Simon Teer talks to Mark Kebble about a creative childhood, career in design and why he wants his company Teer & Co to shine a light on craftsmanship
Were you a creative child?
I loved art, especially drawing caricatures and still life. My grandad was a talented landscapes painter and my parents enjoyed craft-based and furniture-making hobbies. Creativity ran in my family, we all took great pride in our creations and, for me, art and design naturally became my strong subjects at school.
I knew from an early age that I would have a career in the world of creativity. I don’t recall ever seeing myself earning my living as a designer or artist, but I could see myself working in the industry with them, which is how my career has evolved.
When did you start developing an interest in wood furnishings?
My appreciation of beautifully designed and skilfully handcrafted wood furnishings grew, perhaps subconsciously, from quite an early age. An early recollection was seeing my father’s meticulous ways of working, both professionally and around the house, and following his journey designing and hand crafting an oak dining table and chairs for our family in his spare time. Everyone anticipated him completing his masterpiece for what seemed like a lifetime! It was given to me when I left home and I eventually passed it on to friends of my parents who expressed interest in refurbishing and styling the upholstery to their taste, ensuring its continued use.
This quote by iconic Danish furniture designer, Hans J. Wegner (1914-2007), simply captures my interest in the unique character of wood furnishings…“Love of wood is something that all mankind has in common. Regardless of where people come from, they cannot help themselves from letting their hands touch a piece of wood, hold it, smell it and experience the material“.
Consciously, I’ve spent my 38-year career to date working with many talented designers from around the world. Through my experiences since 2002, advising and mentoring owner-founders and leaders of40+ design firms in varying disciplines, I gravitated towards working more so with interior and furniture designers. By immersing myself in their working lives as an integral part of my work with them, I developed a keen understanding of and appreciation for great design and refined traditional workmanship.
These experiences have informed and led to my perfect role with Teer & Co – curating a furniture collection and representing some of the finest emerging and established designer-makers of timber and soft furnishings.
Before Teer & Co, how would you describe your career in the industry?
Having studied art and design, my career began in the mid 80s in product development with two leading brands in the toy industry. I learnt the end-to-end process of sourcing ideas from inventors, working with packaging and product designers, testing, specification and pricing, development into prototyping for launch at trade shows and ultimately manufacturing.
My career developing products in the toy industry ran into the early 90s, following which I worked for some large and small design agencies in account management and business development roles and then set up and ran my own design business in 1999. Having experienced the challenges of setting up, running and exiting my own business in 2002, I developed a rewarding career as a consultant and mentor to aspiring design firms, which remains a part of my career 20 years on.
Every role I have taken on, whether employed or in self-employment since 1999, has involved working alongside designers. Commissioning their expertise, collaborating, understanding their challenges, mentoring and advising them on strategy, positioning, purpose, making valuable business connections, building tangible value and influencing behaviours that drive designers to lead a more proactive and rewarding work life.
My mother’s values and supportive caring nature have certainly influenced and shaped my character and informed my career path – harnessing my experience to support designers that welcome guidance or representation, and wish to better themselves and make their mark in the industry. Not so much ‘sage on the stage’, more ‘guide on the side’.
What was the greatest thing you learnt during this time?
So many learnings, but I would say I realised the importance of being able to listen well and generously in conversations. People today can be rather self-absorbed. So much so that at times they’re barely listening to others because they’re wired to speak, to ‘own the stage’ and be heard. Listening well is perhaps an undervalued quality that people should be more mindful of both in business and socially.
In the words of Francois de La Rochefoucauld (French author & moralist, 1613 – 1680)…“To listen closely and reply well is the highest perfection we are able to attain in the art of conversation”.
What inspired you to launch Teer & Co and when was this?
Between 2007 and 2015 I sadly lost both my parents and sister. In 2016, with renewed focus, I felt the time was right to set up Teer & Co, but found my consultancy and mentoring work didn’t allow me sufficient time to get right behind this new venture. So reluctantly in 2017 I put Teer & Co on the back burner.
My interest in fine furniture, desire to represent designer-makers and celebrate traditional craftsmanship were already known and formed. I just needed to find the right time to be able to focus on developing the business. The Covid lockdown in 2020 turned off my regular work for a time and I embraced the opportunity to focus my time and attention on shaping Teer & Co.
What did you want to offer from the get go?
Teer & Co was created for those who share our love of wood, great design, skilfully handcrafted workmanship and creating distinctive, timeless and desirable furnishings that endure. Through a growing network of some of the finest emerging and established designer-makers, we collaborate with interior designers, architects, developers, private and corporate clients to help create unique homes and commercial spaces of the highest quality.
From the outset, I wanted to offer clients choice in how they order from and work with us. So we offer; standard made-to-order items through our collection, we invite customisation of some standard items if an alternative size, material or finish is preferred, and we facilitate the creation of a bespoke piece of free standing furniture or object to help realise the unique individual ideas of private and trade clients.
Have you evolved in any way?
Sustainability through our designer-makers in the way they source materials, how they operate their independent workshops, recycle waste, reuse, etc, has become a key consideration in who we represent and whose work we show in the Collection.
Fundamentally, by developing our positioning for Teer & Co around the philosophy of Buy Well, Buy Less we place our impact on the environment front of mind and encourage people to invest in timeless, high quality, handcrafted timber and soft furnishings that are made to last. The benefits of this are to minimise our consumption and to owning items that can be refurbished and re-purposed when their use is retired, and not sent to landfill.
We are also gradually opening up new trial categories like Textiles to gauge interest.
Why are you keen to promote traditional craftsmanship?
Sustainability, craft and making are increasingly important aspects of our society, environment, culture and economy. Supporting the whole movement towards traditional craft and making, authenticity, the wellbeing associated with bringing nature into the environments we inhabit, sustainability and people that appreciate and want to own objects with genuine provenance and soul has my interest, and feels like a meaningful worthwhile pursuit in this latter stage of my career.
What Teer & Co offers the market is a very personal representation of items I appreciate and skills I admire in others. Additionally, the business brings together and makes best use of not just my own skills of interpretation, making-management and understanding of great customer service, but my experiences and learnings throughout my career.
I love what I’m doing. It’s early days so I’m exploring, flexible and willing to take the business in whatever I identify its natural direction to be. I sense others see the value in what I’m shaping and are interested to be involved, so it’s an exciting time to be in this growth industry.
How do you decide on the designer-makers you work with?
Operationally, our drop shipping business model requires that designer-makers are based in the UK, they have their own workshop and can design and make to order and arrange shipping direct to the customer in a professional, reliable, sustainable, responsive and collaborative relationship with us.
Aesthetically, I look for designer-makers that offer something distinctive, of a quality and individuality that brings a new dimension, making style, story or personality to Teer & Co that complements the existing designer-makers and collection.
I strive to find a balance between supporting some of the aspirational younger emerging talent initially by featuring their work, whilst welcoming the more experienced talent that are established yet still keen to be in the Collection or just on our radar for the potential of a bespoke commission.
What inspires a new collection and how does it all come together?
By monitoring emerging trends and searching the market for talent, Teer & Co brings into view a unique collection of sometimes ‘limited visibility’ handcrafted furnishings curated to inspire customers that share our love of great design and refined workmanship.
Inspiring discerning customers is the challenge that drives the search for new Collection pieces. Identifying original, refined and maybe unseen elegant design features, tactile surfaces, new proportions, timber species, finishes and overall aesthetics are key qualities and considerations that inform whether a new item or range is included or developed for the Collection.
The Collection has evolved from just timber to include soft furnishings and a widening pool of trusted designer-makers to increase capacity and broaden the range of making styles we offer private and trade clients.
The Collection includes rarely seen one-off bespoke commissioned pieces made available to order, and comprises four small Ranges of furniture for customers that wish to coordinate several pieces for a given project to achieve a cohesive design theme across different spaces. Additional pieces can be custom-designed to match or complement a particular Range if not offered as a standard item in the Collection.
Have you worked on any special bespoke projects recently?
In late January 2022 we were approached by a private client to discuss a custom-designed feature wall installation of the very popular luxurious Decorative Panelling we offer in the substantial natural light-filled hallway of their Bedfordshire home.
This unique feature wall took six months from the first conversations to completion of the installation in early July 2022; however, these installations can be delivered in a far shorter timeframe. The project was a truly collaborative effort that Teer & Co co-ordinated between the client and our partners in Poland, and our largest and most challenging installation to date.
How long have you been based in Bushey and what do you love about the area?
My wife and I bought our house in Bushey 22 years ago. We were attracted by the choice of great schools in the area which our son has attended, the transport links are excellent, we take regular walks in the countryside, I’ve joined many local running events, we enjoy the village community feel, characterful independent shops and there are some great restaurants.
What’s next for Teer & Co?
Everything I’ve learnt about working with designers, client service, process, project management and being proactive is poured into Teer & Co to the betterment of how custom and bespoke projects run. And how we look out for both our designer-makers and private or trade clients by taking the middle ground and steering the creation of elegant distinctive furnishings.
Alongside sourcing new furnishings for the Collection, and discovering fresh designer-makers to invite into the fold, I have aspirations to develop and introduce an ‘own-brand’ interior furnishing item for launch in 2023. Current ideas forming are being researched and will require the involvement of a designer-maker to collaborate with us as a joint venture opportunity.
From September 2022, alongside our talented designer-makers, we are featuring the work of local contemporary British artists as a fresh new Art offering from Teer & Co. First up is Paul Hillary, a Hertfordshire-based abstract and semi-abstract artist influenced by atmospheres in nature as well as everyday textures in urban and rural environments. The plan is to start offering for sale through the Collection, a small selection of standard artworks, and to welcome bespoke commission enquiries to support those looking for a more individual personal piece for themselves, or as a gift.
Which rather nicely brings us full circle back to my love of art from an early age. Maybe the obvious challenge here is to sharpen my own pencils and get to work on some creations of my own to feature and offer through the Collection on Teer & Co!