Sarah Kay is best-known as one half of Kay + Stemmer, a well-regarded design partnership noted for the chic, contemporary furniture it creates for retailers such as Heal’s. Less well-known – and arguably far more desirable – are the bespoke pieces she’s made since graduating from Parnham College, Dorset, in 1996.
“I like to keep my bespoke work distinctly separate and indulge in the luxury of materials, detail and forms that the more commercial work can’t accommodate,” she says. Examples of her work include her Bone low table in elm (first picture, £12,000 through the Contemporary Applied Arts gallery) and Infinity column of drawers in English oak (second picture, £20,000 also through the CAA).
Some clients have found her by word-of-mouth, others have discovered her work at CAA shows or the annual Crafts Council event, Collect. Some engage in detailed discussions about proposed pieces; others are happy to let her creative spirit flow freely. Either way, she says: “I like the challenge of solving how best to construct something and the element of surprise, particularly when sculpting. I can never be too sure what the grain will do.”
One client requested four chairs and a circular table for a library in his renovated farmhouse (similar commissions, £22,000). Kay picked sycamore “for its sophisticated grain and colour” to make the Oasby chair and table. Both designs subsequently received the Bespoke Guild Mark for excellence in craftsmanship and design from the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers.
Another client ordered a tall, slim, four-drawer cabinet in solid oak (£5,600) for a hall in a contemporary interior. Other commissions have included dressing tables, writing desks, blanket chests, dining tables, media cabinets, column of drawers and low tables.
Kay uses locally sourced timbers where possible: “Sycamore is very elegant and beautiful to sculpt. Elm has lots of colour and a wild grain. Oak is more rustic.” She also uses American walnut and white ash where appropriate. “I want these pieces to be around for at least as long as the tree from which they came,” she says.