The Best Of British Design: why handcrafted homeware is more popular than ever

Derwent House is an exciting new interiors store in Witney for handcrafted furniture, fabrics and homeware. Inspired by the tradition of craftmanship and design talent we have here in Britain, owners Juliette Barrell, Ali Griffiths and Richelle Spooner-Davidson use their collective experience to source an exclusive collection of decorative and functional pieces for the home.

We speak to Juliette about the growing interest in British design and the benefits of buying handcrafted homeware.

The Stone Room, Derwent House store. Witney, Oxfordshire
Image: The Stone Room, Derwent House store. Witney, Oxfordshire

What was the inspiration behind opening Derwent House? 

The idea behind Derwent House is to tell the stories of talented British makers and their products: to recognise their skill in the creative process and to understand how they use their materials to create beautiful and unique interior pieces.

Jane Crisp trugs
Image: Jane Crisp trugs

The craft market has grown considerably over the last few years. Consumers are shifting their interest towards high quality and sustainable products from small businesses and individual makers, which has no doubt been accelerated by the pandemic. We’ve all had time to reflect on life and what we’re doing to the planet, which has made us think more carefully about what we buy and the provenance of those products.

What are the benefits of buying handcrafted products?  

Buying handcrafted furniture and homeware is very much an investment; it’s about buying well and buying once. Derwent House facilitates collaboration with makers. It connects us as human beings to better understand what and where we are buying from. It allows us to have an emotional investment in what we buy.

A selection of table lamps from Derwent House
Image: A selection of table lamps from Derwent House

Another great benefit of buying handmade products is that time, skill and creativity has gone into the making process and each piece is unique. It’s also more environmentally friendly as there’s less waste buying a one-off bespoke product compared to mass produced goods.

Tell us about the British designers and craft makers you represent? 

One of our main partnerships is with Delcor, a family-run business specialising in made-to-order upholstered sofas and armchairs. Based in Northumberland, Delcor have been quietly flying the flag for British Craftsmanship for over 50 years. Frames are made from hardwood, cut and assembled in their workshops to stand the test of time. Nothing is off the peg and there are no short cuts, so if you want a chaise a little longer or the back of your sofa a little higher, it can be tailored to your specification and finished in your choice of fabric, cushion fillings and leg options.

Delcor Soho corner sofa
Image: Delcor Soho corner sofa
Delcor Boxer corner sofa
Image: Delcor Boxer corner sofa

We have a wonderful representation of furniture designer-makers at Derwent House and this autumn sees the launch of Table Manners – a six months long buying exhibition of tables from 15 British furniture makers.

Amongst these is Robert Barnby, whose range of contemporary furniture with clean simple lines relates to form and function. Robert’s work is influenced by the subtle details of Scandinavian and Japanese design yet is grounded in the skills of classic British woodworking.

Interior display, Derwent House store
Image: Interior display, Derwent House store

Wayward furniture and Edward Wild’s designs are brilliant executions of highly precise furniture design and detailing rooted in a classical interpretation of British furniture design. From the well- established names of Angus Ross and Wales and Wales to newer Oxfordshire based makers Lula James and Anthony Dain, Table Manners looks set to be an exciting representation of some of the most talented furniture designer-makers working in Britain today.

Albert Harvey ‘Oldfield Red’ cushion
Image: Albert Harvey ‘Oldfield Red’ cushion

In textiles and homewares, Derwent House is home to over twenty makers.

Textile designer, Albert Harvey, specialises in the ancient art of block printing using his own hand-carved lino blocks. Albert is inspired by the English countryside surrounding his home studio in Oxfordshire. His designs combine floral motifs and seed heads contrasted with small scale geometric shapes. A restrained colour palette gives Albert Harvey’s textiles a timeless, contemporary feel.

Cushion stack Abigail Bury designs
Image: Cushion stack Abigail Bury designs

Also drawing from nature, Abigail Bury’s beautiful renderings of botanical designs are inspired by a celebration of the informal English garden. Abigail experiments with the scale and the layering of designs printed onto a cotton/linen cloth that captures the look and feel of her original drawings.

Gaby Devitt is a skilled hand weaver providing a truly bespoke service. She sources yarn, provides colour windings and weaves samples for customers to approve before starting to hand weave her distinctive geometric designs into the covering fabric for cushions and lampshades.

Leigh Pottery
Image: Leigh Pottery

With a pleasing quiet aesthetic, Leigh Pottery marries functionality with simplicity of form. Elegant bottles, bowls, jugs and vases are handmade in small batches and designed to be used as part of life’s daily routine. Ceramicist Emma Lacey is driven by a passion for design and making, and by a love of subtle and sensual forms. Whether it’s the contrast between the glazed and matt surfaces of her Rainbow Range or her Everyday range, the subtle dent allows us to experience the softness of the clay just after it is thrown on the wheel and the tactility that clay as a material offers.

Emma Lacey Rainbow range
Image: Emma Lacey Rainbow range

A designer-maker who has recently joined the Derwent House collective, Pablo Cal-Fernandez handcrafts a collection of lathe-turned table lamps and wooden bowls producing bold shapes with clean lines which create impact but don’t dominate.

Pablo’s collection joins Tingewick Pottery’s classic range of lamps characterised by timeless shapes, bold use of colour and high-quality glazes, resulting in a distinctive richness and intense depth of colour unlike mass-produced counterparts.

Jane Armstrong oak pieces
Image: Jayne Armstrong oak pieces

Connecting us with nature, the colours, texture and graining of wood generate ‘warmth’ and ‘relaxation’. From the unique, distinctive forms of Jayne Armstrong’s sculptural and functional vessels turned from green wood to 1 mm thickness before being left to dry, to Jane Crisp’s contemporary take on the classic trug, and rustic willow baskets by Anna Stickland, these makers embrace the natural qualities of wood that improve our home environment and well-being.

Anna Stickland log basket
Image: Anna Stickland log basket

A centre for British handcrafted homeware, Derwent House brings together makers of fine furniture, upholstery, handwoven fabrics and handmade accessories – from basketry to cushions – and including hand-thrown pottery, table lamps and woodwork. This October, Derwent House launches a selling exhibition called ‘Table Manners’, which will run for six months, featuring all manner of tables (dining, console, coffee, side tables, desks and more) from 15 established and upcoming furniture makers. Individuality, sustainability, an appreciation of makers’ skill and talent, a connection to British design – handcrafted homeware is the juncture where art and design meets day-to-day life.

www.derwenthouseliving.co.uk


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