Meet the Maker – Anthony Hartley

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Anthony Hartley
We spoke to furniture Designer/Maker Anthony Hartley about a devastating fire, badgering Paul Smith and awkward customers
‘I’ve always been inspired by colour. I like Sixties retro designs and designers’
Anthony Hartley

How did you get into furniture making?
When I left school I went into the engineering trade then into the building trade and ended up drifting into joinery. I did various jobs – fitting kitchens and floors – up until I was 34, when I went to Leeds College of Art and Design to do a furniture making and design course and a degree in Furniture Design. That was 2006, and since then I’ve been working away doing my own furniture. 

What inspired you go into furniture design?
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, I wanted to go to art school when I was younger but I had to go get a job. But I’m glad it has gone that way because my furniture is quite arty as well – it’s creative.

Where do you find inspiration for your designs?
I’ve always been inspired by colour. I like Sixties retro designs and designers such as     Gerrit Rietveld and Frank Gehry the architect. I’m also influenced by the Memphis Movement which is an Eighties group from Italy. They used colour in everything they did – I was a child who grew up in the Eighties so I was influenced by it, as much as I didn’t appreciate it at the time. The shapes of the designs come to me quite quickly, I think it’s because I know how things are constructed being a joiner.

Where do you source your materials from?
I use a lot of boards from a supplier in Portugal and a company called James Latham in Leeds who supply boards from all over the world. They get Latvian birch plywood which I use a lot, Valchromat – a coloured MDF and a board called polypropylene which is a plastic, coloured plywood. For natural timbers I try to buy British.

Can you tell me about the production process?
I’ve got a CNC machine now but I used to prototype everything and I still do really. I prototype each piece to see how it works, how it looks and how it stands. So if it’s a chair, I question whether it’s comfortable and whether it needs to be angled a bit more or a bit less – everything from drawing to the finished product is done in-house. It’s very rare but I do occasionally get people in – I have a lad that does the more complicated Computer Automated Design drawings. I can draw but I’m not very good at it!

What are you working on at the moment?
Various things. I’m doing some designs for Paul Smith actually – he has a shop in London with a section for furniture. He sells it or, if it’s too busy, he puts it in various shops around the country. The Mr Smith chair that I designed was directly influenced by his stripes – so I’ve always wanted my furniture to be in his shop.

How did Paul Smith discover you?
I badgered him. I do something called photocards where I take a photograph and produce it in wood by carving it on the CNC machine, I know that he’s into the Tour de France so when the Tour de Yorkshire was on I sent in a couple of photocards, one of a famous cyclist called Eddy Merckx and one of himself. He sent back a nice postcard with a pair of socks and a hat and because of that I’ve tried to keep in contact with him. At the beginning of the year I proposed that I’d like to sell in the shop, I had a meeting with one of his buyers in London and he said we’ll take a couple of pieces – so they’re going in March.

What is your favourite piece you have done?
I suppose the Ednas – the drawers – because as much as the Mr Smith chair was my first piece, the Edna drawers have got me the most attention and I do enjoy making them. The customers choose the colours so they’re all unique.

Have you taken on any unusual projects over the years?
The most unusual things I do is my own furniture. I finished a cabinet a couple of months ago called the Shark Cabinet which is basically a sideboard with photocards on the doors and panels that represent Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde shark. That was a marketing piece to get him interested in my furniture.

What’s the hardest part of what you do?
Juggling customers. You get the odd customer who is strict with timescales but when you’re hand-painting something you can’t dictate how long it’s going to take to dry or whether there’ll be a speck of dust in the surface meaning you’ll have to spray it again. Some customers can be impatient.

What’s the best part?
The freedom. As much as I spend every day working, I enjoy every minute of it. And working with customers. Customers can be quite inspiring sometimes, and when they get a piece of furniture they love and take photos of it in their house to say thank you, that’s the good part. 

What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
We had a fire at the mill about three years ago. I had just started renting it and I had put all the walls up and done all the electrics – we were open for about three or four months then we had a fire that halted the business for seven months. It almost sent me under, but with the help of friends we pulled through.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?
On a beach in Spain! That’s not far from the truth really. I’ve probably got another 10–15 years left in me at the rate I’m going, because of the physical nature of it and the dust element there’s a limited period you can do this sort of thing because it does affect you. So in five years time I suppose I will still be doing it and enjoying it but hopefully making a bit more of a living than I do now. At the minute everything gets piled back into new developments – I suppose that’s the nature of the beast.

Published in: April 2016

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