Tell us about yourself?
I’m Chris. My story I guess, is one of finding myself. I would say my professional career truly began when I became an apprentice plumbing and heating engineer. It was at 21 I decided that I needed some direction in life. Prior to that I was floating through life, with no real direction, just having fun and partying. I had gone to university for a year to study Human Biology, which I decided wasn’t a path I wanted to pursue. It was fun and I made some fantastic friends but the idea of another 2 years looking at books and sitting at a computer just wasn’t for me. Something was missing. I needed to find a job to earn money without any real qualifications in any specific field. Moving out of home at 18 had been a big decision, for independence and at the time I wasn’t aware that making all these small decisions would be changing my life. Finding a job was a must, as was finding a flat share. I got a job in a cocktail bar for 2 years. This kept me from moving back home, which I knew wouldn’t be good as I would get complacent. In the summers I went abroad with a friend who was still at uni. We ‘worked’ in a bar to earn enough money to stay out there and enjoy our summer. After the second summer away, I knew something had to change in respect of stability. Luckily, I met a guy who said he had an opening to become his apprentice plumber…. I jumped at the chance. I had never done a ‘skilled’ job before using tools. I was nervous/excited walking onto the building site for the first time not knowing what to expect, or if I would be any good at it! Fortunately, it wasn’t long before I discovered I was naturally very good with my hands and loved every moment of the process. On site I wanted to ask questions and absorb every detail of other trades, one in particular, carpentry/joinery. I knew this would hold me in good stead in general life. Having knowledge of other trades would open doors. Well that was the plan anyway! ‘John the Joiner’ as he was aptly named would grow tired every day of my inquisitive nature, well that’s what he used to say but secretly I know he loved it. My passion was coming through and looking back I could see he enjoyed passing on his knowledge. I’d find myself constantly looking at his work wishing I had chosen that as a career instead of plumbing. Even to this day I ring him on occasion with a question! The love grew when I set up a little workshop and began buying joinery tools to add to my collection. I would make small things for friends and family, little cabinets, coffee tables, dining tables etc. They loved them and it became apparent that I found much more pleasure and sense of accomplishment from making something from scratch, out of wood than installing a complete plumbing and heating system in a 6-bedroom, 4-bathroom property! I’ve always had a keen eye for detail, even my plumbing systems, as some would say on site, were a work of art! I knew that this sort of detail would never be appreciated by a plumbing customer…. not truly anyway. I had completely fallen out of love with plumbing. There really was only one option. Stop, and take the brave step of renting a bigger workshop space to pursue my joinery. That’s what I did, and it couldn’t have been a better choice.
Tell us about bit + brace?
Bit + Brace is a new and exciting furniture/cabinet making business. I cover all aspects of carpentry and joinery, from bespoke Kitchens to unique home furnishings. The goal is to create beautiful, one off pieces of furniture/cabinetry to the customers bespoke wishes. I love my job now, even if it’s very new to me, it means it is all the more exciting! I am a people person, I like interacting with customers about what they really want from a piece and working with them to make something beautiful and functional for their home, workspace, etc. I really do love what I do now and hopefully more people become part of my journey.
What works/pieces in your portfolio are you most proud of and why?
One of the pieces I am most proud of is the oak console unit with sliding doors, you can see this and many of my other pieces on my Instagram page. It was made from an oak beam out of a 200+ year old cottage. On a job years ago, I asked the demolition guys if I could have it. I kept it knowing one day I would use it to create that unit. I milled the large beam into manageable boards. Using large finger/box joints for the ends of the unit added a beautiful feature as each board had different shades from the end grain. Rounding over the edges of the front and back gave it a unique and contemporary feel. The doors were painted using Farrow and Ball ‘setting plaster’. A subtle pink colour which complimented the oak perfectly, and it was all finished off perfectly with nickel handles recessed into the doors. Inside I made a shelf which sat on little nickel feet.
Where do you get ideas/inspiration for new designs?
Everywhere! It doesn’t even have to be related to furniture. For example, at the moment I’m designing a coffee table based on the idea of a shell. I was sat on the beach in Bournemouth. I am playing with the idea of using the shape of the shell, for the single support for a coffee table. One big leg in the middle with an oval top. Just an example, but ideas can come from anywhere!
Which aspect attracts you most in a new design? Appeal or practicality?
In my opinion, both elements are just as important as each other. One doesn’t go without the other unless I am making a piece as a feature. In this age, people want things to look aesthetically pleasing yet still be functional for use. I enjoy the process of making something look as great as I can without compromising on function. This is why working with my customers so closely is vital, I get to know what is most important to them and tailor every aspect to their needs.
What are the advantages of bespoke furniture vs the high street?
One of the biggest advantages of bespoke furniture is the selection process. YOU have choice from initial design, to materials used (what species of wood, what paint colour etc). Also the size of the piece is a factor to consider. Most store-bought furniture doesn’t fit your home or needs perfectly. The vast majority of people ‘make do’ with an item because they believe that is their only option and that the other options such as bespoke pieces are way too expensive. That’s not always the case! Custom built furniture is built to last. Particularly furniture made from hardwoods such as oak, walnut and cherry, to name a few. These pieces will, quite literally last a lifetime! The process of manufacturing these pieces ensures that they remain solid and as new over their lifetime. I’m sure the biggest deal breaker for people is cost. It’s true, bespoke furniture CAN be more costly, however this isn’t always the case. Store bought is not always the most affordable option either. My advice would be next time you are debating buying a piece of furniture, get some quotes and decide from there. As with anything in life, you get what you pay for. For me the element of a throwaway society is one which we all need to address where we can. Many of my pieces so far have been made from reused lumber, whether that be an oak beam, or oak from a corn barn from my parents’ house in France. A piece of furniture, tailor made to your needs, made from quality material that will stand the test of time can only be a good thing for the environment. With that said it is always worth exploring the option of bespoke furniture.
Having recently acquired a bespoke coffee table from Chris at bit + brace, I can confirm that the quality is fantastic. Buying bespoke pieces is something I had never really considered as an option, however moving forward I will definitely be considering the benefits that bespoke carpentry can offer over high street products. Should you have any questions or would like any advice on having your own bespoke piece made, I strongly suggest contacting Chris via email or checking out the bit + brace Instagram page.
Coffee table gifted for review purposes. As always all words and opinions are my own.