Call it a sign of getting old, but lately the world of home and interiors has been interesting me more than I ever thought it would. I think my Mum and Dad are still reeling a little at the fact that I asked for a new office chair for my birthday this year as opposed to a new pair of shoes. But frankly the arrival of a new desk and chair warranted just as much excitement in this household as any fashion haul has (just in case your panicking I’ve been the victim of a personality transplant I’ll reassure you that I did end up buying myself the shoes in the end – old habits and all).
So with my inner Laurence Llewelyn Bowen (or someone more stylish?) screaming to get out, I jumped at the chance to spend the day with the creative team at furniture giant DFS, get a first look at their newest range and go behind the scenes of their manufacturing process. And so last week, along with five other bloggers, I ventured out of London and found myself in the gorgeous Derbyshire countryside – home to one of DFS’s largest factories and their design house and showroom.
I always find it so interesting to see the inner workings of a brand. To know what really makes them function day in and out as a successful company and who the real people behind the iconic logo are. I’ll admit that previous to this trip my opinion of DFS was, perhaps naively, based on the stream of adverts I’m often subjected to around specific holidays and I very much saw them as, just another sofa brand. Notions of true British craftsmanship, home grown textiles and hands on upholstering definitely weren’t at the forefront of my mind when browsing their vast range of furniture online. But those very things were exactly what I was privy to while visiting their factory, watching their talented makers put true care and attention into their work, finding out where their materials are sourced from and chatting to their in house designers about the inspiration behind their creations.
The reason for our trip was to get a sneak peek of the new Brittania collection – a range of sofas and armchairs which have been specially created in support of Team GB ahead of the Rio Olympics – which launched online and in stores as of yesterday. An odd partnership you may think, but given that rest and relaxation is an important factor for the athletes behind the scenes, one that sits more comfortably (sorry) than most.
Welcome to the country
I left London late afternoon on Tuesday and after a short train journey was greeted with the glorious sunshine and rolling hills of Castle Donnington as I made my way to our home for the next couple of days – The Priest House Hotel. Situated on the banks of River Trent, this gorgeous country abode was true luxury for the evening.
One of the main reasons I was so excited about this trip (other than getting up close and personal with some rather gorgeous sofas) was the chance to dip my toe into a new area of blogging and meet some new faces. Apart from a couple of bloggers I’d met before, most of the group were new to me and it was lovely to hear about different people’s experiences of blogging and get inspired by another side of the industry. Every little pocket of blogging has their own ways of doing things, but we all have that same thing in common – the drive to be inspired by that around us and use it to create something wonderful. I definitely wasn’t wrong to be excited, this was one of the loveliest trips I’ve been on and spending time with Victoria, Jen, Jess, Antonia and Anneli, as well as the DFS team made the experience that much better.
With the evening sun still shining, we all gathered for a slap up meal and a few glasses of wine in the hotel that evening (My chicken dish was so good I forgot to take a photo – if that isn’t a good review I don’t know what is) before retiring for a good nights sleep ahead of our big day out. I stayed in one of the out-cottages – a cosy little room with a view out across the water – and awoke to a beautiful picture as the sun shone down and ducks pottered along the banks. We fuelled up on berry waffles (me) and smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (everyone else) before departing for our first stop of the day – the DFS factory.
Going behind the scenes
For me, there’s something really special about being privileged enough to see an item in the making, and factory visits are something I really really enjoy. Perhaps it brings me back to my Uni days but being in a room full of fabrics, and watching pieces come to life – from a perfectly sewn edge here to a well placed hinge there – is just so exciting! I shared a snapshot from the frantic factory happenings on Twitter and someone commented that it looked like the set of Coronation Street, and I guess it was a little like that only much much bigger and with a lot more actual work going on.
As soon as we entered the building the buzz of activity was obvious. The factory floor was loud and fast paced yet meticulously organised and a sea of evident hard work. There wasn’t any sign of tea breaks and gossiping here – everyone was a picture of concentration, precision and attention to detail. Every station had a deadline, every individual a task and everyone a common goal – to keep those products moving through at top quality. The passion for each stage of the work was easy to see in each individual we witnessed. With ear protectors and plastic glasses on and each stage being completed faster than we could fathom, the chance to stop and chat wasn’t an option, but simply seeing the speed at which their hands worked and how easy they made a – one inch to the left and he’d have lost his thumb – task look, was enough to tell me that these people were extremely skilled at what they do.
The making of the Britannia
As we walked the length of the factory we took in each step of manufacturing which a Britannia armchair goes through to become a finished piece – from laser fabric cutting to wooden frame making to fabric upholstering (not to mention adorning the chairs with over 233 gold studs – one for every medal Team GB has won so far) – and it was fascinating. I don’t know about you, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that most of the DFS range is made here in the UK. Even the fabrics are locally sourced (bar a few specialist leathers which come from Italy) and for the most part come from just one supplier – a local fabrics merchant in Derbyshire that has been supplying to the brand since its humble beginnings. With their quick turn around, ever changing product range and budget friendly prices I’d wrongly assumed that such attention to British design and textiles, and handmade detailing wasn’t part of their manifesto.
But as I learned, DFS really pride themselves on their UK manufacturing and further more make their sofas to order at one of their three UK factories in Nottingham, Yorkshire and Derbyshire. So you can guarantee that your sofa has never been sitting in a warehouse for months before it lands in your living room – it’s gone from the hands of the skilled crafters you see above, to a van from their in house delivery system, to your home – not what you imagined right?
The Britannia range – which comprises of a two and three seater sofa, an arm chair, an accent chair and a footstool – has been entirely designed and handmade in Derbyshire. Inspired by the quintessentially British design of the Chesterfield but with a modern twist for 2016, the range is set to take up residence at the headquarters of Team GB in Rio, giving the athletes somewhere to relax during the games, and having tested out the comfort myself with a good bit of lounging (but of course!) I can vouch for them having no trouble on that score.
So now that I’ve shown you how the Britannia is made, check back tomorrow for a closer look at the design elements and how the team came to choose this particular look. Plus see me try my hand at upholstering my very own one!
Post in collaboration with DFS, with whom I was a guest of on this trip, but all opinions as always are my own 🙂