Finisher, gilder, lacquerer and all-round creative, Rupert Bevan, has worked with leading interior designers and architects around the globe – designing and producing bespoke furniture and interior finishes for an impressive roster of projects. Gemma Ralph met Rupert at his showroom on Fulham High Street to find out more about his passion for all things surface finishing ...

For Rupert, an item of furniture or a surface without a finish is resoundingly incomplete, devoid of life even. What becomes overwhelmingly clear is his belief that the soul of a piece lies in its surface, without which a piece of furniture or wallcovering merely blurs inconsequentially with a multitude of replicas.

As such, the bid to create character and enduring hand-crafted products acts as the predominant driving force behind Rupert and his highly-skilled team of craftsmen and women. His team boasts an incredibly diverse and far-reaching array of skills and specialisms, from stone carving to joinery, from lacquer work to decorative painting, from leatherwork to wood carving.

“Character and life is found in those faces with imperfections and blemishes, just as it is found in the imperfections and blemishes of a piece of furniture or a surface”

The cumulative expertise and unique vision this creative body of people offers, is, unsurprisingly, much sought after. Past commissions have ranged from a pair of vellum commodes to a table-cum-games compendium constructed from English walnut. The sheer variety of materials, textures and styles the company has created, and continues to create, is both testament to an exceptional ability to visualise and realise clients’ visions, and to an inexhaustive flow of ideas and inspiration.

Rupert himself has gained significant experience in several facets of surface design. “I started off as an apprentice to a restorer,” he says. “I was asked to copy things – an 18th century chair for example – and make it look identical to the original.”

Despite Rupert’s aversion to the mass production of furniture, this experience was valuable, in that he became greatly familiar with methods of simulating and reproducing styles from various bygone eras. “Our background in restoration gives us a distinct understanding of different styles and surfaces,” he explains.

It was slightly further down the line that Rupert discovered his passion for surface finishing in its pure form. “While I was waiting to go to art school, an opportunity arose to be an apprentice gilder,” he says. “At the time I thought it would be perfect for the next six months or so, but I became totally hooked, and four years later I set up my own business as a finisher, gilder and lacquerer.”

This fascination with traditional methods of construction, and with the painstaking, yet worthwhile, process of hand-crafting furniture, remains with Rupert today. When asked why he believes so strongly in preserving such methods and values, he responds: “There are some fascinating things out there in the modern world that have no longevity or plans beyond their immediate instalment or enjoyment.

“They’re merely stripped out after a few years and replaced – why not make them last for 50 years, and create a finish with depth and character?”

For Rupert, character in design is far more than just a visual attribute – it triggers a tangible feel or mood. “The more time and effort you spend on a piece, the more enjoyment people will derive from it,” he explains. “I strongly believe that if I made a cup visually identical to this [he gestures towards a mug] and asked you to tell me which you preferred, you would choose the hand-made mug. There would be something about it that would just feel right.”

The shifts and developments the interior design industry has experienced throughout history are thus of great significance to Rupert’s own work and philosophy. When asked if he favours a particular design era, Rupert responds: “It’s difficult to say, as I appreciate different periods for different reasons – from my perspective it’s really about shapes and materials.

“I began with favouring the 19th century, and I’ve gradually moved backwards from the 18th century to the 17th – for me there’s more soul.

“Jacques Quinet, Jean-Michel Frank and Jacques Adne are some of my most prominent design inspirations.”

The value of hand-crafted and finished products is certainly pervasive, even – and perhaps especially – today. “The last 10 years have seen a revival in the popularity of Fifties-style interiors, when there was that intermediary crossover between machines and craft,” says Rupert.

It is the creative blur Rupert speaks of here – with the fusion of two crafting methods, epochs and cultures – that perhaps captures his own unique style. For him, traditional materials don’t necessarily need to be finished in the conventional way, but have great potential when combined with rather more contemporary materials to create striking and often unexpected blends.

Rather than polishing burr walnut, for example, Rupert might leave it in its raw state – infusing it with a second, metallic material to create an entirely unique clash of textures. 

Indeed, perhaps unusually for an immensely talented person, perfection is a characteristic Rupert shuns in his work. “For me, my designs are akin to human faces. Everyone strives to rid themselves of blemishes and imperfections, yet if I see a face that is seemingly perfect my eye passes over it – it holds no interest for me.

“Character and life is found in those faces with imperfections and blemishes, just as it is found in the imperfections and blemishes of a piece of furniture or a surface.”

This lack of self-regulation is entirely visible within Rupert’s expansive portfolio of work. From the delicate aesthetics of Verre Eglomisé panels and hand-painted antiqued mirror glass, to a peeling and cracked paint finish, the focus remains on creating authentic, high quality surface effects befitting their intended application.

One rule Rupert will not compromise on, however, is the standard of service he provides to clients. Whatever the nature or logistics of a project, Rupert and his team offer the know-how, patience and determination to deliver only the best results.

Certainly, Rupert does not believe himself to be a designer in the traditional sense of the word. “We don’t consider ourselves designers,” he says, “our skill lies in designing something someone didn’t neccessarily know they even wanted, until they see it.”

Translating, designing and producing a client’s vision is not something Rupert believes in rushing. Indeed, the early discussion process is all-important, and the design might undergo several phases or redevelopments before Rupert and his team are entirely happy.

“The challenge is getting into different characters’ heads, which involves a great deal of time and discussion with clients,” he says. “Building and sustaining relationships are a huge part of making a one-off piece. It’s almost like entering an intense romantic relationship – if one party feels neglected or under-appreciated there is likely to be a communication breakdown.”

The end satisfaction of his client is Rupert’s ultimate goal – not merely from a professional standpoint, but from a personal perspective. “Making things that clients are completely happy with is immensely satisfying for me – I’m proud to say we have yet to have a failure.”
Rupert’s infectious enthusiasm and deeply-ingrained passion for his craft is certainly an integral part of this success, and long may this unblemished record continue.