Annemarie creates both small-scale domestic objects and larger woven sculptures.
Engaging with every step from harvesting to weaving, her work draws on the curves of the landscape and demonstrates a connection with nature that results in beautiful baskets, steeped in history. Annemarie has travelled and learnt from makers of different traditions, collaborating along the way, always mindful to acknowledge the extraordinary legacy of the makers who came before.
The British Blanket Company, wool blanket weavers
The British Blanket Company was founded in 2015 by siblings Bethan John and Joe John, with the mission to revive the British weaving industry. They work with traditional mills in England, Wales and Ireland to make honestly-designed blankets with a colourful contemporary twist.
Since medieval times, wool was at the heart of Britain’s thriving economy. Wool cloth made in England, Wales and Ireland was considered the best in the world. The Industrial Revolution saw another boom in weaving, with vast woollen mills in Yorkshire and Lancashire employing thousands of people up until the late 1950s, when many mills closed as production moved overseas. The British Blanket Company works with the last remaining mills to revive these traditional weaving skills and rekindle Britain’s passion for wool.