An Interview With Jake and Stephanie, Founders of Uniqueworks Handmade Furniture

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1. What was the inspiration behind Uniqueworks?

Stephanie – We set up Uniqueworks in 2009 after my father died – we decided we could really set up a creative business together, which would be fulfilling and also enable us to bring up our young family, here in Pembrokeshire. Jake had just trained as a cabinet-maker at Cardigan College and so making furniture seemed the natural thing to do. Since each piece of our furniture is a one off, unique piece, ‘Uniqueworks’ seemed an appropriate name!

Jake – I really liked the idea of making things directly for people and getting completely away from modern mass-manufacture. We carry on proper old traditions of using local materials to make practical furniture for daily use by our customers – I just happen to believe it can be beautiful too.

Jake Humphries of Uniqueworks Handmade Furniture- Creating a Welsh Oak Cross-Legged Table

2. Which comes first the wood, or the design?

Jake – The wood! I love wood and being part of the cycle of making things out of natural materials. I like going to the sawmill, selecting the right boards and seeing as if by magic, what’s revealed, once I plane away the old grey, weathered surface. I work with an instinctive reaction to the wood – quite a gentle, cosseting process – and prefer to let it suggest to me what I make, rather than impose a design upon it. I’m really inspired by our local Welsh native trees, which are full of fabulous grain, knots and burrs – not just oak, but more unusual and interesting ones like elm, yew or cherry which can make the most beautiful furniture, full of the real character of the wood.

3. What are the reasons why people buy handmade designs?

Steph – When you choose something that’s been handmade, I think you really buy into something that has some integrity and has had a craftsperson’s time, skill and knowledge spent upon it. Handmade things have the little idiosyncracies and ‘flaws’, if you like, which give that item character and appeal. You can expect good quality and also a degree of individuality – often a piece is being made specifically for you and there’s a certain satisfaction from being involved as your furniture project take shape and then seeing it becoming part of your home.

We have built up strong relationships with small Welsh saw mills and local landowners to source our wood and so, more often than not, we know where the actual trees grew originally. We find that people really like to know the provenance of their furniture and it makes buying something handmade that bit more special. One of our customers loved having a dining table we’d made from a tree which had grown in the town of Aberystwyth, where he was born – it really meant something to him. Some other customers were genuinely thrilled that their bespoke elm table had been made from a tree from woods which they could actually see from their house, in the valley below, near Kidwelly. Another one of our favourite projects was creating ‘The Grand Throne’ for the National Botanic Garden of Wales – a huge wooden chair cut from timber from an old oak tree which once grew right there in the grounds. Children climb all over it now and it’s been used for storytelling and theatre productions. It’s a lovely story and in a way the tree lives on where it started life – it’s become part of the heritage of the Gardens.

4. Do you have a favourite piece of furniture that you have created?

Jake – The piece of furniture that I’ve found most pleasing over the years and that I would never dream of selling, is really just an old-fashioned country settle – like a high backed pew – but made with the most glorious timber I’ve ever found. It’s spalted elm wood full of swirling patterns and colours, which I’ve split and book-matched into decorative panels, each one startlingly different. If you look into the grain, you can make out all sorts of  pictures – a wolf’s head, a heart, the entrance to a tunnel and a phoenix rising from the ashes to name but a few! It’s quite eye-catching, but fits perfectly into our old Welsh cottage home.

Uniqueworks Handmade Furniture. Welsh Elm Settle.

5. What are your plans for the future of Uniqueworks?

Really we’d just like to continue working with beautiful Welsh wood and feel happy making interesting furniture for people. Last year we were selected by Number 10 to help showcase British craftsmanship to world leaders at the NATO Summit Wales – we’d like to build on that and try and bring our handmade furniture to a wider audience.

We live and work about as far West as you can in the UK, right on the Pembrokeshire coast and so it’s not always easy for our customers to visit us! So we’re planning to expand our online shop and catalogue and offer a delivery service across the country.

6. What makes a perfect weekend for you?

We really enjoy our Saturday mornings at the workshop, where there is always a warm welcome to visitors and the kettle is always on! It’s lovely to meet people and get good feedback for our furniture.

We also love the outdoor life here in Pembrokeshire and a perfect afternoon would be strolling along the Coastal Path with our kids on a brilliant blue sky day, stopping for frequent picnics and enjoying nature at its glorious best. To finish the day, we’d have friends round for dinner and a glass or two of wine and of course we’d be eating at Jake’s beautiful yew wood dining table!

 

Taken from an article in Hot Brands Cool Places online lifestyle magazine – The Home Issue April 2015

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