Burford Woodcraft Q&A: Sustainable, natural, renewable
PUBLISHED: 16:54 29 October 2013 | UPDATED: 17:01 29 October 2013
Owners of Burford Woodcraft in Burford, Oxfordshire, Jayne and Robert Lewin share their passion for wood and a craft inspired by nature.
Describe your business:
We’re a well established family run business making, commissioning and selling our own and over one hundred other craftsmen’s and artists’ woodwork. Our shop and gallery has been a part of Burford’s beautiful historic high street for the last 35 years.
How did you get into this business?
As a boy stationed in Singapore with his forces family, Robert was fascinated by the wood carvers making elaborate camphor wood chests. He was amazed at men holding wood with their feet, carving very intricate designs with basic tools. At school back in England, he enjoyed and excelled in woodwork, encouraged by his enthusiastic teacher who spotted a unique talent. He went on to study furniture making and design at college and whilst there sold his first piece (a desk) through a newly opened shop in Burford in early 1979 shortly after it opened. He has continued as one of its main designer-makers ever since. In 1994, when the originators retired, he bought the business with his wife Jayne who changed her career from a cartographer at the University of Oxford, where she produced maps and atlases, to running the business full time.
What has been your greatest business success?
Being able to design, make and source our products and furniture entirely in Britain. We know each of our makers and everything is hand-made so we’re able to offer a good choice of contemporary high quality craftsmanship from both new and established designer-makers and artists in wood. A special reward is to see customers return time and again, some for the whole 35 years, and those who have come often from overseas on recommendation.
Who are your customers?
They range from the young spending pocket money on farm animals made in Gloucestershire to a famous London fashion designer commissioning bespoke jewellery display accessories for her outlets worldwide. In between are those fulfilling a dream with a commission, buying wedding presents or gifts, practical household objects or indulging in treats for themselves or for others. Many visit because they’ve seen what friends have bought, others on recommendation, some because it’s such a unique shop or to get inspiration.
What keeps your customers coming back?
Wood is a very natural medium, incredibly diverse and tactile. Within each variety of timber each piece is different which combined with the makers’ inventiveness and expertise allows us to offer a huge choice with an emphasis on attention to detail, outstanding design and quality of finish. As more folk are keen to buy responsibly we’re able to offer products that are ethically made, from very natural sustainable materials which are beautiful to touch and to live with.
Working with both our makers and our customers we aim to achieve the best possible. Our strong working relationship with our makers is instrumental in them developing and producing beautifully creative pieces. Our customers return knowing that we’ll still have their old favourites but there will also be something different. Good customer service in a friendly atmosphere makes for an enjoyable experience. Advice is always at hand if needed – we know about the woods that are used and how the items are made and finished.
What aspect of your business are you most proud of?
That we are very hands on and as we’re makers too we have an understanding of our business, from both the craftsmen’s and customers’ points of view. This enables us to develop the range whilst maintaining the high quality of work and at the same time giving value for money. We are most proud that they are natural products all hand made in Britain by talented craftsmen who love what they do and relish others’ enjoyment of their work.
What is the next step for your business?
In the very short term to concentrate on Christmas, our busiest time of year. From wooden teddy bears (yes they are cute!) to this year’s exciting new addition – a wooden Christmas tree standing a metre high, all the traditional favourites are also here, nativity scenes, angels and robins. In the longer term we aim to continually improve what we offer and to develop our website and online shop. To encourage more visitors to come and see us in the flesh so that they too can smell the ‘wonderful aroma’ of wood and beeswax in a totally unique shop!
Visit Burford Woodcraft’s website: http://www.burford-woodcraft.co.uk/