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As the door swings open to reveal our interview space for the next hour, I am genuinely lost for words to find myself at the very heart of the house – a simply awe-inspiring archive room filled to the brim with historical documents, books, and objet. As we take a seat at the beautifully crafted centre table, I soon realise that these surroundings could be more than a little distracting as we delve into the mind and archives of the widely respected, knowledgeable, and above all passionate industry great.
Tim starts off proceedings with an opening statement clearly alluding to his frustrations with today’s luxury market:
“I travel an enormous amount, and yet I don’t want to buy from New York or Paris, because what’s the point? How is it ever going to remind me of something that was interesting there?”
AL: Do you think the luxury of travelling somewhere specifically to pick up a certain item is long gone?
TG: Definitely. The concept of grand tour in the 18th century was amazing; it meant you would be able to walk into someone’s stately home, and absolutely know by the panels of Pietra Dure in a furniture cabinet in the entrance hall, or the style of a table absolutely where these people had been. It was a kind of calling card, a post card. Even up until about 30 years ago there was Venetian glass which was only available in Venice, it’s really interesting now that everything seems to be available everywhere.
AL: Could this be why, more and more, there is demand to know where pieces have come from, the story behind them?
TG: Absolutely. I remember once shopping in St Tropez with a client who refused to buy anything because it was all made in China, and they had wanted to buy something local to the market we were in. If they were shopping in China it would be fine, but not when buying in France. It’s the same when buying English craftsmanship; you should get English craftsmanship, not items which are made in Taiwan or just assembled here, that’s critical.
AL: What are your views on the term ‘craftsmanship’?
TG: I think we have travelled a very long way from the word ‘craft’. 20 years ago it meant that you wore a caftan and smoked joints. ‘Craft’ has now become something that isn’t just about that. ‘Craftsmanship’ has a high skill factor involved and is now a rarity. It is now starting in itself to become a luxury.
AL: So the two words ‘craft’ and ‘luxury’ are now closer than ever?
TG: They have now joined, and have become a rarity and of importance, because craftsmanship has disappeared so much. We still make some of the most extraordinary pieces of furniture in the world, but to have accessories which are made in this country anymore is almost impossible because the numbers we are making in comparison to people abroad is just tiny, the industry has been pretty much decimated. The sadness is that we end up probably making a prototype here beautifully, and then someone ends up copying it. We are brilliant at origination, problem solving, craftsmanship, skills which aren’t necessarily found abroad that much, but other markets are starting to become incredibly good at copying.
AL: Can you give an example of great British craftsmanship?
TG: Velum is a great example; it’s incredible as a material. All the 16th century books were wrapped in velum, and we are the last country in the world to still write all of our laws on velum scrolls. Subsequently, we have an amazing velum industry here that still does all the scraping, curing and wrapping of the skins. It really is a skill that you absolutely have to know how to use, and work with. For example, I have started a project in which we are printing and laser etching into Velum. It’s an incredible process, mixing something that is very new in terms of cutting edge laser technology, with a skill that has been going for 3000 years, it’s really exciting.
AL: Thinking to the future, how can we ensure these skills are kept alive?
TG: We need push them in a new direction. Take 3D printing as an example, which we do quite a lot of, it is just wonderful and brilliantly complicated. Now that we are starting to print in ceramic and metal powders we can start to do things which again push the boundaries of all kinds of different things. We’re mixing very traditional skills and combining different elements of craftsmanship, maybe using two or three different workshops, to be able to do something brand new.
AL: Can you tell us a little about your seminar at this year’s Decorex?
TG: Joining me will be Kiki McDonough and Trevor Pickett - I wanted a really good cross section of people who are involved in the peripheral areas of design and also the home market and hotel market, because in some respects those are all part of a dialogue from the same source.
The focus point will be around how we can continue to do things in a global market which are bespoke and have a luxury slant; in terms of the time taken to do it, and how you create the time to be able to make something unique. Luxury doesn’t have to mean expensive, there are lots of things that are expensive, but we’ll explore how to create something that is individually for you.
AL: Do you think that the definition of luxury as something that is rare or available to the few is changing?
TG: In a way I still think that’s true, but luxury for me is the time that you have available to create something unique. The time taken to produce things using the best craftsmanship and the best level of detail, but also the time that you as a client are able to invest in the process. Spending time going through books, sketching, and then actually being able to create and give birth to a piece of furniture or an interior is amazing. The thing that most high profile clients don’t have, the most precious commodity in their life and in my life is time. Time to collect things, time to create things, time to spend with someone learning, time to be able to deal with the craftsmen, finding the sources and materials, that to me is where the idea of luxury is going. I think the other part of it is that we’re also in a position now where clients can have access to anything visually, pretty much at the touch of a button. Which is brilliant, but for the first time people are drowning in a sense of having no idea what they are looking at anymore.
AL: Do you think it is a symptom of the digital age that people are becoming overwhelmed?
TG: I think that people are definitely being inundated by everything that’s out there because there is so much, and now you can just access it. It’s great, but again you have got to really understand what you’re looking at. Within the design world this is phenomenally interesting and very complicated, especially within furniture design. The F word has basically fallen off the end of the table. Architecture and interior design are revered, we have TV programmes about them and everyone is discussing it, yet there is no longer a book shop in the world which has a furniture section, they have all gone.
AL: What role do shows such as Decorex have to play in the future of luxury?
TG: With Decorex being the home of luxury, it means that there is a centre of creativity, of new ideas, performed and executed beautifully. In my opinion, people go to Decorex and the first thing that they always say is that it had some brilliant ideas, or some great stuff. Now it’s about doing things in a new way that haven’t been done before at a great level of quality. That’s where Decorex’s strength is. There are so many shows, but if Decorex has things people have never seen before, it creates an enormous excitement, and a chance for people to come away from the show and say gosh, I met these amazing people who were doing this and it really challenged me.