For this week’s Meet the Maker blog, we chatted to makers who create their own home-ware pieces, from furniture to kitchen-ware. In this Q&A, we spoke to Hayley of The Present Home who up-cycles furniture and designs home-ware pieces, Kate of Pottery by Kate Dunkley, a potter who creates functional and textured pieces and Sarah of PeachTreePig who creates a range of both home-ware and jewellery ranges. Read on to find out how they created and launched their businesses, the process to creating their products and the journey’s they have gone on throughout.
Pedddle: Tell us a bit about your business and how it started – e.g. where did you first become interested in producing your products/learn the skills it takes to produce them?
The Present Home: My business is called The Present Home, I make and sell upcycled furniture and home accessories that champion a colourful and contemporary style. I officially opened my business last year during lockdown, but had started upcycling in 2018, when I was doing it around my freelance events management work and in my spare time. I don’t have any qualifications as such in upcycling or art and design, but I have always been creative and enjoyed making things. I found, and still do find, upcycling to be such a great outlet for me, not just because I can channel my inner creativity, but also because I find it such a mindful activity. It really helps me to keep my mind and emotions focused and to help me feel more present. It’s why my business is called The Present Home!
Pottery by Kate Dunkley: I have always had an interest in ceramics. I have been lucky to be able to travel pretty widely, and everywhere we have visited, I have hunted out local potters. Some of my favourite pieces are from South Africa, India, Morocco and Barbados. As a child I took holiday pottery classes, but then didn’t “find” pottery again until a few years ago. I did a days’ course at a local pottery with some friends, and it reminded me how much I had enjoyed making things from clay. I booked some lessons with a local pottery teacher, and within a few weeks I knew that this was the time fro me to take the plunge. I set up a pottery in our garage, I bought a wheel on eBay, and found shelves and a worktable on facebook market place. My wonderful mum helped towards a kiln, and I was all set. I was very much a hobby potter, making for our home, and for friends and family. But soon my cupboards and shelves were full, and I decided to try selling. I set up an Etsy shop, which initially was great, but then Covid hit and things went quiet. My husband and son built me a larger pottery in the orchard on our family farm, and potting absolutely was my salvation during lockdown. I managed to get to a craft fair 12 months ago which was good experience for me. I now have a run of 5 fairs leading up to Christmas so I’m super busy making Christmas ornaments and decorations.
PeachTreePig: Having spent six very happy years working my way through art college, from a General Art & Design BTEC National Diploma at the age of 16, all the way through to an HND and a BA(Hons) in Design, specialising in jewellery and metalwork, I actually decided to start my business eight years later when asked to make a wedding tiara for a friend of a friend! At that point I fell in love with crystally sparkles, and branded myself as Sparkleastar. For years, it was wedding jewellery that kept me busy. However, I like to mix things up a bit, and made the decision to go back to my first love of designing and handcrafting sterling silver jewellery and rebranded as PeachTreePig in 2014.
Pedddle: Following on from the first question, we’d love to know more about your process, the materials you use and what you’re inspired by.
The Present Home: It’s quite scary how much furniture gets thrown out unnecessarily in the UK, when, in most cases, they are in perfectly good working condition. In the early days of upcycling, I used to go to car boot sales a lot and get excited about the prospect of furniture items that I could find. I love thinking about their history and the journey each piece has been on through life. The ‘boots’ used to be my main source of collecting furniture to work on but during covid, when they were no longer accessible, I turned to Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace, which I still mostly use now. Friends and family are always offering me their old furniture too, which is brilliant! I am so inspired and motivated by colour and it is normally a particular colour that I desperately want to work with that I use as a starting point when thinking about how I am going to transform a piece of furniture. I look at a piece of furniture and think, hey, you’ll work with that fabulous green! I also love using elements of pattern in my work too which I will either hand paint on or apply using paper or vinyl which I try and source from fellow independent creators.
Pottery by Kate Dunkley: Although I have a potters wheel, and learnt to throw at the beginning of my clay journey, I have found that I love hand building. I make pieces from slabs of clay that I have textured with rolling pins and/or stamps, and them it is a case of constructing the piece. I follow potters on social media who share templates and ideas. It is great to be part of a community of potters online, as I can get a little lonely working on my own. I love the tactile nature of clay, the way it is possible to manipulate it to create a piece that is both functional, and sometimes sculptural. I also love the glazing process, and am slowly learning more about glaze chemistry ( its many years since my chemistry o’ level!!)
PeachTreePig: My design inspirations vary from day to day, but the natural world always plays a big part in my creative process. I love science fiction too, and have this little dream of creating a collection of weird and wonderful wearable pieces at some point in the future. As a jeweller, sterling silver remains my go-to material, but I adore alternative ones too; I am always learning new skills and am open minded about the types of materials I feature in my work.
Pedddle: Do you remember your first selling experience?
The Present Home: The first furniture upcycle I did for The Present Home was a lime green bedside cabinet. The colour was just so impactful and helped to totally transform the piece. I didn’t have any furniture sales for quite a long time when I first started up the business and it really started to niggle at me. With being an online only business and a new one at that it was hard to gauge how people were receiving my work. But then one day I sold my lime green cabinet via Etsy and it was honestly just the best feeling thinking that someone out there liked my work and thought it was good enough for their home. Shortly after the euphoria came the panic of how I was going to package and ship the cabinet to its new home. All those early day challenges of figuring stuff out. Although in truth a lot of them do still exist now!
Pottery by Kate Dunkley: My first selling experience was via Etsy. I was so excited to find that people that I didn’t know wanted to buy my work. Although I have to say that I prefer face to face selling. This way I can interact with the customer, and explain how I made the piece, and the making process. People are always amazed at how long an item can take to produce, including the 2 kiln firing sessions.
PeachTreePig: Gosh, I guess my first selling experience actually came before I started my indie business, just after I left college; at least that was the first time someone who didn’t previously know me took an interest in my work and commissioned some original jewellery for their wedding party. I remember it being scarily exciting, a real life opportunity to design sterling silver jewellery for a client from scratch. It was a combination of bracelets, tie slide and tie pins, and the process took place through emails, phone calls and of course face to face catch-ups. I learned so much from that experience, all of it positive. The happy dance was real, and the feedback I received was so lovely. I treasure every sale I make, but when someone has the confidence in you to make something special just for them, well it really does fill you with happiness.
Pedddle: What challenges did you face when you first launched your business?
The Present Home: There are lots of them, but the biggest one for me, was having the inner confidence to get on and achieve what I wanted to do and believe that I could do it. Self belief is always something I’ve struggled with in business and personal life. I’m quite introverted and not naturally one for being in the spotlight so it was so hard to put myself out there and tell the world about my business and my creations. There was always that voice saying – “you don’t have any qualifications”, “you won’t make a success out of this” that was trying to hold me back. I procrastinated for ages with getting my website set up, always trying to think of reasons why it wasn’t quite ready to launch yet. But I eventually got there, and although these challenges are still there to work on, I have ended up feeling more comfortable in myself than ever, through doing something that I love.
Pottery by Kate Dunkley: The biggest challenge that I have encountered was moving from what was a hobby to a business. My past life was in healthcare, so I had very limited business experience. Luckily my husband runs his own businesses so there has been plenty of help and advice. The other challenge that I experienced was with taking commissions. I now only take commissions of pieces of work that I have already produced. Mainly personalised jugs and platters.
PeachTreePig: When I first launched my business, the nerves were real. I ran it as a part time business alongside an office job (which I’ve actually found has worked well for me over the years). I would say that nothing really prepares you for the many hats you end up wearing, everything from designer and maker, to stock controller, researcher, marketer, accountant, social media bod and online shopkeeper (I adore working on my Folksy shop)… the list goes on and on. However, I do actually find all the roles interesting, and they bounce off each other quite nicely. Learning all about the UK’s hallmarking requirements was a big learning curve, but I’m proud to say that I’ve held my sponsor’s mark (also known as a maker’s mark) with the London Assay Office for just over fifteen years now. Hallmarking is such an important subject to understand as a jeweller; it really does give those who are looking to buy your work the confidence that it is indeed made from the materials described either through conversation or in an online listing.
Pedddle: What’s next for your business this year – anything you’re planning, looking forward to, are there any new products/ranges etc.
The Present Home: Well, I think one thing is to test my confidence and self-belief further and get out there and do some Instagram Lives, or at least some video content! I’d like to show my face more to my followers and customers and get them involved in my day-to-day work and the process behind my upcycles. I moved to Bristol earlier this year and am fortunate to have a good size garage to work in at my new house. It’s The Present Home HQ! So, I am looking forward to getting settled in there, and building up my portfolio of colourful creations and sharing it with you all.
Pottery by Kate Dunkley: As far as the year ahead, I am working with a couple of chefs producing work for their restaurants, and am selling at more craft fairs now that we are able to. I also have several commissions of fish wall art and personalised jugs that I am working on. And my final goal is get my website up and running.
PeachTreePig: One of my favourite phrases when talking to anyone about PeachTreePig is “I’ve been thinking…”, which is a sure sign that I’ve come up with a new design or idea in my head that I need to tell someone about. That has been happening a lot this year. I’m juggling a few things at the moment, but I definitely have the makings of at least one new jewellery collection in my head. That means it’s time to get those thoughts onto paper and then get myself set all comfy cosy again in the workshop to start making. Oh, I also ‘dabble’ in designing and making lanterns suitable for LED tea lights – I adore doing this so much that I set up a new Folksy shop just for them, all under the name of PeachTreePig, of course.