Meet the Maker - Jim Leach
We all dream about owning the perfect kitchen
How did you get into furniture design and making?
I always knew I wanted to be a product designer but it was during my foundation course at Wakefield College that I was really inspired by my 3D lecturer and decided that I wanted to design furniture. I then studied furniture and product design at Nottingham Trent.
Have you always been interested in making things?
I used to go to work with my dad who was an engineer so I was always immersed in a world of manufacturing and design and it always intrigued me.
What happened after you graduated?
I worked as a furniture designer for about 12 years before setting up on my own as Jim Leach Design at a time when I decided I wanted to make as well as design. Financially speaking, I then had two routes I could go down – supplying small pieces to national retailers or bespoke kitchen design. I chose the latter knowing that kitchens are the one thing that people are conditioned to invest a reasonable amount of money in.
What is your style?
We adapt our own designs to suit each customer but they all have a strong sense of Wood and Wire style. The style is traditional modernism, that’s what really inspires us.
Is there any artist or designer, past or present who has been a particular inspiration to you?
Robin Day, one of the original English modernist furniture designers. I was fortunate enough to meet him on a number of occasions. What he did through his life in terms of style and what he did for the UK furniture industry inspires me.
What materials do you use?
The bulk of our kitchens are made out of birch plywood which is an inherently modern material. It’s used in its natural form; we exhibit the quality of the material rather than trying to make it look like something else. We use a simple combination of birch plywood and plain laminate colours.
Why do people choose your kitchens?
Our kitchens aren’t like others; they look more like furniture than other kitchens do. Generally there are two main styles of kitchen: the traditional country style or the ultra-slick modern style. Wood and Wire kitchens are modern but with more interest and warmth. I think it’s also because they are made here, 200 metres from the showroom, people like that.
How do you go about designing a kitchen?
We don’t work with standard module sizes. Instead, we look at the space and discuss the client’s requirements, then design something to properly fill and suit the space. We don’t cut corners and we try to make everything look as good as possible without compromising on functionality.
What sort of clients does your work appeal to?
Despite the fact we design in a simple and modern style, our core customers are in their fifties, which surprised me. I suppose there are two reasons for that. Firstly, they are an age group that were exposed to a lot of modernism in the early part of their life. Secondly, they are at a stage in their life where they are sick of buying poor quality; they want something that is going to work and also last for a long time.
What has been the biggest challenge?
Opening the shop on Hebden Bridge High Street. I knew we could design and I had confidence in our manufacturing skills but I didn’t have an ounce of business knowledge. We opened the kitchen and furniture showroom alongside a business partner who was opening a lighting showroom but that fell through. We had two choices; to sink or swim. We had already proven that the showroom was a good way to bring in business so we made it into more of a design shop selling products from all over Europe. We also stock smaller pieces by local designer-makers. I certainly underestimated how difficult having a retail business would be. It is tough but we’ve managed to keep our heads above water.
Being self-employed, do you still enjoy the design and making process?
It was quite a leap to go from being employed for 15 years to then starting my own business. I never thought I’d be brave enough to do it but I was surprised how easy it was to get enough work to keep busy. By providing people with something we really think about and care about, from the design to the quality of the manufacturing, it means we’ve never had any bad feedback – touch wood!
Where would you like to be in five years’ time?
It is important for us to continue to build our portfolio of products while keeping the same integrity in design and quality, possibly working with other designers who get excited by the same things. At the same time we would like to build our manufacturing capability and hopefully buck the trend (even in a small way) of a dwindling UK industry.
Wood & Wire, 19 West End, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire HX7 8UQ
www.woodandwire.co.uk 01422 847 199