People: British furniture makers – Charles Byron and María del Mar Gómez
Charles Byron and María del Mar Gómez trained as cabinet makers before setting up Byron & Gomez in 2015 from their workshop in Somerset. Since then, they have worked with Benchmark and John Makepeace and developed a range of made-to-order products whilst creating bespoke pieces for private clients and interior designers.
What do you think the current perception of British furniture is?
M: British furniture is known for its exceptional quality of manufacture.
C: When it comes to handmade furniture, I think that Britain has long been known for having some of the world’s most talented craftspeople. On the design side of things there’s traditionally been a perception that we have lagged behind our European counterparts, but I think that’s fast changing.
What do you think the history books will say about furniture – making and consuming – in the 21st century?
M: I think the history books will probably talk about the fact that this is a time where consumers and manufacturers feel an increasing social responsibility towards conserving the environment. Consumers are ever more aware of what they buy, where it’s made and what it’s made of.
C: I expect they will have a lot to say about IKEA and its short lived furniture, but with luck they will note the 20th century as the start of a shift back towards well-made furniture that lasts a lifetime.
How has the community of British furniture designer-makers influenced you?
M: Charlie and I have a wonderful supportive community of furniture designer-makers that are always inspiring me to carry on. Coming from a different background, seeing what all the independent designer-makers are doing here in Britain has been a compass for me.
C: The industry as a whole is a very friendly one. Designer-makers are usually happy to talk about their work and share their experience, which has proved invaluable time and again.
What are the challenges you face today?
Both: The greatest challenge we face, and I expect this is the same of most young businesses, is finding clients and customers. In those early years you have to expend a lot of effort in making people aware of who you are and what you do.
Who is your main customer type and what do you sell the most of?
Both: We sell to a mixture of private clients and interior designers, mostly bespoke freestanding furniture like sideboards and cabinets but we are also working to expand our range of made to order pieces.
Who are your biggest inspirations/influences?
M: Although I always have admired designers like the Eames, Wegner, or Thonet, my biggest inspiration is my Caribbean heritage. I am constantly influenced by the architecture and traditional furniture from my homeland Puerto Rico, which makes me design furniture that can keep me connected to my Caribbean roots.
C: I’m a big fan of Dieter Rams. I agree with his assertions that design should be purposeful, honest and unobtrusive, and I try to apply this to everything I design.
Do you have any relationships with established furniture designer-makers?
Both: Yes, absolutely. We have a large group of furniture designer-maker friends as well as a professional relationship with Benchmark and John Makepeace, which are both great achievements in our career as designer-makers.
Do you think it’s harder to start out as a furniture designer-maker compared to 30 years ago?
M: Possibly. It used to be that designer-makers were trained as apprentices for years before going out to design and make their own work. These days, you need to develop a great deal of skill in a very short time as well as learning how to run your own business successfully. Although now we have a great advantage with social media and the internet, as we can easily create a professional network.
C: It’s hard to say, since I can only reasonably comment on what it is like today. Certainly the internet has made it easier to connect with prospective clients, but there is a great deal of competition these days. I expect it was just as hard 30 years ago but in different ways.