What began as a small artisan workshop in London grew to become a global supplier of some of the most interesting and exciting furniture designs in the industry, writes Jane Smith, who explores the creative mind of Tom Schneider, the creator of retail ranges such as Swirl, Ellipse and Estelle …
Let’s start with where you grew up – did it influence your design aesthetic at all?
I grew up in Hampstead in north London, which has a beautiful and huge park. I think this is what inspired my love of nature, and therefore did have some influence on my design aesthetic.
Was there a point in your early life when you thought you'd love to design and create your own collection of furniture some day?
It started with my love of making things – I used to ask for tools for birthdays as early as eight years old so that I could be more creative.
Your brand is known for using distinct shapes and curves, not normally seen in furniture. Where do you find your inspiration for these unconventional collections?
I love to think differently. For instance, you would normally associate a table with four legs, but I think, why not start the design with a shape from nature? You can take the curve of a tree or the shape left in the sand by a snake as inspiration for furniture design – as I did with the Serpent dining table.
Can you describe the process of coming up with an idea and making it a reality? What steps do you go through, or do you need to consider in terms of planning and execution?
It is so important to get the shape and flow of the curves just right. I then love the challenge of turning that design into a practical piece of furniture, and I work closely with my team to create new methods that can achieve the seemingly impossible.
The Swirl is by far one of the most iconic ranges from your repertoire. What inspired this collection, and what did you set out to achieve when you came up with this idea?
The Swirl was simply inspired by the letter ‘S’. It’s a beautiful and simple shape, but it is incredibly hard to produce as a piece of furniture. Originally, it was just a coffee table 20 years ago, but, due to popular demand, the collection has grown.
I’d love to know more about the new Estelle range – it’s the epitome of the curved look that's synonymous with your brand. How did this range come about?
It’s inspired by the beauty and symmetry of a slim waist. I wanted the furniture to feel weightless and elegant. It’s one of the most difficult and challenging pieces to make, and requires completely different methods to all our other furniture, but I just love the result.
What does a day in the life of Tom Schneider look like? Is your mind constantly busy with ideas for the future, or are you very much focused on one project at a time?
I only wish I could spend all my time designing. When I do get the chance to work on new designs and ranges, I like to start with a walk through Hampstead Heath or a wander around the British Museum. I then find myself a comfortable spot and start sketching. By that point, my mind is spinning with lots of ideas, and I just let my pencil wander, doing many quick sketches. Some jump out at me to be developed more. Often, I’ll have an idea while doing something else, and will have to quickly find some paper to sketch to before I forget. I’ve even woken up with ideas that I want to develop.
What do you want a Tom Schneider customer to feel when they have one of your pieces in their home?
It’s extremely important to me that our customers are happy with every aspect of their purchase. I want the piece to bring them a little bit of joy every time they look at it. I love hearing from people that have bought my furniture many years ago and are still enjoying it. In fact, I have a customer at the moment who bought several pieces from us 18 years ago and now wants some additional bespoke items.
How has the industry changed since you launched this company 22 years ago?
Thankfully, the UK has moved on from predominantly reproduction furniture to a much more modern, forward-facing look and feel.
Lastly, what’s the best advice you could give to someone wanting to start out in this industry today?
I’d say be true to your own vision and be ready for a lot of hard work.