Out of the Woods
Furniture From the Past for Another Century
Paul De Zwart is founder of British furniture company, Another Country. I chatted to him about his love of natural materials and modern classics to last a lifetime.
Founded in 2010, Another Country is an award-winning British furniture company that designs and makes contemporary furniture for the natural home in the UK and Europe. Contrary to my assumptions, Another Country's name does not derive from the film or book but a sensibility inspired by a rustic aesthetic, solid wooden furniture built to last.
Necessity being the mother of invention.
Another Country started with a domestic need. Paul couldn't find the perfect stool for his Dorset home in conventional retail outlets, so he designed his own.
"For me, it's not about the trade. Professionally, setting up businesses is my thing. It's about creating brands with meaning and value - it's not money-driven. When I founded Wallpaper magazine, it was about lifestyle and urban living, capturing people's lives. It wasn't about publishing."
Paul, originally from Holland, identifies as a European and now lives in the beautiful county of Dorset in the UK. Life in the city had become too frantic for him and his wife, and they sought a non-urban life. His business partner/maker also lives in the local village, so it was the perfect spot for business and a more harmonious lifestyle.
Dorset is a source of great inspiration for Paul, and he once commissioned five designers to design pieces inspired by the county. Like the Hardy chair, an item that appeals to the imagination and has lasting appeal. A cross between a Captain's chair, originally a low-backed wooden armchair and the Smokers bow, a low back Windsor, often used in smoking rooms, public houses, and cottages. It is easy to imagine that Thomas Hardy may have sat on a chair just like this.
But it's not just a geographical location that appeals to Paul; it's a way of doing things. Before the industrial revolution, furniture making was based in the woods, not on the factory floor. Woodlands were coppiced and used to make charcoal for fuel, skilled woodsmen would carve furniture, or make wheelbarrows and rakes for the other villagers. There was a respect for the local environment and Homo Faber (or "man as maker"). Although these methods cannot sustain manufacturing today, Another Country strives to be as sustainable as possible. Each piece of furniture is hand-finished by skilled makers in both the Uk and Europe.
'I see the hands of the generations
That owned each shiny familiar thing
In-play on its knobs and indentations,
And with its ancient fashioning
(From Old Furniture by Thomas Hardy)
The Decline of Inherited Furniture
We don't buy and keep furniture the way we used to. We don't tend to pass cabinets and armchairs down through the generations anymore. Poor manufacturing standards and a taste gap between parents and their offspring seem to have broken the chain. People are more likely to move more frequently, and well-made pieces are heavy and expensive to move.
"There are very few places where you can buy furniture made especially for you by a skilled maker. If it were, you'd keep it. People did not buy things for fashion, but utility and comfort, so they had longevity."
Paul is aware that if we never bought new things, there would be nothing for young designers to do, so he believes that by contemporising things, we can create new classics, objects that can last a lifetime.
"I design pieces of quality and aesthetic longevity. Contemporise the shape and proportions and use materials that withstand the test of time. We have also spent a lot of time working out how we can transport our furniture to avoid breakages or wasteful packaging."
Considering that most of the UK live in terraced or new housing, Another Country creates narrow designs for the post-industrial doorway. Their furniture can be dismantled when the owner moves house and is multi-purpose. The objects have the practicality to become neo-classics. Another Country does not produce furniture based on this season's trends.
"It's why people come to us. They don't come for the novelty. Even when we create bespoke products with other designers, they follow our ethos and standards. Even today, our 1st two series are still the best sellers. What they represent has really resonated with people."
On Furniture Movements and Personal Taste
"My home is quite eclectic. I have antique and contemporary pieces. I'm drawn to traditions that produce rational and functional furniture that have purity of expression. I admire Japanese, Skandi and Shaker designs, but I'm not attracted by style so much as materiality, textures and honest materials. I don't want to be surrounded by laminate tables or plastic chairs. I just don't understand why people go for fake, reproduction furniture that is distressed in a factory. It's a lack of originality that I find depressing. It's make-believe, like theatre props. I'm also getting into colour as I get older."
Paul's Favourite Project
Another country makes furniture for the home, but they also take commissions from hospitality, retail and special projects. In 2013 they were commissioned by the Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft in East Sussex. A museum located in an 18 Century cart lodge, full of artists and maker's work, including Eric Gill and Hilary Peplar, this fusion of heritage and contemporary design proved the perfect fit.
"When I finished that project, I thought, I can retire now. I can't think of a better place or environment to be. This project was funded by public money, so the decision to work with us was made by a committee; it was a great honour to be chosen. I was super delighted by the whole project."
Living in Lockdown
Apart from the restrictions that have impacted every industry, the home sector has not been so badly hit. People are spending more time at home, and some people even have more disposable income due to a lack of travel and entertainment expenses. I wondered how the global pandemic had affected Another Country?
"Our business has remained consistent, but our customers are becoming more interested in how things live with you at home. They want to be comfortable and are looking for more natural finishes, not unhealthy lacquers and chemicals. They are concerned about toxicity levels in the home. There is a climate emergency, and consumers want their goods to be sustainable and enhance wellness."
The Fruits of their Labour
"We will continue to drive our values forward, take on projects led by who we want to be. To continue to work as sustainably as possible and find new ways to reduce our carbon footprint.
This year we were honoured to be chosen by John Lewis to collaborate on the most sustainable home range they have ever produced. It's been a year in the making, and I'm looking forward to the fruits of our collaboration next Spring."
I'd like to thank Paul De Zwart for taking time out of his busy day to chat, and I look forward to seeing their new collection in 2022.