CHEAP flat-pack furniture has its place but for a piece that will be cherished almost like a family member there is no substitute for hand-crafted workmanship.
The Brownlow Furniture Company, on the Barrowmore Enterprise Estate, Great Barrow, is one of only a handful of bespoke companies whose skilled workers make unique kitchens, dining and coffee tables, bedroom and bathroom furniture.
Enter the workshop and the sweet scent of freshly cut wood, waxes and lacquers bombard your senses.
University-educated designers create hand-drawn images while craftsmen employ intense concentration and an artistic eye to bring those two-dimensional visions to life with the aid of sturdy 60-year-old machines.
Producing something so beautiful out of oak, ash, maple, walnut and Quebec yellow pine – and in small quantities – does not come cheap so it’s no wonder customers include Premiership footballers such as Gary Speed as well as members of the landed gentry.
A large solid oak dining table in the show-room will set you back a cool £1,600 but the price pays for the attention to detail which includes distressing the wood by hand so that it has the impression of a piece hundreds of years old.
A large Armoir, made from the same oak, was stored in a tent with a bowl of ammonia to darken the wood, creating the same effect traditionally achieved using the fumes from horse urine after storing the finished piece in stables.
Rob Bennett, from Halkyn Mountain, who runs the company along with two business partners, said: “We are one of a few truly bespoke companies. Every item we make is unique. We don’t just work to a set style. A lot of what we do is traditional but we also do modern and contemporary as well.”
Father-of-two Rob, who did an apprenticeship but also has a degree in restoration, added: “We have footballers coming in here and wealthy people. We get a lot of landed gentry. It is mostly high-earners.”
Rob, who employs eight craftsmen and two apprentices, looks for a certain attitude of mind in his staff.
“We don’t take people who have been to college because they have lost that sense of reality. They expect to make a piece every three months but we expect them to work a lot faster than that. It’s a commercial operation. The lads we have got are generally younger and enthusiastic.”
Complementing the furniture company is Rob’s wife Georgina’s business restoring antique chandeliers.
The latest addition to the Brownlow ‘family’ is a 1949 Morris ex-Post Office van which has been lovingly restored and will be used by Dirk Ward, dubbed “the king of the showroom”, to deliver some of the smaller items of furniture around the district. With a top speed of 40mph and no synchromesh on the gears, Dirk may soon be tempted to use the other vehicle, a modern Mercedes Sprinter van.