21 June 2024, 20:48
By Katie Sherry Jul 16, 2013

Bethan Gray's natural charm

Welsh furniture designer, Bethan Gray, is celebrated for her classic, contemporary designs, which emphasise simple, honest luxury and quality craftsmanship. Bethan speaks to Furniture News’ Katie Sherry about her work within the retail sector, putting together a West London exhibition and the imminent decline of our throw-away culture.

With a cabinetmaker for a great-grandmother and a forester for a grandfather, one could argue that a passion for natural materials and quality craftsmanship is in Bethan Gray’s blood. The designer’s pride of her strong Welsh roots is evident, and she describes her childhood as full of “making things from all sorts of wood lying around”.

Following her graduation from Leicester’s DeMontford University, Bethan was awarded a Habitat Innovation Award at New Designers in 1998 by the then head of design, Tom Dixon. This was succeeded by a placement at Habitat, after which Bethan worked her way up to become head of furniture design.

“I worked at Habitat for around 10 years, and it really was an amazing experience,” Bethan says. “It is the biggest compliment for people to buy furniture that you have designed. We had a team of designers, and also collaborated with outside designers, including Robin Day and Terence Woodgate.”

While Bethan still works with retailers on a freelance basis – collaborations with Conran Shop and John Lewis are particular portfolio highlights – setting up her own studio five years ago has enabled Bethan to build her own client base and experiment further with different materials and techniques.

The use of natural materials has remained at the centre of Bethan’s work, and the G&T collection – which was launched in collaboration with furniture developer, Thomas Turner, in May last year – is no exception. The Carve table, for example, features marble from Carrara near Tuscany, Italy – the place in which Bethan was married. The Brogue table, which is made from leather and features intricate details, was inspired by shoes.

Solid woods, such as walnut and oak, also feature heavily in the collection, giving a sense of honesty and tactility to the designs. “They are materials that I myself love,” Bethan says. “The use of beautiful, natural materials make each piece unique. Wood in particular is an intriguing material – there is a real warmth to wood.”

A new collection of furniture and home accessories has been developed with prominent stone specialist, Lapicida. Carrara and Marquina marble take centre stage in this range, with the Herringbone and Brogue tables forming the key pieces. The collaboration between Bethan and Lapicida highlights new capabilities with marble by utilising historic techniques in a contemporary way.

Pieces from the collaboration were debuted at a specialised exhibition, Inside Design with Bethan Gray, at London’s Great Western Studios last month. Furniture from the G&T collection – alongside a range of other well-known and previously unseen designs – was also on display.

The exhibition focused on the construction of each piece, thereby emphasising Bethan’s skill in constructing them – despite their deceptive simplicity. “The exhibition presents a nice opportunity to see a range of pieces together in one place, and to show people how things are made,” Bethan enthuses. “I think this adds value to the product, as people begin to really appreciate the craft that goes into it.”

Consumer interest in how products are constructed is a trend that seems to be on the increase. This, according to Bethan, has a direct impact on consumer spending habits: “There is more of a value to investing in certain pieces,” she says. “This has resulted in a rejection of the throw-away culture – it’s more about longevity.

“In terms of retail, the high-end has not been affected that much, but in the mid-tier there is a much higher interest in investing in better quality products.”

Bethan has built an impressive reputation in the retail sector thanks to her passion for creating high-quality and durable pieces – and this success only looks set to continue.

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