Black & Key work with interior designers to create made to measure furniture. Alistair Black, founder of this British brand, spoke to The Insider about his life as a craftsman and the need to keep these skills alive
Tell me your background in furniture making – what is the appeal to you? I was born just outside of Bletchley, where my Dad worked with GCHQ, before we returned to the family’s native Belfast. Two of my uncles worked at Harland and Wolff shipyard as joiners, another uncle was a decorator and my Dad was a DIY-er too. Nothing was ever bought in our house. We were forever putting up shelves or hanging things and would fix or mend anything that was broken.
I initially joined the merchant navy, however, I gave it up to work at a joinery firm and felt like I was returning to my first love.
I am passionate about my craft. I have a responsibility to make sure my skills are passed down to a new generation of craftspeople who can carry on the traditions and work to the same high standards. We are artisans. It is about the joy of what you do and trying to keep the craft alive. I worry that after this generation it might be gone and that would break my heart.
Quite often I am given a vision that an interior designer has come up with and we are scratching our heads thinking ‘how are we going to do this?’, but we always engineer a solution. It’s why a lot of furniture makers come to us to make their prototypes. We might have done the prototypes for pieces you see in Habitat or Heels, which then go into production in China or Italy.
When did you launch Black & Key and why? The Black & Key brand was initially set up as collaboration between me and interior designer Karin Verzariu, who sold the collection through her Chelsea Harbour showroom. When Karin retired my wife Nina and I took over Black & Key and now run it from our base in Evesham.
The Black & Key designs can be bought as made or customised to suit. Interior designers love it because they can order a piece, customise the dimensions to fit any space and choose a style and finish which complements their colour palette and interiors scheme. The Black & Key range spans cabinets, sideboards, chests of drawers, modular bookcases, consoles, coffee tables, desks, bed frames, ottomans and chairs. We are also planning to introduce a new range of sofas.
Can you describe the Black & Key style? Luxury handcrafted furniture. At Black & Key we make a range of Art Deco inspired pieces which suit contemporary as well as traditional interiors and can be customised to suit all requirements
Our workshop employs skilled cabinet makers and has been manufacturing furniture for over 30 years, specialising in hand crafted furniture. This gives us complete control over supply chain. We also have in house expertise in curved work, veneering, marquetry, upholstery, and polishing.
Are we in danger of losing the skills required to create beautiful pieces. What can be done about this? As the late Vivienne Westwood said, “Buy less. Choose Well. Make it last. Quality, not quantity.”
All our furniture is made in the UK and we use UK based sub-contractors where possible. We make every effort to ensure that all timber and wood materials used in the production process is supplied under the Forest Steward Council. Our items are high quality, durable and designed to last a lifetime – we hope that all our items of furniture can be passed down through the generations.
Black & Key is in an enviable position as it has nurtured and kept traditional craft skills in house. This means from design sketch or informal brief, working drawings and samples can be produced quickly. Our control over all production processes enables us to quickly respond to any amendment in design or finish.