Part of the furniture
The Hertfordshire-based co-owner and design director of a luxury bespoke furniture brand Rough Living writes about his journey and luxury industrial
Were you a creative child?
Definitely, which was very easily achieved back then, in the pre-technology years when arts and crafts were a homely game rather than playing on the internet and iPads. I was drawing rather than designing at a young age and I remember trying to master pencil drawing and shading by copying Disney characters in my sketchbook.
When did a career in design become a real possibility for you?
Whilst this was the clear plan from around the age of 17 and I chose to study at Kingston University, it didn’t actually materialise until I reached 26. I finished university with a good degree, but work opportunities were minimal at that time, so I worked in other jobs for five years before deciding to quit and following my gut and start a furniture brand.
Before Rough Living, what experiences did you have in the industry?
Absolutely none! Luckily, I learned and developed lots of valuable CAD (computer aided design) skills at university, alongside a small amount of furniture making. This allowed me to continue working on small projects for friends and acquaintances for a few years, things like business branding, logos, websites etc. So, whilst I wasn’t exactly ‘in’ the industry, I was still ticking over and learning to deliver projects and meet clients’ expectations – which proved very useful in the long run.
What initially inspired you to co-found Rough Living?
Even when I was in my other job roles (post-university) I was always thinking about design and knew that one day I would pursue it somehow. I think, eventually, the tediousness of my day-to-day office role ground me down enough to take the leap. I’m certainly not meant for indoor office life and love the adventure of pushing ambitious plans and seeing what can be made in a business sense. I guess it is a passion for seeing things materialise into a physical form, whatever that might be.
From day one what did you want to offer?
Cool handmade furniture. As simple as that. I knew how to weld, and I was adequate with hand wood tools, so my mind then turned into thinking how I could make things for a living and get paid at the same time.
How do you go about creating new pieces of furniture?
We’re lucky in that we work with a lot of very talented designers on very exclusive projects. What we find is that trends begin in the commercial space, take a year or two and then wander into the high-end residential space, and then become mainstream.
So whilst we are not a ‘design’ firm as such, we have the benefit of seeing fresh design details and styles first hand, and we use them to inspire our own products that we can offer to the mainstream customer, ideally before the market is flooded.
Do you think there is a Rough Living style?
Luxury industrial. Originally it was ‘industrial’, but as we have grown as a company and developed our skills we feel that we can produce furniture in a more sophisticated way.
Five or six years ago, heavy industrial was extremely on trend with scaffold boards and heavy metalwork dictating a space. Things have grown sleeker in the market we are in and so refinement is key, slim lines, neat details and keeping the materials in-balance, which works very well in almost all interiors.
Have you evolved in any way since launching the business?
As above, refinement particularly. This is linked to business development though. Not only have our staff developed their skills further, but we have also increased and improved our machinery, allowing us to achieve things that weren’t possible before. There is always a new idea that would benefit from a new machine and so hopefully we will continue to grow, it’s the exciting part of building a business.
Looking at your completed projects, could you pick out three that show what Rough Living is all about?
1) A residential project in Hammersmith which was the epitome of ‘luxury industrial’.
The architects and designers switched a classic terraced London home into a swanky luxury boutique hotel vibe.
We were tasked with creating the full joinery package in the house which involved multi-materials on almost every item. So, linking slick steel framework with brass mesh and timber joinery. The kitchen especially had two different timber types, polished concrete worktops, dovetail drawers, steel shelving, backlit brass mesh and a solid brass island worktop – which is our speciality.
2) The outdoor courtyard bar at Soho Farmhouse.
Our friends and long-term collaborators at Interbar got us involved with this job which was in the middle of the pandemic. Soho were utilising the downtime to create a space ready for re-opening.
It was a really fun project amongst the life chaos then.
We shipped in 300-year-old oak from France for the worktop, which needed to fit in with the Soho Farmhouse vibes and added in an overhead steel racking system and clad it in corrugated steel, so once again it was a material mix that worked well for our clients and us.
3) Heartbreaker Cocktail Bar – Worthing.
This was a commercial project designed by Run for the Hills which was a really fun one. The design was crazy and our job was to engineer it in a way that it could be made both functional and well.
It featured a multi-material horseshoe shaped bar, tiled fronts, vinyl wraps, industrial steel back bar with LED lighting, steel mesh, antiqued mirror and neon pink acrylic. It really is a WOW entrance when you walk through the doors and see it for the first time.
What are you working on now that excites you?
We have recently completed two residential projects that are about to be photographed and we can’t wait to see the final photos and transformations of these places – but I can’t give too much away right now! But we are also about to launch a heap of new products to the website which is very exciting.
What would we find in your workshop in Bayford?
It’s pretty unusual that we have a workshop that has a joinery and metalwork side. Most furniture and joinery companies are specifically wood based, however, we do both. This is our biggest niche, but it is also essential when manufacturing industrial style furniture.
It saves the guesswork in manufacturing when you can make everything in-house. Especially for commercial contracts when there are strict deadlines, everything needs to be right first time and we can test things that we’re making, rather than ordering in metalwork and hoping it fits when it arrives on site.
You recently moved to St Albans – how have you settled in?
Haha, I’m not sure settled in is the correct word, I don’t think my wife would say so anyway with our current living situation.
What are you renovating at your house and how is it going?
We’re currently renovating a house which used to be part of an old school. My aim is to bring a bit of character back to the place, so we’ve opened up the living area by knocking down a wall, revealing all three large school windows into the one room which is great. The downside is that we won’t have a kitchen ceiling for another few months yet!
The place also has a full-length loft, which we don’t need ourselves, and so we’re also vaulting both bedroom ceilings to reveal beams, increase the ceiling heights and add more impact to the aesthetic.
I’ll always go for a WOW design choice over a practical one. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, I guess that’s the aesthetic designer’s eye, I have.
This interview will appear in our Christmas issue, so any plans for the festivities?
Time off! I think Christmas is about the only time of the year we close down for a couple of weeks as the rest of the year is filled with deadlines.
My wife is Irish and so we’re often back and forward to Ireland trying to share time with both families, and Sam, my business partner, has just had his second child.
But it is great to just recharge and refresh with family and see excited children running around. I mean, I say that now, I’ll probably be three days into my break and be back down the workshop to begin building the kitchen for our house or something. I’m not the best at sitting still!
What trends do you expect to see in interiors in 2024?
My instinct tells me there will be a continuation of soft edges, asymmetric lines, multiple textures and materials. Arches were huge in 2023 and I think that will continue into 2024, whether it be for door openings or details on cabinetry and furniture, the idea of softening an interior with curves that catches the eye is very effective and so I can see that continuing and progressing.