Stool for love
Behind British furniture brand Another Country lies a quest for a bedside table. 'I had this image in my head of a quintessentially archetypal stool, well-priced, really well-made, with provenance and a timeless character,' says the founder, London-based Paul de Zwart.
He trawled furniture brands and stores but could not find anything that came close to what he wanted. 'And with my background, I know where to look, right?' he says, laughing. As the co-founder of Wallpaper* magazine - the publication that redefined lifestyle magazines in the mid-1990s with its glamorous edit of design, architecture, fashion and travel - he would indeed have had a few ideas.
So, the entrepreneur De Zwart created Another Country, which makes furniture out of sustainably sourced solid timber. The company launched its products in Hong Kong and Beijing last week. 'It offers just the right combination of design quality, provenance and craftsmanship, without being old-fashioned, new-fangled or too decorative,' he says.
The first collection - Series One - debuted in September 2010 at the London Design Festival to great acclaim. The genesis was - fittingly - a three-legged stool, known simply as Stool One. 'Its dimensions and proportions and its underpinning aesthetic are what inform the entire collection,' says De Zwart. 'The design values were inspired by the American Shaker style, Japanese woodwork, mid-century Scandinavian design, and the tradition of English cabinet making.'
Though De Zwart has no formal design training, he designed the first and much of the second collection. At heart, he says, he is a frustrated architect. 'Every day I wake up wanting to be one. I like making things very functional and really focusing on materials. And I love imbuing the work with a sense of purpose and function, and looking at how it interacts with people and materials and the bigger ecosystem that we all live in.'
One of his closest allies on his furniture-making adventure is Dominic Parish, a furniture-maker based near De Zwart's holiday home in Dorset. Parish is the one who refines the designs and prototypes the pieces. 'He plays a very important function in the business,' says De Zwart. So much so that Parish became a partner in the venture, and his workshop is now doubling in size.
Series Two, which came out in September, was designed to contrast with the first collection and a different aesthetic that was angular rather than rounded. De Zwart and his team also introduced more metals and other timbers, such as ash and walnut as opposed to oak. 'The whole idea for Series Two came out of a passion for Belgian interior architecture,' he explains.
In the next few months, De Zwart intends to expand Series Two with a bed, shelving system, a bar stool, a bedside table and some outdoor pieces. The existing designs will be transformed using galvanised steel instead of brass and various timbers.
Alongside Series Two were introduced chunky but sleek accessories (such as a clock and desk items) and a pottery range that has several months worth of back orders. They are sold online but also in high-end sophisticated emporia such as London's Jasper Morrison shop, PP Design in Shenzhen and Le Bon Marche in Paris.
Things are going well for Another Country. De Zwart says that he has turned over more in the past three months than in the previous 12. Aside from China, Series Two will soon be sold in Australia and North America. Both collections continue to be available to order directly online. Given his love of architecture and design, De Zwart also hopes, in a year or two, to start offering an Another Country interior design service that would be available to clients in Hong Kong.
He believes Another Country's aesthetic will appeal to the 'noticeable sections of the Chinese customer base that have grown very sophisticated in their tastes and appreciate and consume products that are less overtly designer'. He thinks the brand's distinctive take on contemporary craft and its British/European provenance will also be an attraction.
There have, however, been challenges for the brand. Its success, and the high cost of making things in Britain, mean that it can no longer make all the orders in the Dorset workshop. While all bespoke orders and special commissions will continue to be made in Britain, De Zwart has had to move some production to other parts of Britain and to Portugal.
This goes against the 'handmade in Britain' ethos that was key to the brand's image when it first launched, but De Zwart has rolled with the punches. 'As a young business, you are compelled to order batches,' he says. 'That means I have to order 10 dining tables to fulfil an order of one for a client. There's no point in selling at a loss, which is what was happening. So where do you go? Do I double my prices and make it all in Britain? Then I lose something even more fundamental to my brand, which is affordable quality furniture.'
De Zwart's career post-Wallpaper has continued with various high-end hotel and leisure ventures, and fashion and lifestyle magazines in the Middle East, though not all of these have taken off or lasted. What is clear, however, is that De Zwart thrives on keeping his finger on the pulse of what people want. And it looks like people can't get enough of Another Country.
Another Country's Series Two furniture and Day Bed One are available at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong and Beijing (anothercountry.com). The accessories range is sold in Lane Crawford and at PP Design Gallery in Shenzhen (ppdesigngallery.com).