If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know that last week I was lucky enough to take a trip to the countryside to meet the team behind the furniture brand DFS, and get a first glimpse at their latest Britannia range which launched this week. Yesterday I took you behind the scenes at one of DFS’s largest factories in Derbyshire where I was able to see exactly how the Britannia sofas and chairs are made and just how much care and attention goes into creating every one.
Today I wanted to show you the finished pieces in more detail (because they really are rather lovely) and share a bit more about the design process behind the range. Having had the chance to chat with the creative director of the company, learn all about the fabrics and processes used and where the inspiriation came from, I learned that this collection really was a labour of love for the team and the pieces went through various amalgamations before they reached their final look.
The Britannia collection has been created as part of a collaboration with Team GB for the Rio Olympics. As one of the official sponsors for the Olympics, DFS were tasked with creating a range of furniture which could deck out the British headquarters in Rio and provide an area where the athletes could easily down tools and relax in between games. Of course with it being an Olympic partnership, this collection needed to be suitably British in nature and show off everything that makes Great Britain great. Definitely no mean feat.
Arriving at the DFS Showroom
After our morning at the factory, we took a short drive over to the DFS design studio and showroom which was based in a gorgeous old red brick building in Derbyshire. You could tell we were all impressed with the beautifully styled space immediately, as no sooner had we stepped into the room and dropped our bags, were we all buzzing around oohing and aahing while six cameras clicked away furiously to get the perfect shot of that punchy blue wall and sofa set up. Even the delicious lunch spread which awaited us didn’t get a look in for at least ten minutes.
But really can you blame us? This studio and showroom was so so inviting. A huge open and light space with high cielings and tall light windows, wooden floors and no end of quirky accessories and, of course, more than enough comfy sofas with which to flop onto. After a morning of touring the factory floor, that soft blue sofa was exactly what we needed.
After re-fuelling with a tasty lunch, we were introduced to Philip Watkins, DFS’ Design Director and also the founder of Art of the Loom, a team of 5th generation weavers based in Lancashire, who supply almost all of the fabrics to DFS.
Having studied textile design, fabrics are something that always spark my interest and I was really pleased to learn that most of DFS’s fabrics are handcrafted here in the UK by a family run business which has been dealing in fabrics for years. Art of the Loom still use as much local produce as possible when creating their fabrics (local sheep!) and even their digitally printed materials are first hand painted by their designers (like the pretty watercolour birds you see above) as they believe this is what sets them apart and creates a more natural product – even when placed into repeat the print will still be a little irregular and organic. Isn’t that lovely?
Before Philip delved into his design process, we were shown how a sofa first goes from an idea on a page to a real life item and this involved more skilled craftsmanship by those who create the furniture’s wooden frames. Much like pattern cutting for clothes, sofas also go through a similar set up, with the designers creating true to scale paper patterns which are then expertly carved out in wood before being shaped and glued together to create the framework of a chair or sofa. It was amazing to see what initially was a pile of wooden shapes turn into something that resembled the inner shape of a chair but I can only imagine the precision that is needed here. One wrong move or slightly misshapen piece could throw the whole design out. Not to mention when the designers make a ‘change’ to the design in the final hour, as we were told by the cutters does happen often!
As DFS has such short lead times, their design process is extremely fast and new products can be turned around almost immediately. The brand isn’t led by seasons but is led by trends, meaning the designers have to work quickly to turn what they see on inspiration trips into finished designs. The inspiration for designs can come from many creative areas as Philip explained, as you can see in the mood board above might have started from a simple fashion trend for feathers which was then turned into a pretty and colourful feather printed fabric.
The Britannia Design
When it came to the Britannia collection, the pressure was on for the team to create something memorable and iconic without it being overly patriotic or obvious. I think you’ll agree that often when brands collaborate with the Olympic teams, the products go down the most traditional route and we end up with a lot of Union Jack’s and bright red and blue colourways. I’ll admit that when the email for this trip first landed in my inbox and a Team GB collaboration was mentioned, I had envisioned a garish Union Jack sofa and wasn’t sure how I’d be able to nod and smile my way through the unveiling.
Of course as you can see from the pictures above, the Britannia sofa is anything but garish. In fact quite the opposite it’s subtle, understated and rather sleek. So how did this neutral colour and stylish shape come to be?
Well, Philip did in fact reveal that their earlier designs had been for a bright red sofa in a much more classic shape, but in the end they decided it was much too obvious a choice, and so they worked hard to refine the design and bring it more in line with the overall DFS look. At the heart of the design is the traditional Chesterfield inspiration from the Victorian era – the large arms, the quilted back and the gold detailing – but it’s been given a modern update for 2016 with the sleeker sweeping ‘camel back’ silhouette to the back.
The fabric was scaled back from those initial red projections and instead designed in a neutral grey tone, which again keeps the look modern as opposed to the dark leathers normally associated with a Chesterfield. Art of the Loom created this luxurious linen viscose fabric by weaving it using traditional methods at their base in the heart of Lancashire – another nice British touch to keep the collection suitably in-keeping with it’s purpose. The pieces can then be finished off with a personal choice of cushions, including those in the iconic blue and red colours and that famous Union Jack should you want that British injection. I much prefer this idea of keeping the main design subtle and allowing customers to pick and choose how much of the brighter shades they want to add in, which I think allows each person to make it their own and make it fit their room.
The final touch to the design is a truly lovely one, but something that hasn’t come without its difficulties for the makers on board. Each Britannia accent chair has been adorned with exactly 233 gold studs – the number of gold medals which Team GB have won in Summer Olympic Games to date! The fact that these are individually applied by the upholsterers means that their days currently are spent with meticulous counting and even more meticulous planning – and as I learned when I tried my hand at this process myself this is much more difficult that it sounds, my chair started off 4 short and ended up 4 over – which means a lot of work to fill in the spaces while retaining the right number. I’m pretty sure the upholstery team must have been secretly cursing the designers in their sleep for this final design idea!!
But as I’m sure you’ll agree, it really does make the finished look that much more spectacular!
Trying my hand at Upholstery
As the afternoon was drawing to a close, the six of had one final task set upon us and this was one I was raring to get going with but also more than a little nervous about – we were going to upholster and put together our very own Britannia accent chair! And can I just tell you – I LOVED this part of the day! I came home wondering what else I could attack with a staple gun and I can’t wait to have my finished chair in my living room so that every time some one sits in it, I can tell them triumphantly that it was upholstered (in part) by my own fair hands! How great is that?
While we did have a skilled member on hand to watch we didn’t staple our own thumb to the chair, we were essentially creating the chair ourselves which was very exciting. I was handed a staple gun and set to work with attaching the foam inner and outer material to the arms of my chair, and boy was I in my element. Someone buy me a staple gun pronto! Then once the chair seat was attached the frame, we set to work hammering in each of those 233 gold studs, which frankly was a laborious task (I definitely don’t envy the guys having to do that daily!) before attaching the arms and pulling the whole thing together.
As you can tell from the intense concentration in my face, I took my chair making very seriously indeed!
As you can see from the pic above – The Britannia collection in all its glory – this collection is a truly stylish one, and I for one was pretty taken with it by the end of the day. If only I could steal that blue wall to match!
The range launched on the 26th April and is limited edition meaning only a small run of the items will be produced (making it that bit more special if you do get your hands on one). It’s available online and in stores and you can enjoy it knowing that you’re favourite British athletes will be landing their tired behinds on the very same ones! Se more about the collaboration here.
A huge thank you to DFS for allowing me to come and experience the making of this sofa first hand. I do hope you’ve enjoyed these posts as I loved putting them together!
Post in collaboration with DFS, but all opinions are of course my own! 🙂