Designers & Makers Of Bespoke Furniture
The things we keep in our homes - a jewellery box that belonged to your grandmother, a crystal jug you received as a wedding gift - all coexist alongside us. They conjure memories, they can inspire the way we do things in our everyday lives and they hold stories of their own. For Charles Byron and Maria Gomez of bespoke furniture brand Byron & Gomez, every handcrafted piece begins with a story to tell. The Somerset-based duo creates unique designs for private clients, interior designers and architects, and recently completed a piece commissioned by Designed by Woulfe for a private residential client. To add a memorable and deeply personal touch to the interior design scheme for a family home, Byron & Gomez crafted a wooden box for the clients' two sons that they could use to store the postcards which their father writes from their holidays together. In this conversation, we discuss the importance of storytelling through design and why sustainability matters.
Can you tell us a bit about the box you were commissioned by Designed by Woulfe to make?
Brian commissioned a wooden box based on a previous design of ours for a client of his. Made in American Black Walnut and polished brass hardware, the design was both minimal and elegant and suited the client's needs perfectly. The sentimental piece was to be gifted to his children and filled with handwritten letters and personal messages.
Heirloom Home Accessories
From afar, it appears to be simple, minimal and predominantly functional, yet as we take a closer look, we realise the box is full of complexity. Can you talk us through the details which you incorporated?
This box is full of beautiful traditional joinery and plenty of attention to detail. A few examples are the mitred keys that join all the box sides and are discreetly tucked in the grooves, the hand-fitted liners with a chamfer detail that helps locate the lid in place, and the beautifully milled brass components. The design is not necessarily conventional and required an expert understanding of the materials used. For example, adding the grooved exterior to the box meant that the carcass was made with an unusually thick stock for this size of box. The extra material allowed for us to groove all the exterior and then carefully cut the lid off before installing all the hinges. As you might notice, the top of the box has been designed so that the grooves run uninterrupted from the top edge to the bottom edge of the box. Usually, these kinds of boxes have a frame and panel construction but here we have made it with a tongue and groove joint which has only been glued in the centre of the widths to allow for wood movement.
There is a great depth of thought that goes behind each of your products. What story do these details tell?
All of the designs we develop are a compilation of design experiences and lessons we have had throughout the years. I like to think that each piece we make holds our story as craftspeople, as well as all of the skills, techniques and styles that we continue to develop.
Durability is one of the most integral qualities when it comes to a piece of furniture or an heirloom homeware accessory such as this one. How do you ensure that your creations stand the test of time?
Both Charles and I have been trained in traditional furniture making and one of the most important aspects of our education was the understanding of timber and the application of the correct joinery to suit the piece. All of the pieces we design are made carefully by us and we always take the time needed to complete each piece as best as we can. It is this kind of making, not about manufacture or ease of production, that allows us to create objects that are unique and will last for generations to come.
Your work can be described as earth-friendly furniture and the box is crafted from black American Walnut. Why did you select this type of wood for the piece?
All of the timber we source is FSC certified which means that it comes from responsibly managed forests that are always being replenished. We chose American Black Walnut for this box as the client wanted a rich timber that would have some relation to his life story. We thought American black Walnut would be the perfect material as he is American. The varied warm tones throughout the box complement the brass details and pearl leather.
What To Consider When Purchasing Sustainable Furniture
What do you consider when selecting the materials for a product and do you have any favourite materials to work with?
Timber is always at the heart of everything we do but we also like to combine it with other materials. It’s important to us that we always use the best materials possible that are natural and from a responsible source.
Many people consider sustainability with regards to food, lifestyle habits and fashion, but not necessarily furniture and homewares. What does sustainability mean in relation to furniture?
There are many ways that furniture can be sustainable. Materials play a really big role, not just where they come from but also how they are eventually disposed of at the end of their lifespan. The great thing about timber is that it can be supplied from responsibly managed forests (local or abroad) and be burned at the end of its life as a source of carbon-neutral energy. The type of joinery used in a piece of furniture has an impact on the longevity of the piece, too, which in turn reduces the amount of waste that goes back to the environment. As designers, we can play an important role in sustainability by designing work that will not become outdated and will be appreciated by future generations. When buying furniture it's important to consider what kind of manufacturing environment it is made in and what sustainable practices these workshops hold.
Your ethos when it comes to materiality is to work with the healthiest materials possible while adopting eco-friendly techniques. Do you see a shift in consumer interest and habits?
Unfortunately, harmful materials are all around our homes, from paints and finishes on furniture to fabrics and cleaning products. I think tackling all of these issues becomes easier as more consumers start to become more interested in where the products they include in their homes come from. Nowadays it's very common to see this information on labels and explained on websites of online shops. It's also great to see the work of craftspeople more openly celebrated as people become more interested in protecting the environment.
Do you have a favourite piece you’ve ever made?
It has to be the Patrai Cabinet for both of us.
Quality Craftsmanship Over Fast-Furniture
I've read that you see your craft as an antidote for mass manufacture and fast buying. What would you change about the design industry if you could?
What we do is a craft, the art form of the everyday object. I think when people buy from craftspeople like us they are buying into our story and into crafts in general, supporting skills that are traditionally linked to culture. People want to have a connection with the objects they select for their homes and knowing about the “maker” creates that connection. Knowing about the human who is making the object means that there is someone there who is caring for it. We want our clients to buy better and buy less. What we design and make is about the object not about ease of production.
In a story, a well-chosen name can reflect the personality traits of a character. How do you come up with the names of your creations and is there much significance behind them?
This completely depends on the piece, we often choose a name based on our clients' last name, some sentiment or connection between the piece and the concept, or name it after a detail that is particular to that piece. Sometimes we also make things up like our “Loreta” stool was named after my sister Laura. It's a fun aspect of the process and we don’t take it too seriously.
Would you say there are elements of storytelling in every project you work on?
No, but sometimes clients have such a beautiful reason to commission that we can’t help include it in the design concept. We feel these should always be added in a subtle way.
What stories do you aspire to tell through your designs?
More than a story it's a feeling. We always hope our work will inspire a feeling of excitement and appreciation for the craft.
Can the story of a piece change or evolve throughout the design and production process, such as if certain aspects don’t go to plan?
When working on commissioned pieces we present our clients with a final design proposal as they need to know what the overall feel, proportions and materials of the piece will be before committing. We don’t give our clients technical construction drawings of the pieces, as often it is during the making process that sections of timber and small details are decided upon. It's hard to completely imagine a piece on paper - sometimes you need the material in front of you to get the feel of the size and shape.
The Influence Of Heritage & Ancestry
Charles, as a descendent of legendary poet Lord Byron romanticism must run in your blood and Maria, you grew up in Puerto Rico before moving to the UK. What roles do heritage and ancestry play in informing and influencing your work?
Moving to England from Puerto Rico was such an exciting time for me. Charles grew up with antique furniture and objects, some of which belonged to Lord Byron and I have always been in awe of this and curious about it. We come from very different backgrounds which means that our design approaches come with a set of predetermined cultural aesthetics. We think that this only makes things better and more interesting as together we come up with designs that we would have never done alone. Moving here from the Caribbean means that I am constantly missing my culture and all the things that I grew up with. I have wanted to incorporate this connection I have with my heritage into some of our work, such as the Patria Cabinet, Lunas Pendant and Loreta Stool. These serve as a way for me to connect back with Puerto Rico, using traditional material like rattan in a contemporary way.
Designed by Woulfe has invited travel and lifestyle journalist Eva Ramirez to curate our Emerging Talent Series for the Design Journal. Having lent her voice to publications including Robb Report, Conde Nast Traveller and British Vogue, she has documented her travels and the people she has met along the way in the form of long-form features, city guides, in-depth interviews and personal accounts. Through a sensibility towards conscious travel, Eva shares insight into what’s worth seeing - in between the typical hotels, restaurants or boutiques - and in the process, has honed her discerning eye for the fresh talent that are shaking things up in their respective industries. In this collection of interviews, Eva discusses creativity, craft and inspiration with some of the design world's most exciting and inspiring trailblazers.