I first encountered carpenter Sebastian Cox at the Benchmark factory on Terence Conran’s country estate in Berkshire. He was mentoring a group of students, and had everyone enthralled with his skill and charm. I subsequently bumped into him at design events and became a firm fan of his work – all of it handmade from British wood in his southeast London studio, and much of it sold via Heal’s. His oak and hazel side table (£699) and tallboy (£2,139) are functional, visually pleasing and make ingenious use of subtly contrasting, sustainably sourced woods. His aesthetic feels of-the-hand rather than processed and overly refined, but it’s also contemporary rather than craftsy in any way.
When I was redecorating a few years ago, I wanted a simple shelf to run along one line of a room. But it had to be a certain length, appear to be floating, have holes for power cables and I wanted it in a blackened wood that still had a lot of grain visible. I did hours of research, but couldn’t find what I wanted. So I emailed Sebastian and asked where I could find such a thing. Marvellously, he said his studio could do something, and for a very reasonable amount (I forget the exact figure, but it was less than twice the lacklustre ready-made options I had been looking at). The result, in ebonised oak, is a constant joy.
Along with Matthew Hilton, I think Sebastian Cox is the most impressive furniture maker working in wood in the UK today. If I didn’t already have a Hilton Ercol desk, I’d buy his oak and hazel one at Heal’s (£1,499) in a heartbeat, although for something really special, the Bayleaf one (£5,250), in walnut with a woven collar around the working surface, available from his own website, is something extraordinary.
One of the key benefits of working with Cox on a bespoke project is the choice of wood – there are as many shades and grains to choose from as there are colours in an artist’s paintbox. A simple dining table in ash will cost from £3,000 in (my favourite) ebonised oak. Or one could commission a bespoke armoire (about £4,300) in London plane, and a sideboard (about £3,700) in English tiger oak. A client recently ordered a dining table with a leg-free woven pedestal base and upholstered bench seating (£12,000) – it took about six weeks to make.
As the craft element of Cox’s work is such a feature of the product, clients are invited to spend time in the studio watching the pieces being made. When you’re ordering an heirloom, why wouldn’t you take up the opportunity?