For our next instalment of Eldvarm Encounters, we went to visit an old Eldvarm friend in London. A smiling Tom Faulkner greets us at his Pimlico Road showroom, surrounded by the myriad of other design and antique boutiques that makes this area such a renowned address. The space is serene and inviting, its contemporary and spacious feel allowing the sculptural elements of Tom’s work to take centre stage. Tom has been creating distinctively bold furniture for almost 30 years, cultivating a love of design that combines a commitment to the contemporary whilst keeping itself firmly rooted in classical principles. A consequent discovery of his fascination with metal has resulted in a striking range encompassing tables, chairs, mirrors, lighting and shelving that fit in seamlessly to their surroundings.
Tom’s career in design began with his own need for a coffee table. Using vibrant colours and stencils he painted onto the flat surface of an existing wooden table and, feeling pleased with the result, went on to make pieces for friends and family. ‘I come from a more art focused approach, a lot of what I do relies on the two dimensional’ he tells us, going on to explain, ‘When I started it was all about shapes. I would draw shapes and then try to turn them into tables.’ This founding design philosophy remains visible in his more recent work, as such a strong aesthetic identity must be rooted in a commitment to form. All these shapes, angles and lines make me ask if he had been good at maths at school. He laughs and replies ‘No, but I was quite good at geometry. I loved all those triangles and it certainly ties into the interest I have in classical architecture. A lot of what we do is very geometric. But then my old work was rather more organic, so who knows what we’ll do next.’
When Tom was made redundant from his job with a record label, he decided to take the leap into turning his furniture design into a full time business. ‘It was the early 90s. A time when you could have a go at doing something without too much risk. It wasn’t that expensive to live anywhere which made it easier for people to be artists and try things out in that entrepreneurial post Thatcher time.’ The design landscape was certainly very different then. He tells me how he would call up interior designers from the phonebook. ‘Luckily they couldn’t say “Oh, just send me a link.” You had to go in and show them.’ These interactions allowed him to quickly develop relationships with designers who would commission him for bespoke pieces to fit their needs.
As the brand and business grew, Tom became fascinated by metal. It was at a craft fair in Wiltshire that he came across the metal workshop that would change the direction of his work. He tells me, ‘I asked them to make me a chair, because I needed something to sit on for an exhibition. We worked on the design and creation together and I just thought it was really interesting. That was when I decided to start working with metal more broadly.’ Clearly, as with his founding need for a coffee table, necessity plays an important part in the development of Tom’s brand.
This encounter would be the start of a collaboration that continues to this day. Tom began by subcontracting, but soon the Wiltshire workshop was exclusively making things for him. When the owner of the forge suggested that Tom buy it, he jumped at the opportunity. The only condition was that Tom take on the forge with both Nigel and Gordon who already worked there, to which Tom agreed. Nigel is now chief engineer and Gordon retired just a few years ago, having worked for Tom for over 20 years. Clearly, something in this working relationship has been a huge success.
Perhaps it is a result of the culture of friendliness that infuses the Tom Faulkner brand. Tom tells me that he learnt what he valued in a business during his time working for a picture framers. ‘I loved the workshop and the work village there. I learnt to value the family of it, the friendliness.’ So integral a quality to the brand he wished to build, Tom included ‘Friendliness’ alongside the more design focused pillars of ‘Distinctiveness, Creativity, Boldness and Integrity’ when considering what his guiding principles would be. He describes it as ‘a good way of grounding ourselves, holding yourself up to those things and just occasionally checking that you’re doing what you set out to do.’
So, why metal? ‘I like to play to the strength of the material’, he replies. ‘I love metal for its versatility. It can be very slender but still so strong and malleable. Lots of my things couldn’t be made with wood because it just wouldn’t be strong enough. The things we make are incredibly well finished and it takes a couple of years to learn how to make things to our standard. But, having said that, there is something quick and dirty about it as a material which I love. You can get going very quickly.’
For Tom, another attraction of metal is its durability, an element of sustainable design practice Eldvarm is strongly committed to. ‘It’s quite difficult to get rid of. You have to take steps to dispose of it,’ he explains with a chuckle. ‘I love that these pieces will be around for really quite a long time. I recently saw a friend for whom I made a table years ago, and he was telling me how much he still loves that piece. How it is a reminder of all the happy times they have had around it, from dinner parties before they were married through to now. A bit like Eldvarm’s stories around the fire, there are stories around the dinner table. There is something so wonderful about coming together and sharing food and ideas and laughter. I think both the fireplace and the kitchen table can be said to be the centre of the home. There is absolutely a connection between those things and the role they play in our lives.’
When I ask about his design process and from where he pulls his inspiration, Tom’s first response is ‘I try to make beautiful things. Proportions are so important and I’m interested in classicism and classical architecture. I love things that are naturally, almost inherently, beautiful. There are classical motifs in what I do, the bold, C shapes of the Capricorn table for instance. Who knows why but it does draw people in.’
In terms of particular movements in design that he finds inspiring, Tom is pretty committed to the 20th century. ‘I like Art Nouveau. We do have that motif going through a few of our things, the Vienna chair for instance. I also love the Modernists of the mid 20th century. I love their use of steel. Marcel Bruer was the first person to bend tubular steel, or so they say. He saw the handlebars of his bicycle and thought maybe I could do something clever with that. Their use of metal was just so modern. Chairs normally had springs in and upholstery to cover them up. But they started putting the metal on the outside so that you could see it in all its glory. Le Corbusier made those metal sofas where you could see the rails all over the outside. I also love Miles van de Rohe and Lilly Reich, his working partner. And Charlotte Perriand. I love the minimal aspect of their work. The whole “God is in the detail, less is more” kind of thing really resonates with me. Most of what we do doesn’t have any ornament and so we really focus on quality, line and proportion.’
With such a commitment to these elements it is no surprise that the brand is in a period of expansion. The Pimlico Road showroom is their second in London and they are represented internationally as well as looking to open their own space in New York in the coming year. Though clearly pleased with this success, I get the feeling that Tom is keen to continue focusing his attention on the artistic and practical side of making. Having recently moved to Oxfordshire, he tells me, ‘I’m keen to move my centre of gravity down there, close to my family and closer to the workshop. It connects me to the making and the creation. It really helps me get into that state of mind, which is exactly where I want to be.’
What is your favourite book on design?
‘I love ‘The Strange and Subtle Luxury of the Parisian Haute-monde in the Art Deco Period’ by Jean-Michel Frank. Everything he designed was just beautiful. I also love the photography book ‘In the American West’ by Avedon which is just fabulous.’
What was it that drew you to Eldvarm?
‘I met Louise at Maison&Objet in Paris. I’ve always liked the aesthetic, modern lines of Eldvarm. It has a very strong design language that I think relates to the Tom Faulkner one. I like the way the steel and leather and the shapes and colours come together. It’s a sector that needs more attention and Louise is clearly leading the way with that. They’re very stylish. I just noticed her and the brand at Maison and we’ve kept in touch somehow.’
We think of the fireplace as the heart(h) of the home. What is your favourite memory of being around the fire?
‘I’ve spent a lot of time sitting around fires, mostly when I’ve been a bit younger. Lots of memorable parties that ended up around the fire, playing music. It’s pretty primal. Also, at home with my mum and my family, being around the fire was really special. During the lockdowns, our two bubbles would commune around the outdoor fire. Being outside by the fire when it’s cold is just great. We did that often. It was really special during that time to be able to gather around the firepit outside and be able to be together again, even at a distance.’
Next time you are in London, be sure to pay Tom and his team a visit. You’re sure to discover something beautiful.
28 Pimlico Rd, London SW1W 8LJ or Unit A3, Chelsea Reach Tower, 78-89 Lots Rd, London SW10 0RN