O&A London celebrates its 20th anniversary this year! With a growing number of international projects, and to create distinctive collections of furniture, lighting, textiles, wallpaper and rugs under its unique brand, the company develops collaborative projects with amazing and talented people. We are fortunate to work with leaders in their field: people who do not see boundaries and make the impossible possible. We proudly name these creators not just as partners but as co-designers and friends.
We are now delighted to announce the anniversary project «20 for 20». The project will consist of a series of exclusive interviews. Today we are happy to share with you an interview with Tom Faulkner, a furniture designer and a creative thinker.
O&A: What did you dream about when you were a child?
TF: I dreamed about being a footballer or a rock star. I also dreamed of living in a dark blue house full of white furniture.
O&A: Tell us about your background. Have you always dreamed to be a designer?
TF: No, I never considered that I could be a designer as a career – although as a child I was a creative thinker – I always liked to make things, and fix things. However, I spent my twenties doing different things – my favourite was working as a picture framer, and then I spent a year in New York working for a photographer for a while, and then for an interior designer. Then I returned to the UK and worked in music – in a record store and then for a record company, working in sales…
O&A: After more than 20 years working in furniture design, how would you describe your signature style?
TF: I use a lot of strong motifs – or silhouettes – in my work, and I don’t use a lot of additional ornament. I would say that my style is simple, distinctive, and (I hope) elegant.
O&A: Was it difficult to set up your workshop?
TF: When I started out on my creative journey, I walked through doors that were open and went down roads that looked interesting.
I once met a man who had a metal-fabrication workshop, and I asked him if he could make some tables for me, and soon he was making more and more things for me, to the extent that I became almost his only customer.
When he decided to retire he offered me the opportunity to take buy his workshop. I took a deep breath and said yes! I agreed to retain his two employees – Nigel Ballamy and Gordon Ball. That was in 1995 and Nigel still works for me, as chief engineer, and head of product development and Gordon retired earlier this year.
O&A: In 1999, you opened your first showroom, in Clerkenwell. Did you have a business plan that time how to promote your brand?
TF: Again, the showroom in Clerkenwell was an opportunity that came my way. It was miles from where I lived and miles from the workshop, but it somehow seemed like a good idea! I first set it up as a kind of “boutique” – with my furniture along with other housewares – plates, baskets, paintings, and even sunglasses. In around 2004 I met Miranda Kirwan who came to work for me on a part time basis, and she slowly became more involved in the business. As we started to sell more and more furniture to interior designers, we decided to give up the other homewares, to concentrate on furniture and in 2008 we moved to move to Chelsea. (Miranda is our current CEO). Miranda and I are the “co-authors” of Tom Faulkner as it exists today, we have built it together.
O&A: What makes Tom Faulkner designs different?
TF: I didn’t train as a furniture designer. I started out working in two dimensions, painting patterns on to table tops and flat surfaces, so without the proper training I have always had to keep it very simple, and have had to rely on the properties of the materials I use. I have never really looked at other furniture while designing.
O&A: Tell us about your collaboration with Jean de Merry?
TF: I met the Jean de Merry team on a trip to California in 2016. I just went to their showroom and introduced myself. They have wonderful showrooms and I was very pleased and flattered that they were keen to work with me. They are a wonderful showroom, but after three great years there we have now moved to the great David Sutherland in LA and Dallas. We are also represented by MOD in Denver, R. Hughes in Atlanta, and Angela Brown Ltd in New York.
O&A: Metal still remains your first love. Why do you like this material?
TF: The beauty of metal is that you can shape it and bend it and flatten it and roll it. It’s very versatile, and it’s very strong. I love that you can be very delicate with it and almost mild.
O&A: You said that the team is incredibly important. How many people work with you?
TF: About 18, but there are others – part time, and freelancers and then the photographers, art directors etc. who I work with regularly.
O&A: Describe your working day?
TF: I spend most of my time in London, either at home or in the showroom and the rest of time I am in the workshop. I find it difficult to divide my time between two / three places, but that’s just the way it is! If I’m in the workshop I will be working on new pieces or helping with existing bespoke orders.
Like most people I feel I spend far too much time in front of a computer, and I find it difficult to carve out time to design and think.
O&A: The key words that define Tom Faulkner are creativity, boldness, friendliness and integrity. Can you explain it?
TF: Whatever we do as a business we like to refer to these words.
We are a creative business, but we need to be creative with everything we do. We need to think creatively and make things happen. Miranda and I have a mantra: “There’s always a way”.
Being bold means we have to do what we believe is right, and we need to take chances when they present themselves.
Friendliness is very important to me – in every aspect of my the business. To our clients and customers obviously, but to everyone we are in contact with. As they say, a smile costs nothing! Integrity means doing what’s right, and being authentic. If you get a Christmas card signed by me then it’s been signed by me, not someone who works for me! And I don’t want to be involved in a project or a collaboration for the sake of publicity if it doesn’t interest me.
O&A: What makes a piece of furniture a masterpiece?
TF: That’s pretty difficult to answer. Corbusier once said of a side table made for him by his friend Jean Prouvé that “The table is so perfect that I haven’t even noticed it…” Chairs are famously the most difficult things to design. The MR10 by Mies van de Rohe is one of my absolute favourites. It’s simple, elegantly proportioned, modern, and incredibly beautiful.
O&A: Tell us about your new Atlantic collection. What inspired you?
TF: I was actually inspired by the work of Jean Prouvé, although the design moved on a long way during the process. It was meant to be easy, young, contemporary and stylish. Not grand – no bronze or marble – but practical and modest in the choice of materials.
The top is made with a wonderful material which is a kind of veneer made from card and paper impregnated with resin. It is very practical – both scratch, and fingerprint resistant.
O&A: What do you love most in your work?
TF: I love being able to work with my hands, and I really appreciate being as close to the product and to the process as I am. I spend a lot of time in the workshop. And of course I love working with beautiful things.
But most important to me is the people I work with. Being an employer is a privilege and a pleasure. I have a wonderful team in the workshop who enjoy what they do and take great pride in their work, and I have an equally wonderful team in the showroom/office. And it is thanks to all of their efforts that the business has grown, as it has.
O&A: Do you like books by William Faulkner? Which one is your favourite?
TF: I’ve yet to read one! I think I would start with the “The Sound and the Fury” – what a GREAT title! J Strangely in America people often ask me if I am related to William Faulkner, but no one has ever mentioned it in the UK…
O&A: What are you dreaming about today?
TF: Travelling to Japan next year… It might just be a dream!