Profile: Steuart Padwick
Profile: by Emily Martin
Furniture and lighting designer Steuart Padwick has been a success for quite a while – his work is seen everywhere. But it wasn’t until he was designing for Made that he feels he’d cracked it…
Launching his eponymous brand in 2009, Steuart Padwick describes his career as being off and on. His work has seen him go from master craftsman, working at The Conran Shop, and launching Benchmark Furniture, among other global ventures. But it is his somewhat surprising collaboration with the online furniture retailer Made that has given him most recognition. It was a crucially timed partnership and one that, he says, helped launch his career, finally, at 56 years old.
‘Made rescued me; they’ve been amazing,’ says Padwick. We meet during September’s LDF and enjoy a rare (for him) sit-down. He was exhibiting at the Old Truman Brewery, showcasing 10 new products he had designed and produced in an astonishing short period of time. ‘I’ve been doing it [furniture, product and lighting design] for a long time and people think I must be doing well because they’ve seen my stuff in magazines, but [before collaborating with Made] I wasn’t selling it.’
Tilt sofa and Tilt lamp, designed by Padwick and debuting at last year’s London Design FestivalTilt sofa and Tilt lamp, designed by Padwick and debuting at last year’s London Design Festival
In some ways, it’s a far cry from his early days, starting out as a furniture designer-maker in 1980 after training at Parnham Furniture College, set up by world-renowned cabinetmaker John Makepeace. Falling in love with furniture design rather than the making, Padwick’s contemporary designs mix with a fine craft quality. He was the first designer to work with Made and recalls that his decision to take the job was pure pragmatism: ‘I was going broke! I questioned whether I was selling my soul, because I had been used to working with clients like The Conran Shop and producing higher-value pieces.’
Every month now, some 1,300 pieces of furniture designed by Padwick are sold by Made, making him one (if not the) best-selling designers for the company. Crucially, it provides the finance for Padwick to run his own business, while also having played a part in the success of Made.
Chair Rubens, designed for MadeChair Rubens, designed for Made
‘There’s been a complete change around for me. Thank God I said yes at the beginning,’ he says. Better known for designing furniture for the domestic market, Padwick is nevertheless looking to expand his clientele. Today, we sit on one of his new soft seating ranges called Tilt. It’s big, colourful and bold, with wide arms and back rests. A characteristically Padwick-designed piece, it also features two spheres at the base to tilt the seating position, giving it a playful appeal. Talking about this and some other seating designs, he says ‘these weren’t designed for the contract market, but people do see them in a contract environment. There is a potential.’ He also tells of plans to exhibit and ‘put designs out there’ to see what happens.
Dressing table designed for Made by PadwickDressing table from the Fonteyn collection designed for Made by Padwick
Currently living in Lambourn in West Berkshire, a move to London is on the horizon where he is building a live-studio space on a plot in Tufnell Park. ‘The young, bright designers aren’t exactly hot-footing it to Lambourn,’ he says. Padwick has such an infectious energy and enthusiasm that you can’t help but be drawn in. But he is not that enthusiastic about country living and is keen to produce more design work in London and build up a team of workers for his ‘one-man-band’ business.
‘It’s a very lonely business, you know, when you are working at home in your studio and there’s no one to bounce ideas off,’ he says. ‘Even if it’s someone whose comments you dismiss, it makes you either confident that you made the right decision or re-evaluate it. Working in isolation is tricky and I don’t want to do that.’
Chest of drawers from the Fonteyn collection, designed for Made by PadwickChest of drawers from the Fonteyn collection, designed for Made by Padwick
In 2014, Padwick attended the Haystack Mountain School of Craft on Deer Island, Maine, where he took part in the two-week, open studio residency. He had just finished exhibiting in Shanghai and New York and describes the contrast between global exhibitions and the residency as a much-needed one.
‘[At the school] I started sketching with stones and pieces of [dead] trees, on the beach, and just moving things around’ he says. ‘It became an installation.’ It was a pivotal moment for Padwick and has influenced his direction. Producing a piece of sculpture on the beach, it featured a bowl that would always be visible above high tide. ‘I’d been struggling for so long at the bottom of the sea, gulping for the odd bit of air, but actually [now] I’m in a good place’ he explains. ‘My head is above water and whatever happens, that is my base level.’
Padwick beach sculpture, created during his residency at the Haystack Mountain School of Craft in MainePadwick beach sculpture, created during his residency at the Haystack Mountain School of Craft in Maine
At 56, Padwick declares his career has just started. His time at the school in Maine allowed him to reflect and experiment and he feels it has given him the opportunity to express himself differently through design. ‘One of the nicest reviews I’ve had of my work was somebody saying that my work made them smile. And I thought “That’s about as good a compliment as I can get”. I don’t consciously think that I want to make this or that funny, I just like a particular feature. I love things such as the Eames RAR Rocker, there’s something so witty about it – and it makes me smile.’
And greeting you on his newly re-launched website is exactly this: ‘Designs to make you smile’. This year, says Padwick, is about upping his game and really going for it. I, for one, am looking forward to see what opportunities come from it.