Anthony Hartley with CABLE furnitureHomegirl London pays homage to Anthony Hartley.  Designer and maker of fabulous plywood furniture in cool colour combinations.  He’d been designing and making for over 20 years before setting up his business in April 2010 with his new partner (business and otherwise) Nel Hargrave.  Together they took the plunge and showcased Anthony’s work at an exhibition and haven’t looked back since.

Anthony’s years of joinery experience and taking a course in furniture design have stood him in good stead to create a unique and interesting range of super stylish pieces.  Take his CABLE collection of tables and chairs; he encourages people to engage with colour and design by allowing them to choose their own colour combinations of legs, seats, table tops and chair backs which they can swap around and secure together using cable ties – genius!  I caught up with Anthony to find out more …

Q: Tell me about your design background.

A:  I was offered a place at art college out of school, but coming from a council estate in Leeds in the 1980s, family pressure meant that I ended up with a trade’s apprenticeship in welding and then joinery.  I worked as a joiner in London and Yorkshire for over 20 years, but always designed and made furniture.  I finally put the joinery on hold and went to Leeds College of Art in 2000 where I studied furniture design and created prototypes for some of my most successful pieces.  I went back to joinery to pay the bills but spent more time making furniture, including a distinctive range of outdoor sofas and chairs.

Nel is a professional project manager, currently working on large public sector programmes.  She still works four days and supports Anthony’s business the other three days.  Not a designer by any means, but has always loved architecture and design and created the business website and marketing materials.

Q: How did you meet?

A: Match.com!  We’re partners as well as business partners.  We both mentioned ‘Farrow and Ball paint cards’ as one of our favourite things and Nel was most impressed that rather than pictures of my car (yawn), I had a prototype of my Edna 3 cabinet as a profile picture.

Frank and Mrs Frank

Frank and Mrs Frank Table and Chair

Q: Why set up your business?

A: To get it out of my system and find out if I could design furniture that people wanted to buy.  In 2011, 3 months after Nel and I met, we re-mortgaged the house and booked a stand at Tent London.  I worked full time creating furniture and luckily it was well received.  We got heaps of national and international press interest and a major commission from London Transport Museum for commemorative furniture for the 150 anniversary of the tube in 2013.  We didn’t really look back after that and are about to launch our third range of furniture.

Q: Where are you based and why?

A: We have developed a creative space in an old mill building in Haworth, West Yorkshire, called Damside Mill (www.damsidemill.com).  Nel lived in the area when we first met and had previously used the mill for business premises.  The workshop is on the ground floor and upstairs we have two studios where we run upholstery and interiors courses and a gallery space for contemporary artists and designers.  Following a major fire in December 2010 we are just completing the restoration work and re-open for business in September 2013.

Haworth is not only stunning place to live, with the wild moors and famous cobbled streets, but has a long history of attracting creative types.  Just down the road we are extremely lucky to have a FabLab (www.fablabairedale.com) which has been absolutely crucial in providing technical skills and facilities to support the fairly rapid development of new product ranges.

Q: How many people work at your company?

A: I design and make everything while Nel does everything else.

Q: Describe your design style.

A: Retro-pop-art.

Mr and Mrs Smith Detailing

Mr and Mrs Smith Detailing

Q: Where do you draw your creative inspiration from?

A: I get a lot of inspiration from magazines and design books, museums, galleries, shops, nature, work, other people, collaboration and also from experimenting in the workshop with different materials.

Q: Tell me about your collections.

A:  Mr and Mrs Smith, Edna and Sidney are bespoke collections;

Mr and Mrs Smith: Bespoke multi-coloured high gloss chairs and tables in a distinctive curvy shape.

Mr and Mrs Smith Chair and Table

Mr and Mrs Smith Table and Chair

Edna 1, 2 and 3: Bespoke multi-coloured high gloss drawer cabinets with very sexy legs.

Edna 1

Edna 1 Console / SideboardEdna 3

Edna 3 Chest of Drawers

Sidney: Bespoke multi-coloured shelving unit which goes into and around corners.  All made to order by hand.

CABLE: chairs, tables, benches, stools and cabinets in coloured laminate coated ply, with a cable tie detail which acts as a joint as well as a design feature.

Cable Collection

Cable Table and Chairs

New range: (doesn’t have a name yet) – dining and occasional furniture using a joint specially designed so it doesn’t need any screws or fixings.

Q: Tell me about your bespoke service.

A: I love to customise!  We make each piece of the bespoke range in either our house colours, or develop a specific colour sequence for the client, which is then certified to them and never used again.  The Sidney shelving unit is made bespoke for each specific environment as it has to fit into corners and over doors.  CABLE can also be customised or we can work in specific colours.

Q: What’s your fascination with plywood?

A: Plywood is a material I choose to use over most others as it gives me the strength and flexibility that a lot of my designs require.  It looks good from all sides, takes finishes well, it comes in standard widths that can be designed around and it’s just a great all round material.

Q: Which designer do you admire and why?

A: Gerrit Reitveld is the designer maker that most fascinated me visually from an early age.  Discovering his history and involvement in the de-stijl movement and the fact that it was founded in 1917 made his vision and designs even more extraordinary and are still seen as modern and contemporary in the present market.

Q: What’s the best thing about owning your own business?

A: Freedom to create, experiment, trust your own judgement, choose who you work with and make your own mistakes.

Q: What one piece of advice would you pass on to someone wanting to set up their own business?

A: Get yourself a Nel.  Seriously, designers and makers are not always the best people to do accounts, design websites, fill in tax returns and sort out their own marketing.  Either be prepared to spend half your time doing this, or plan to pay someone to do it and use your time doing what you’re best at.  Also invest in good photography; really good, strong and unusual images which grab the eye of bloggers, journalists and publications.

Q: What’s coming up for the rest of 2013?

A:  Launch of the bespoke collection for London Transport Museum in tube line colours.  The re-opening of Damside and planning the gallery programme.  Launching the new range and hopefully getting a long overdue holiday.

In terms of prices, the bespoke pieces are designed and hand made to order; prices reflect this at around £5000.  CABLE and the new range are designed to be more affordable and start at under £100.  To find out more about Anthony and his furniture go to www.anthonyhartley.com.  Credits: text by Homegirl London, images courtesy of Anthony Hartley, special thanks to Anthony and Nel.