Meet the Maker: Katie Walker, Katie Walker Furniture
Welcome to Hope and Story's Meet the Maker Series, where we chat to some of the people behind our favourite independent British brands.
Katie Walker has a small furniture company called Katie Walker Furniture. She creates a range of pieces that are available to order either directly through the company, at selected galleries, or online through platforms such as Hope and Story. Katie also creates bespoke pieces.
I chatted to the wonderful Katie to learn more about her wonderful craft. We managed to drag her away from doing what she loves for half an hour to chat product sourcing, sustainability, future plans, surviving a pandemic and lots more....
You’ve got a background in fine art, having studied at the Royal College of Art. What made you decide to start up your own business in furniture design?
‘I did actually study furniture design, but I have a fine art based approach with drawing and sculpture. So initially I came from aesthetics rather than engineering. Later came the influence of materials and processes which led to the drive to create beautiful forms that bring together all of these elements. Commissions that I received from my degree show meant that setting up Katie Walker Furniture seemed the natural thing to do.'
How would you describe your furniture style and what inspires your work?
‘Well for me it’s definitely about form and function coming together. It’s natural but precise, pared-down with nothing added. It’s about visual simplicity but often I’ve spent a long time making complex forms that appear quite visually simple. I like to reinterpret structure and work with different processes because each process brings a different language to the piece. I’m inspired by anything from fine art to nature, but it’s pushing these often traditional processes that has inspired the development of most of the pieces, especially the ones in the collection.'
Your ethos is uncompromising in your commitment to quality and the very best in both form and function. Can you explain how that presents itself in your work?
‘Yes. Because the pieces are visually very simple, they need to be made extremely well or they lose their magic. Every detailed needs to be considered and executed to the same level.'
You've done some great collaborations in the past with the likes of Heal's and John Lewis. Who would be your dream future collaboration?
'I’m very jealous of Hans Wegner and his relationship with Danish manufacturers. They helped him bring his designs to fruition and sell them with great success. I’d love to find a British manufacturer that I could work with in the same way. Unfortunately I don’t have the nature to build my own manufacturing team, so at the moment I’m just happy to work with as many small workshops as I can find, and I keep looking.'
We love the Eliza Table from the Katie Walker Furniture Collection.
A number of your pieces have a Design Guild Mark award, which is awarded for excellence in UK furniture design. Has that helped raise your profile?
'Its always lovely to have your work validated by industry awards but sadly it doesn’t often result in increase in sales, and whilst many designers are very well known in the industry today it’s so niche that it doesn’t often filter down to the general public like it does with fashion design.'
Do you have a typical customer?
'I’d say that most of my customers are very discerning, with a strong interest in the arts and the environment. Some are wealthy but some save for quite a while to buy the pieces. They’re quite often bought as presents. Mostly British, but also pieces have been bought by customers all over the world.'
What challenges do you face as a UK based designer in the furniture industry?
'There’s definitely a lack of skills in this country because we have lost so many employment opportunities and we aren't training as many people. This means that the people that do have the skills are just so busy. More recently Brexit and Covid has brought with it a difficulty in getting hold of certain materials. Cheap overseas manufacture and volume of sales has led to a devaluation of furniture as a whole. But hopefully, with the increased awareness of environmental issues, there will be more appreciation for longevity within the furniture industry.'
Why do you still manufacture in the UK?
'Yes, because for me it makes sense environmentally. It also enables me to keep a better track of quality - if there’s a problem I can visit and check something over very easily. It also enables me to have a fast turnaround of small batch production pieces.'
How has COVID affected your business?
'It has made getting hold of certain materials quite problematic. Visiting some suppliers has been interesting – they’ve had to adopt shift work to reduce the numbers of workers in the workshop at one time. There’s also been a reduced number of sales due to closures of galleries and the lack of exhibitions, so it has brought with it some difficulties for us this last year.'
What advice would you give someone looking to start a business in the creative industry?
'Firstly, I would say write down your core values, and always refer to them. It’s very easy to lose sight of those. You’ve got to be very determined, because it can be very difficult. Keep your costs down, because again they can run away with you, and don’t accumulate debt.'
The Beam Bench from the 'Elvis & Kresse' collaboration.
What's in store for you over the next 12 months?
'Well I’m going to continue refining the pieces in the Katie Walker Furniture collection, working with the best outlets for those. I’ve been approached by many online retailers, but only want to work with the ones that have the same values, and add something extra.'
Finally, what attracted you to Hope and Story?
'Initially it was the presentation that caught my eye, and looking into it further, understanding the values of the company. And then the conversation with Betsy reassured me that they’d be supportive of the logistics of working with the selling of furniture. And finally, the track record of Betsy, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with the team so far...hopefully so far so good!'
Shop the whole Katie Walker Furniture collection here.
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