Portabello Interiors are a British luxury furniture brand, proudly creating bespoke exquisite pieces, all lovingly built by hand by a single master craftsman from their workshop in Blackburn, Lancashire. We met with Marketing Director Adam Scot, to discuss Portabello’s craft and the advantages offered by traditional, hands-on methods of production.
THE FOXLEY DOCKET: What drew you to the furniture industry?
Adam Scot: I’ve always been interested in design and come from a family where pretty much everyone was working in manufacturing and making something or other. It wasn’t really until I spent a year in Venice that I fell in love with craftsmanship and began to truly understand what it means to be an artisan. Wandering through the myriad of narrow Venetian streets and seeing artisans working away at their craft with such passion, truly focused on making exceptional shoes, ornaments and of course pieces of furniture inspired me to have a go at bringing back the same kind of artisan culture to Lancashire.
TFD: Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where and when did you first start to hone your craft?
AS: My Grandfather was an upholsterer who made large and opulent pieces which probably weren’t all that functional. From the age of 5, I’d spend my weekends doing what I could in his workshop, trying to learn the intricacies of his craft. In the end, I decided I wanted to be a graphic designer, but the passion for making beautiful things never really and went away. Although I probably could make our sofas if it came down to it, we’ve been fortunate enough to find an extremely talented guy who’s been working in the industry for 30 plus years. He started out doing proper artisan work and over time ended up at one of the larger companies. However, he was feeling disenchanted by their industrial manufacturing process, so he was overjoyed when we asked him to come and work with us.
TFD: How did Portabello begin? Where did such an exotic name come from?
AS: Our name is inspired by Portabello Road in London. The street is an icon of the city and distinctively British, but at the same time, it’s also home to a lot of other cultures. This is quite reflective of our business – we use materials and design ideas from all around the world, coming from lots of different cultures. We like to think that we thread these different cultures and ideas together with British craftsmanship like the way that Portabello Road is a road of Britishness, weaving through all the different cultural communities on the road and bringing them together.
TFD: Where do you source the materials utilized in the creation of Portabello pieces from?
AS: We’re really focused on creating the very best pieces first and foremost. This means that we get around a bit, visiting different forests, weaveries and tanneries around the world. We used to use oak from Pel-et-Der in France, but we’ve since switched to Norwegian birch. This is because of how slowly the wood is grown, meaning the rings of the wood are incredibly tight. This creates an incredibly sturdy frame that adds a good 50 years onto the final life of the product.
TFD: What additional values do you personally feel are gained through pieces being handmade? What values do you feel are lost through mass production?
AS: For me, handmade means that you’re not just getting a sofa, but rather a snapshot of culture. Cutting, working, sewing, hammering materials according to laborious traditional techniques requires muscle. Handmade is something that sounds great until it’s your hands that are doing the making, and I think that when you get a handmade sofa, you can really understand and feel the labour that’s gone into it. A craftsman probably makes around 5,000 sofas a year – when you buy a handmade sofa, you’re essentially taking a part of not only the craftsman that made it, but the weaver who wove the fabric or the lumberjack who cut the wood.
Mass market pieces from places such as IKEA are often beautifully designed, but they have no story, history or culture; they simply look good and are replaced every couple of years. I want to create products that not only look good but have a cultural element that brings something to the tapestry of your home.
TFD: All the work carried out by Portabello is carried out in a workshop in Lancashire – is this British aura something you wanted to incorporate into the business from the start?
AS: Lancashire has such a rich heritage of manufacturing, and this is certainly something we wanted to capture into our furniture. We essentially see our sofas as snapshots of cultures from all around the world threaded together with British craftsmanship, and sometimes British design.
TFD: Portabello also prides itself on being an environmentally friendly business – can you tell us a bit about this? Where was this direction conceived and what made it a necessary factor in Portabello?
AS: Our number one goal is to make the very best possible furniture and our secondary goal is to do our best for the environment. For a lot of mass market companies, these two goals don’t sit together harmoniously but for us they’re the perfect fit for each other. Visiting so many places around the world to look at different materials has made me understand that each sofa is a product of the environment from where it came. The quality of the grass that feeds the cow that ends up as leather, or the quality of air that our craftsman breathe all eventually contribute to the quality of each final piece. From a purely selfish perspective, if we can create a better environment, we can create better furniture, because our furniture is a product of that environment and can only ever be as good as the environment itself.
We still have lots of challenges to deal with in this area though. On a micro level we do small things like turn off lights and cycle to work, but we still deliver our furniture in trucks that are pretty inefficient and produce a lot of CO2. This is not a problem that we’re going to be able to immediately solve, but moving forward, it’s something that we’re very conscious about.
TFD: What are you working on at the moment? Are you exhibiting at any shows or launching new products in upcoming months?
AS: We’re currently working with Harris Tweed to develop a new collection in time for winter. We’re really excited to be looking at Scottish design and thinking about how this might fit into our products.
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