Earlier this month we were delighted to invite London lifestyle blogger Homegirl to interview Tom. To catch up on the full article over on Homegirl’s website, please see the link at the end of this piece. In a hurry? Catch up on the condensed version below as Tom explains how he went about starting his business, hiring his first employees and where he finds his design inspiration.
Firstly, when did you start the company?1995.
Who were your first employees?My first two employees were Nigel Ballamy and Gordon Ball. I met them over twenty years ago when they were working for a small metal fabricator in Wiltshire. They were making skips and metal racking. Nigel was incredibly skilful and knowledgeable, having done a full British Rail apprenticeship, and Gordon was his loyal assistant. I approached them to make me a table, and they are both still working for me! Nigel is head welder involved in production and product development.
Do you share the decision making process with anyone else?We are not technically business partners but I have had a very long very good business relationship with Miranda Kirwan who is the Commercial Director of Tom Faulkner. She came to work for me fifteen years ago working one day a week. Slowly she became more and more involved and could now be described as the “co-author” of Tom Faulkner as it is today. Broadly speaking I am “creative” and she is “marketing”, but we cross over and support each other.
Tell me about your background – what did you do before starting your business?One of my first jobs was working for a picture framer in Wandsworth in my early twenties – there was a small workshop where we made frames and decorated mounts, and a small shop in Gray’s Antique Market where we sold antique prints. I loved that the business had both a shop and a workshop, meaning I could be “hands on” with the product and interact with the customers. I’m very lucky that I have managed to create a business similar to that.
Why did you set up the business?I like making things, I have always liked to work with my hands, and always liked working out how to put things together. I began by hand-painting table-tops in the early 90s and very much enjoyed the buzz and thrill of selling something that I had made. As my tastes (and fashion) changed, I moved into metal design, met Nigel and Gordon, and the business grew from there.
Why did you call the company Tom Faulkner and not something else?The very first business consultant I met told me not to call the business “ABC designs” or anything. He said go with your name and I have found it to be a valuable asset for the business. There is a real person behind the name, and I enjoy presenting designs to potential clients which I have designed myself.
Where are you based and why?We have a showroom in Chelsea, London and our workshop is in Swindon, Wiltshire. I used to have a shop / showroom in East London but it was impossible to persuade interior designers to come out there! Chelsea is the eye of the interior design storm in London, and we are lucky enough to be in the middle of it. Our workshop is in Swindon – in the old railway works of the Great Western Railway – built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It’s an hour from Paddington.
How many people work at Tom Faulkner?We are twenty now, plus various freelancers and still growing!
What’s the best thing about owning your own business?Firstly, it’s amazing to be able to make a living, especially from sketches and scribbles which come out of your head. It’s also great that to have created an entity which exists in its own right, where people have a decent job for which they are well rewarded and valued. It was wonderful when I had the realisation that your business does not have to be ‘like’ anyone else’s. It’s not all about money and it’s not about an ‘exit’. A business can be about creating something of value to yourself and your employees, and the community. And finally of course, there is a certain freedom, although it’s never really that simple!
How would you describe your products?We make sculptural and distinctive furniture – mainly tables and chairs although we will soon be developing our accessories range. For the most part, we work in bronze or steel, creating each piece from scratch with our talented team of welders. Our tabletops can be made from wood, marble, or glass, and every aspect of the piece can be handpicked by the client. The metal can even be customised, either with patinations (heat and chemicals applied to metal to speed up the aging or oxidisation process) or by being hand painted. Our clients really value that ability to have a completely bespoke piece. As for colours – they tend to be quite muted – except with upholstery (on chairs), although our bespoke service does mean that the colour is ultimately decided by the client.
How would you describe your design style? Restrained, elegant, distinctive.
Tell me about your key collections. Capricorn is probably our signature piece – it has a very distinctive and classical silhouette and it’s also modern and sculptural. It is a simple shape to look at but very complex to create – I like that it requires further inspection. I designed it over twenty years ago and the inspiration is difficult to remember, but I’ve always been fascinated by architecture, bridges and the perfect curve. A strong and simple silhouette is a common thread between everything I design. While I design all the pieces, I encourage my team to help me name the designs – it’s amazing what they come up with!
Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?A huge list! Architecture, patterns in nature, classical silhouettes, iconic Bauhaus design, art…. My travels around the world are also a great source of inspiration, my recent trip to Japan spawned a fascination with the muted colours and delicate form of Japanese pottery and their lush greenery inspired one of our new leather colours ‘Midori’. I do find however that inspiration is a wonderfully unpredictable tool. Quite often it will be months after I see something interesting that I then find it manifested in a design. Who knows if or when I will create my first piece of Japanese inspired furniture?!
Which creative person or company do you admire and why?For product design it has to be Marc Newson – because he is super cool and seems to be able to design anything effortlessly and with style. I also admire Paul Smith for similar reasons and for being a genius, as well as tall, elegant, charming (I gather), and humble. He helped me buy a jumper in his shop the other day, as if he was one of the staff.
What might people not know about your manufacture process?Our workshop is on the site of the Great Western Railway Works in Swindon which were built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in the 19th century. You can still see the original tracks used to transport the trains into the workshops. There is an engineering history there which we are proud to be inspired by everyday. My team of skilled makers create our metal furniture on site, using traditional metalwork techniques such as welding, grinding, linishing and polishing. Depending on client requests, the piece can be painted or patinated by our expert finishing team to become a one-off piece. We also work with a number of expert partners to ensure the very best complementary materials. The leather on our Berlin chair, for example, is subjected to an ancient traditional tanning process using oak-bark to achieve a distinctive rich hue.
Do you ship overseas? Where is the furthest you have shipped a piece?Our orders from the USA have increased greatly in the last couple of years. Probably the furthest we have shipped a piece is China. We are now represented on both New York and San Francisco, and we are about to launch our partnership with Jean de Merry in Los Angeles, Dallas, and Chicago.
What would you say the price point is?It varies. Our accessories are of course more accessible but our furniture is handmade and finished using the very best materials and this is reflected in the cost.
Do you have a bespoke service?We are extremely proud of our bespoke service. Simply put, every piece is unique and can be made more unique by our clients’ requests. The surface of the metal can be customised with our standard or specialist finishes in and broad spectrum of colours but the actual design of the piece can also be adjusted too. In the past we have created dining tables twice the size of the original design with mammoth pieces of marble shipped in specially from Italy for the tabletop! It’s a very exciting and inspiring area of my business that grows every year.
See the full feature at Homegirl London. Many thanks to Tanya Lake.