AN INSIGHT INTO FURNITURE WITH KNIGHTSBRIDGE FURNITURE
SPACE’s Tonje Odegard visited the friendly and talented team at Knightsbridge Furniture at their factory in Bradford…
In a Victorian factory building on Thornton Road in Bradford, in what used to be and old wool-dying business, the now hugely successful furniture company Knightsbridge Furniture designs, develops, produces, distributes, and displays all its beautiful chairs, sofas and tables.
Set up in 1939, the company has grown to become one of Britain’s most prominent furniture makers, supplying comfortable and stylish products to high-end hotels all across the globe. Still, at the heart of the business is a local and highly skilled workforce that takes great care in every stage of the production process, from wooden plank to cashmere sofa.
Walking through the factory, it’s remarkable to see the level of attention and technique that is put into every single step of the furniture-making process. Seeing a wooden plank, fresh off the sawmill, being transformed into a trendy armchair is simply incredible – from cutting, shaping, gluing, sanding, and polishing through to assembly and upholstery. There are also quality checks at every stage to ensure the end product is as perfect as possible.
Each part is made individually and the person in charge of it has no idea of what the finished product will look like. This is to guarantee the excellence is maintained throughout and that the same level of energy and effort is put into each and every part.
In an increasingly technological world, Knightsbridge has chosen not to automate its production, but to stick to the talented craftspeople who can give the work the devotion it needs.
“The skill of our workforce is really something we’re proud of,” says Alan Towns, Chief Executive Officer at Knightsbridge. “They are engineers in their own field, they’re not just pushing a piece of wood through an automated machine. It’s a very collaborative approach between the design team and the people on the factory floor.”
From a row of seamstresses assembling the fabrics, to the person finely sanding the edges of the armrest, the human aspect is so apparent, and it is a wonderful thing to witness.
Knightsbridge is also supporting the community by largely hiring locals and sourcing apprentices from local colleges. “Maintaining the human aspect of the production is very important to us and is something we pride ourselves on,” explains Peter Denham, Knightsbridge’s Chief Operating Officer, who is walking me through the factory. “We have several generations of workers here, some who have been here all their working lives.”
Although the factory never keeps anything in stock, Knightsbridge has a vast sample library containing more than 800 sample pieces. This is a great resource to have for clients to come in and see a product before they do a mass order. Knightsbridge now also has a new dedicated sample truck that can deliver samples directly to the client and showcase the impact the pieces can have in an environment.
The Design and Development Team
Knightsbridge has an in-house research and development design team at the factory and are one of the few companies to have that. The team of eight is led by Director of Design and Development, Jason Brown, who has been with Knightsbridge since 1992, excluding an three-year break from 2007 to 2010.
The team can be described as the brain of the factory – all the designs are made up in the studio and then instructions are sent out to the various part-making sections of the factory. Although the team does not get involved with the production, it has been trained in all the different stages so as to have a full understanding of what they’re asking their tradespeople to do.
There are both pros and cons of having an in-house design team, Jason explains. “There are definitively financial benefits of having your own team as you’re not forced to outsource the design process,” he says. “You also get a team that is 100 per cent dedicated to the business, every day of the week.
“The flipside to that is that you can easily get entrenched in your own beliefs and not actually get enough influence from outside.
“With that being said, we have tried terribly hard over the past three years to actually turn that around and start making designs that are nothing like what Knightsbridge has ever made,” Jason says. “And we’ve achieved that.”
So how would one then go about sourcing inspiration and ensuring that the designs are constantly innovative? Jason says that a good idea for a design or a new product can come from anywhere or anyone. “Anyone in the whole business, not just the R&D team, can come forward with a suggestions, and inspiration can come from anything from tattoo designs or apparel to a particular colour or peeled paint on an old wall.”
Both when walking through the factory and when speaking to Jason, I realise that Knightsbridge’s approach to design is really special. “I am very concerned with the whole process of a product,” says Jason. “I’m not just interested in how it looks when it’s finished, I want to know where it comes from, what material has been used, and where the material comes from.” This very much reflects the attitude seen on the factory floor.