Taking inspiration from the international design scene, this is craftsmanship without compromise; working perfectly and created to last forever.
Words by Mat Arney
For all of its rural ‘far corner of the country’ associations, Cornwall has an enviable reputation for innovation and progression. Perhaps the county’s location and aspect, protruding into the restless Atlantic, means that its inhabitants more often than not look outwards, over the cliff tops and out to sea towards the rest of the world, rather than inwards. This is true of the designers and makers behind Coast Creative, who ship their made-in-Cornwall furniture around the world to customers in New York, San Francisco, Dubai and Sydney, as well as creating kitchens and interiors closer to home.
Left | Image by Pippa Hambling
Right | Dave, Nick and Luke
Coast Creative is a company born from the coming together of three separate Cornwall-based entrepreneurs: Nick Williams, Dave Jones and Luke White. Nick and Dave have been friends for over 20 years, both founding companies that would one day end up next door to one another. Dave started Cord Industries in 2014, hand-making contemporary furniture in wood and steel. After studying boat building in Falmouth, Nick founded Coast Creative Joinery, creating bespoke fitted interior and exterior joinery. Luke achieved a BA in product design and then an MA in design thinking at the University of Plymouth before spending ten years designing innovative products for the UK furniture industry.
“Nick was the hub around which the relationship started to form,’’ says Dave. “I would always use Nick for any CNC [computer-numerically-controlled] machining required for my furniture and having one of your oldest friends and a truly gifted woodworker next door was a huge bonus!’’ Dave continues: ‘‘Luke first got in touch with Nick in 2017 looking to have some furniture components made. Over time we all became pretty good friends, then Nick and I started talking seriously about bringing our two companies together in 2019. We realised that if we could talk Luke into coming on-board as well, we could create something really special. We all share common values regarding how things can and should be made, and we each bring complementary skills to the business.’’
And he’s right. Nick is, by any measure, the complete 21st century craftsman: a passionate woodworker who trained as a boat builder and built his business on his talent with hand-tools, but who took his skills into the 21st century when he added a huge 3m x 2m three-axis CNC machine to his workshop. This incredible piece of manufacturing technology allows Coast Creative to create almost anything that their customers can dream up, and in a huge range of materials beyond just wood. Nick was born and raised in Rock, north Cornwall, and now his work graces many of the high-end homes in his childhood village. Dave, originally from north Wales, is a talented metalworker who left the specialty coffee business to make furniture after a hairpin leg dining table and set of benches that he made for a friend generated multiple commissions from other friends. His furniture brand grew into a thriving business with pieces in every major European capital, most US cities and right around the rest of the world. He now handles all the metalwork that has become such a striking and unique feature of the Coast Creative offering. Jersey-born Luke is the sort of talented designer who can start with a blank piece of paper and a couple of questions, then begin to build a concept fully tailored to the client’s tastes, needs and space, safe in the knowledge that whatever materials he and the client decide to use, be it traditional hardwoods or state-of-the-art sheet materials (usually both), Nick, Dave and the workshop team have got it covered.
Luke’s remarkable computer generated ‘renders’ allow him to take clients on a virtual 3D tour of the design as they collaborate to develop the concept. He has been working directly with clients to design their dreams, as well as working with architects and interior designers to translate their vision into the most beautiful and functional spaces imaginable; his knowledge of what is possible using Coast’s in-house manufacturing expertise and equipment has allowed him to elevate their clients’ initial ideas to the next level. “We passionately believe that your home is a canvas for your self expression,” explains Luke. “Our clients can have as much or little design input as they feel comfortable with, but the end result will always be something that not only looks incredible, reflecting them as a person, or a family, but can materially improve the way they and their family experience their home in terms of functionality.”
Top Left | Hairpin leg chair with walnut seat
Bottom Left | Hairpin leg sidetable with oak top
Bottom Right | Drawer detail at Noordhoek by Pippa Hambling
Coast Creative’s most recent installation is a standout example of the sort of dream interiors that the team can create. Noordhoek is one of the most significant residential developments in Cornwall in recent years; the kitchen and pantry alone cover 470 square feet and the project has utilised every single one of Coast Creative’s specialist services. “The owners of Noordhoek were great,’’ says Nick. “They gave us the architect’s drawings for the layout but after that we had carte-blanche to suggest anything we thought would work to fulfill their design objectives. Luke created such an incredible concept: a 4.7m floor-to-ceiling Crittall-style screen between the kitchen and pantry, an enormous wine glass rack suspended from the roof above the kitchen island and the most incredible cast-in-situ concrete worktops. We also went for a really complementary mix of finishes and materials: natural oak door and drawer fronts, matt black on all the metalwork, blackened oak on the hidden drawers and the storage, and a hand-trowelled micro-cement finish on the highline cabinet doors. There are way too many bespoke details to list but it was such a great journey to go on with them, and something we look back on now with a huge amount of pride.”
So impressed were the owners with their work in the kitchen that Coast Creative was soon commissioned to supply all the bedroom storage and a good deal of the furniture. Dave explains: “They loved our hairpin leg bar chairs and ordered some in zinc yellow for the kitchen island and the BBQ counter in the games room. We also made some one-off versions of our ModSys benches for the hallway, some coffee tables and Luke designed these beautiful little dressing tables for the bedrooms.’’
It’s this furniture, made in their Cornish workshop but shipped to almost every corner of the globe, which provides the other half of the Coast Creative offering. It’s been flying off the shelves, too. The pandemic and resultant huge and instantaneous shift to working from home, remote working, and hybrid work arrangements saw demand for their innovative Modsys desks skyrocket: “The Modsys range is our take on the future of flatpack furniture,” explains Dave. “It’s a modular range with a single steel bracket design that connects various different table top or seat options to different height legs, offering a wide range of furniture outcomes. We’ve also just developed a ‘Modpop’ range with solid oak legs and Fenix laminated tops that are available in a range of colours. The resulting desks are minimalist and incredibly stylish, and available in a variety of sizes and heights, including standing. Previously our hairpin leg bar stools and chairs were by far the best selling items of furniture in our range, but these days we’re shipping a lot of Modsys desks too and they’re competing for that “best seller” title.”
Top Right | The pantry at Noordhoek
Bottom Left | Hairpin dining set
Dave has a long-held belief common to many designers that form should follow function. “In the distant past, the only two design goals of any product were to work perfectly and last forever, that’s it. But somewhere along the line those ideals were corrupted in favour of quicker and easier profit or prioritising appearance over functionality. Take flat-pack furniture, for example,” he says, “It has a reputation for being flimsy and short-lived, but that needn’t and shouldn’t be the case. If you design something well, use the best materials and fittings and take pride in its production, then it will function perfectly and last a very long time. Not only that, but it will become beautiful by virtue of its success. Nearly all of the furniture that we make is flat-pack, for ease and economy of delivery. Despite this, it’s still made from solid hardwood, solid steel and will last a lifetime. It’s also not a problem if you happen to live in Edinburgh, Berlin or Miami.”
Pairing good design with the best materials and having products made by a skilled workforce in the UK carries with it a price tag, but the difference in the quality of the product is obvious. Dave cites the evolution of the coffee industry as a positive example of how consumer desire for a higher quality product with ethics, traceability and sustainability at its core, and a willingness to pay slightly more for that product, has made space for independents and reduced the dominance of large multinationals. He sees an opportunity for the same to happen in the furniture and interiors market.
Left | Nola dining set
There is little doubt that as that shift occurs, Coast Creative will be one of the businesses at the forefront, leading the change. The breadth of offering that these three entrepreneurs and their small team have created ranges from small furniture items such as stools, through to large-scale bespoke interiors; they are shipping Cornish designed and made items to homes, offices and hospitality venues all around the world, and bringing international inspiration and state of the art manufacturing technology to Cornish projects.
“At the end of the day,” Nick tells me, “We simply want the things we make to improve people’s lives in some meaningful way. It could be getting your home to work better for you or it could just be walking into a room and going ‘Wow, I love it in here.” It’s not an unreasonable, or unusual, aspiration for either a craftsperson or a businessperson. These three are doing it though, and doing it so well.
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