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Partners in Craft

Running a creative business with family, especially your life partner, can be a tricky route to follow, but can also bring deep satisfaction and a real sense of striving and celebrating together, of owning your best moments completely and living out what you believe in. The Design-Nation team often bring up the value of collaboration, and what could be more intense and special than a collaboration that starts at home?

We’re marking Valentine’s Day in a different way in 2022, celebrating those designer/maker partnerships who don’t just work together but also live together. The DN portfolio has a fair sprinkling; from recent recruits Ash & Plumb, Sussex-based contemporary wood-turners with backgrounds in fashion and marketing (current exhibitors in Design-Nation: Our Journey and the forthcoming Collect 2022), to glassmakers Gillies Jones. Kate Jones and Stephen Gillies joined us in 2007 from their rural North Yorkshire base – a stunningly beautiful environment which informs much of their work.

Most of these designer partnerships are graced by both names: in London Sarah Porter and James Trundle create award-winning furniture and contemporary home products as Porter & Trundle; as do the 2017 New Designers One Year In winners David Winter and Natasha Kurth in Manchester, trading as Winter and Kurth; while glass artists Scott Benefield and Andrea Spencer each create their own individual pieces, as well as the Benefield Spencer collaborative range of tableware. (Scott’s solo pieces Antrim Fields, in the Our Journey show are inspired by the landscape around their Northern Ireland workshop.)

In other businesses, there is an active but maybe less well-known partner. Angus Ross’s busy and inspiring furniture workshop in Perthshire has a whole team crafting his sustainably-sourced designs, with the operation firmly anchored by Angus’s partner Lorna in the office. In Derbyshire, the studio of Janie Knitted Textiles is a joint venture between designer Janie Withers and her partner Michael Hanmer. There’s a short film about them by R&A Collaborations which gives a great insight into their working day.

One of our longer running partnerships is Fung + Bedford: Angela Fung and Ashley Bedford met in 2003 as exhibitors at New Designers, and bring backgrounds in architecture, jewellery and classical music to their dramatic installations of architectural paper. From their Sussex base they make objects big and small – and are currently crafting something very special indeed for Collect 2022.

But the partnership that has been in the Design-Nation family is the longest is Scabetti, the ceramics design brand of Dominic and Frances Bromley, who joined us in 2001. We’re delighted that they agreed to share their approach to life and work.

Design-Nation: How did you end up working together?

Dominic Bromley:  I set up Scabetti in 1999, when our first daughter started school. I left my full time job as a product designer and Frances continued working for the toy company Hasbro.  Although Frances always had an input, it wasn’t really until we had our second child in 2003 that Frances started to spend more time on the business. It really made a difference! It’s hard working by yourself and a partnership seems to be greater than its parts….

DN: Is there a division of labour: do you each have a defined role, and maybe bring skills and knowledge from previous activities?

DB:  Yes, Frances is much more comfortable in the sales and marketing role and in project management and making, skills she has naturally, but also learnt from the years working in the toy industry and TV world.  I tend to lean towards the graphic design and 3D design side, engineering and the exciting world of invoice payment and accounts! We do genuinely tend to work together on the design and development of new work though.

Frances Bromley: I would say that Dominic’s artistic vision leads our style, but then, as he says, we refine ideas together.

DN: What does a typical working day look like in your household?

DB:  One of us aims to leave the house and get into the studio before 9am, the other tends to do a few domestic chores and take the dog for a quick walk!  What we both do each day can vary quite a bit, and we’re not good at setting specific jobs to specific days – the exception being that I try to pay invoices at the end of the week (you’ve got to keep your suppliers happy!).

Now the children are older, we tend to work on to around 6pm, but it really depends on what we have on and it’s not unusual for us to return to the studio in the evenings or weekends, particularly recently… the Covid pandemic has changed things quite a bit for us, losing our small team and trying to re-adjust what we both do to keep the business running. New Year, new approach though, and our work/life balance definitely needs addressing!

DN: What are the pros and cons of a 24/7 business/lifestyle?

DB:  Despite recent times, generally over the years we’ve tried to keep work and home life separate – this is definitely made easier by having a workplace separate from our home. Not taking a break from your practice can be mentally and physically draining, and can make for an anti-social life. That said, we both actually love spending time in our studio and it is only five minutes’ walk from where we live. Frances would happily think and talk work 24/7, but I try to keep a division. However, you never know when a good idea will strike and I would never ignore it just because I’m at home.

DN: What do you consider to be your biggest achievement?

DB:  In terms of sheer size and scale, the stainless steel Shoal No.8 that we installed in the Fisketorvet Shopping Mall, in Copenhagen, takes some beating at 12 metres by 12 metres!

FB: Shoal No.8 is literally the biggest, yes. For me though, it would be the gold Shoal No.743 at Fishmonger’s Hall on London Bridge. It’s such an honour to be a permanent fixture in the home of such a historic Guild.

DB: All that said, our biggest achievement is actually to have made a living for over 20 years doing something we love and believe in!

At Design-Nation we know that doing something that you love and believe is very special indeed. We salute our working couples for their dedication, creativity and passion – long may they endure.

Images - couresy the artists unless otherwise noted.

Index page: detail of Shoal no 734 by Scabetti.

Carousel: Dominic and Frances Bromley’s hands at work on the ceramic sculpture Body of Knowledge for Brighton College.

A Scabetti Shoal in development.

Frances and Dominic Bromley of Scabetti.

Shoal No 8 by Scabetti at Fisketorvet, Copenhagen.

A domestic Shoal commission.

Barnaby Ash and Dru Plumb.

Stephen Gillies and Kate Jones.

Sarah Porter and James Trundle.

David Winter and Natasha Kurth, photo courtesy New Designers.

Scott Benefield and Andrea Spencer.

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Laura Jacometti


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