In conversation with Charlie Smallbone

By Elspeth Pridham
January 26, 2021

Charlie Smallbone founded the iconic Smallbone kitchen brand. Here he discusses his latest venture, Ledbury Studio, the joys of Malta and his favourite pen


When was the business founded, and why?  

I founded Ledbury Studio almost two years ago in January 2019. Since leaving Smallbone in 2009, I have been evolving my design preferences, always with a view to building a new business around what I love, which is kitchens and, more generally, beautifully designed and built furniture. It was important for me to stay patient till I was confident I had something new and sufficiently different to build the new opportunity around.

How many staff?  

We’re a small team and we’ve developed several collaborations with exceptionally talented artists and artisan workshops. I design each project myself, and personally build the relationship with each new Ledbury Studio client.

Where are you based?

Our studio showroom is in Notting Hill, in Ledbury Mews.

What is your latest significant achievement/project of note? 

Projects often run into years of gestation, and even ‘quick’ ones regularly run at least six to nine months. I’m very proud of all our projects to date and most especially having been able to establish Ledbury Studio in these difficult times. We opened our doors last year right in the midst of Brexit, and now the pandemic has been with us for most of 2020. I think few people would suggest these are easy times to start a new business! But I have always believed that passion and determination work well together with a good idea.

What is your favourite possession? 

I’ve fallen in love with my Pilot Hi-Tecpoint V5 pen that my daughter Holly, who works at the Studio, bought me to sketch new ideas and client schemes. I have three of them now, so they are pretty much with me at all times, and ready for whenever the inspiration takes me!

I’ve just discovered…  

That I’m a stone heavier than I was a year ago, which was the last time we had a battery working in our scales! But we have been eating so well – cookery is a family interest, which is just as well given that we design and build kitchens. However, I think it’s time now to refocus and work to lose what’s been added onto my midriff!

Who inspires me… 

David Cornwell – better known as the author John le Carré. He happened to go to the same prep school as me – though 20 years earlier – which at times has led me to reflect about possible shared experiences. John Le Carré sadly died in December, but he was a creative literary force who remained relevant, interesting and witty through every stage of his 60 year career. As someone seeking to offer fresh perspectives in my own chosen field of furniture, I find him, what he did and how he did it totally inspiring.

My highlight of the last 12 months… 

Towards the end of October I was lucky enough to visit Malta, finalising the design works of a current project. One day I had a spare hour and took myself into the centre of Valletta. I decided to visit St John’s Co-Cathedral, which completely blew me away. Walking around looking at untold gems of marble carving depicting the provenance of each of the Knights of St John, I happened on a chapel, hung fully with paintings by Caravaggio. Words cannot really express the magnificence of these works – this was by some distance the most amazing hour of the last 12 months for me.

Where would you like to visit once we are allowed to travel more freely? 

Up until around 10 years ago I travelled extensively and almost continuously all around the world, on business and for pleasure. These days I like to keep it local – I love the British Isles! I take my inspiration wherever I find it – the most important thing for me is to be engaged, and I find it just as easy to do that here as anywhere else…