Makers’ Eye co-founder Tony Portus knew there were numerous incredibly skilled and independent designers and makers of contemporary bespoke furniture in all corners of the UK. But how to find them, and match them up with clients?
“Most of Britain’s designers and makers of the greatest contemporary furniture are too busy creating beautiful work to have time to show it off,” says the ex-manager of the Conran Shop, who has been a designer-maker himself for 30 years.
Finding a solution to the problem was the premise behind Makers’ Eye, where Portus and his business partner, design-gallery owner Ross Fenn now promote and link up designers with clients such as Rolls-Royce and St Hugh’s College, Oxford (where they are supplying 200 pieces of handmade solid oak furniture for a new studies centre), as well as private individuals looking to commission unique pieces such as desks, dining tables and even libraries (fitted library by Matthew Burt, second picture). While individually designed pieces of freestanding furniture are most popular, entire interiors, kitchens and bathrooms are possible too – which often require bringing together more than one workshop.
And these are no ordinary workshops. Portus describes his portfolio of designers as being “the most adventurous… The very finest makers – and the most radical – of environmentally sensitive, sustainable work.”
It’s not hyperbole. Recently created one-off works include Portus’s own Cube cabinets (£8,950), a refined duo of symmetrical burr walnut square cabinets to hold a client’s hi-fi and audio equipment; Alun Heslop’s Kre chair (£32,500), a foundry-cast patinated bronze sculptural seat that resembles an inverted figure standing on its head; and the seemingly impossible Mulberry table by John Makepeace that looks like it might topple at any moment, but is crafted from sturdy Mulberry wood and cast bronze (price on request, third picture).
Other standout pieces include the futuristic shell-inspired pieces (from £96,000) by Marc Fish: the extraordinary Nautilus sycamore and glass coffee table (first picture) and Babel, a curious shell-themed tower cabinet that opens up to reveal sinuous shelves inside (fourth picture). All seem quite beyond the realms of what should be possible with metal and timber – and speak to the daring and innovative nature of a Makers’ Eye commission.