Tom Faulkner is celebrating 25 years of creating beautiful, sculptural metal furniture. I sat down with Tom at his Chelsea showroom to find out how it all started, his plans for the future and the joys of geometry
When did you start designing furniture? It was while I was working at Chrysalis Records that I started making things for myself. It started with a coffee table, the glass top had been broken so I made a new one out of wood. I loved making it so much that I made another one. Then I was made redundant and thought maybe I would start a table business.
Had you studied art or design? I did a little bit of art at school and I was always quite creative but without any focus for my creativity. I was always making things for myself or mending things. I liked geometry and I like drawing triangles and squares, but I imagine everybody likes geometry don’t they?
I had previously worked for a picture framer; it was a nice little business with a shop downstairs and a workshop upstairs, I wanted my business to be a bit like that. The entity of the business was very important to me and still is, the way we operate and that everyone likes what they do.
Perhaps losing your job at Chrysalis was the best thing that happened to you? Yes, I think it was. It pushed me into starting my business and gave me a sense of purpose. But who knows, I might be living in California now with a record empire.
How did the business grow? I was exhibiting my tables in an exhibition at Earls Court and I wanted something to sit on. My Mum had met these metal workers in Wiltshire who were making garden chairs and suggested I got a chair made by them. I found the process interesting and thought I could make metal legs to go under my table tops. Metal is an amazing material. Making a chair out of metal as opposed to wood is very easy in a way. You can make things quite quickly. I like drawing lines and shapes and I found I could now make what I could draw.
The process informed what I made next. I made more of the chairs and a table. I was subcontracting lots of work to these guys in Wiltshire. When the owner retired I bought the metal workshop for £5000 including all the machines.
Did you think Tom Faulkner furniture would become the brand it is now? Not really no. I had no ambitions like that, but I did go through doors as they opened. I got a shop in East London at some point and thought I would sell other things alongside my tables, I just did the next thing. But I was quite good at marketing, making a brochure, making a postcard, keeping a data base. I would ring up interior designers and take them my sketches.
It sounds like you were confident in your designs. In a way not really. It’s funny to think of that now, when I did a little show it was quite awkward because I had made all these things with no idea of what anyone would think of them. Now it’s much easier, because everyone ‘s involved in the making so there is lots of feedback.
Were you always targeting interior designers? Yes definitely. I knew about them from the picture framing days. I knew they would be likely customers. I also advertised in funny little magazines, you don’t really know what to do when you start out, you take chances and throw a bit of mud at the wall and see what sticks.
Are you still taking chances? There are more chances to be taken. We are expanding the workshop, which is a big step, moving forward, thinking of the future.
We want to do a few different things and I don’t want to sub-contract stuff, I want to keep making things in Swindon. We already do a bit of cabinetry and we want to do more woodwork. And we may make other things. I never wanted to only make things out of metal.
Tell me more? I would like to explore other materials, I would like to do more sculptural pieces, making things out of plaster and casting them, more free form.
This year you collaborated with the textile artist Aiveen Daly. Tell me about that? That was for London Craft Week, we re-imagined the Lily ottoman. It was a nice thing to do because Aiveen is very skilled in what she does and works in such a different material to me (leather) it is soft and clean. I don’t do a lot of collaborations but that was an easy one to do and she was lovely to work with.
How do you manage running the business with also being the designer? I do like the business side but you have to find a balance. I’m having meetings about health and safety or whatever and don’t have quite enough time to think about anything else. We made the Cloud coffee table this year and Jak, my favourite chair, but we haven’t launched a major collection since Papillon two years ago.
You have had the Covid lockdowns to contend with too. Yes, while a lot of people were making sourdough, we were very reduced in numbers but working incredibly hard. I was driving the van just like the old days. I absolutely loved it actually. It was good weather and I could just pull over and have my lunch outside.
You have a very distinctive style, how would you describe it? Well, distinctive. I think it’s un-fussy, un-cluttered. I don’t really add ornament to things these days, for me it is all about the line the proportion. Even Papillon, which looks quite free form, it is important how far each line is from the other.
What is your favourite Tom Faulkner piece? I am fondest of Capricorn because it is the oldest and best seller, but Ava is the one I love because of how it is made. It is manufactured from three panels but you can’t see where one panel starts and one bit ends. It started with a sketch of two triangles, then we had to work out how to produce it. I like the proportion and the line, it has good things going on.
How important is it that you are still the front man for the brand? I do exist and we use that where we can. I like to be involved, I like meeting customers and I think it adds something of value.
Does it help that you are a British brand? There isn’t really a metal furniture industry in the UK so I like that it is quite an unusual thing that we do and that we make everything in Swindon.
Personally I like the actual making of the furniture. I like the workshop and the people we are involved with, that is a pleasure and a privilege.
What is your favourite possession? I do take my guitar with me when I go on holiday. And I love the workshop, the smell of it, I love the smell of welding.
Visit the Tom Faulkner website to see the full range of furniture