Andrew Dominic in the workshop

Between two continents: a romance with wood and craftsmanship

Established South African luxury brand Andrew Dominic Furniture returns to its roots in the UK – retaining its base in the Mother City.

In an industrialised world there is much to say about the handmade when done well. There’s a beauty that’s inimitable, quality that’s visceral and a sense of love and care that’s tangible. The fine furniture of Andrew Dominic captures this essence. Each handcrafted piece emits a visible romance with natural materials and forms that’s quite breathtaking. 

Relocating with his family to Devon at the end of last year, while continuing to run the Cape Town workshop through 2020 and beyond, the British designer-maker manifests his love of wood and passion for craftsmanship through his bicontinental brand, Andrew Dominic Furniture. Having set up in Cape Town more than 10 years ago, the business has earned a reputation for their high standards and attention to detail with clients both locally and abroad, and going forwards Andrew is focused on ensuring they maintain and hone this as they continue to expand internationally. What sets them apart, says Andrew, is “a thorough, well-considered approach and prioritising in quality, innovation, conservancy and a good strong team!”

Coinciding with the launch of their rebrand amidst a Cape Town visit and plans to set up their first UK workshop, we caught up with Andrew one year after the big move.

Andrew, what is the philosophy behind your furniture? 

A journey of innovation, experimenting, playing, seeing both what’s possible and enough. Doing justice to the valued natural material we all love in both life and crafted forms. Minimal excess, longevity in appeal and strength and sustainably sourced materials are all key to my philosophy.

As a designer-maker, how do those two roles inform your work? 

From the beginning, as a maker I designed to let the beauty of timber shine through, then the creative journey began, and the doors opened to experimentation. My design direction has evolved from being a maker. Ideas, experiments and new methods have all come to me whilst being in the thick of making, and working out what we can do predominantly with low-tech manual tools and machines. I refine, we make, then refine again and again.

Why the move back to Devon late last year? 

South Africa has been a fertile place to start our business with one of the most rewarding aspects being the ability to teach and transfer my skills to a group of guys who mostly arrived in my workshop having never picked up a woodworking tool. But even after 10 good years of graft in Cape Town, I have always simply wanted to be recognised in the UK. This, along with a growing need to reconnect with the landscape I love and give my children the uncomplicated, safe wholesome freedom that shaped me growing up in Devon. It has also been an essential slow down to take stock, consolidate and plan our next steps to grow our business.

What’s your experience been like running a business remotely this year with the workshop and team still based in Cape Town – and the curveball that Covid presented in not being able to travel? 

It’s been a positive experience. Being remote has forced me to step back, which has greatly helped to be able to see where our weaknesses are and how we need to go forward. With regular communication, the team have kept well on course without my presence for most of this year. We also wouldn’t have attempted two workshops in different countries if I didn’t have complete faith in the team to continue making our furniture to the same high standards and attention to detail that I know they are capable of. 

Your wife Susie is very much involved in the business, what does she bring to the business that you don’t? 

Susie has believed in me the whole way, sharing the load and challenges of every step. She’s a bit of an idealist, while I’m very much a realist and our decision making always reflects this, which I like. Susie has managed the brand development side right from the start along with most of the daily client communications and general admin. The business would not be where it is without her. 

How do you balance work and home life? 

With difficulty. I’ve put a lot of myself into my work which has been demanding and we have three growing children which demands a totally different kind of attention! But this year brought about a huge change so I’m working on getting the balance right. 

Do your carpentry skills mean you’re designated handyman around the house? 

Yes, but it’s usually last on my list of weekend priorities.

Tell us about the workshop in Devon. What are your plans there? 

Well, through a good friend we were offered the use of an old stone barn that we plan to set up as our first UK workshop. This may just be for designing and prototyping, and then we outsource to larger more established manufacturers, but we will see how our pieces fare in the UK market. 

Do you see yourself continuing to operate between two countries? 

Yes, we have a great team in SA and appreciation for our work on both sides.

This year has allowed you the time to add a number of new designs to your existing collections. Tell us about these ranges and new pieces. 

The new pieces reflect our transitional year and the consolidation that’s been happening within our brand. They are designs that complement existing pieces and fill in some of the gaps in our Franc, Ivor and Manu collections to offer a more complete range.

What goes into coming up with a new piece? 

In the past it’s either spontaneous ideas whilst being in the making phase, or a client brief leading a direction that then develops later on. But now, currently a collection of thoughts, interests and a pull toward certain forms in nature. 

What do you consider a flagship piece for Andrew Dominic Furniture and why? 

The Draper stool as it is my first design and it seems to still stand out and lasts the test of time. 

Do you have any new collections planned?

Yes, but they are brewing in the pot!

What changing trends in furniture are you witnessing, particularly with this year’s massive market changes – and how are you adjusting your brand and business to adapt?

There’s a far greater awareness around sustainability and provenance, people are finally waking up to the “how, what and where” of consumerism.

We’re sticking to what we’ve always done, which is sourcing timber from sustainably managed forests and using natural water-based and oil finishes in our workshop.

The other trend is the increasing time people spend on devices discovering brands and buying furniture. We have had a brand polish this year, resulting in a strong logo and bespoke website that really gets our story across well, along with improved navigation, usability and SEO capabilities to reach a more global market going forward. 

What’s your favourite wood to work with and why? 

Walnut, as it’s the most rewarding and beautiful timber when the selection is right.

What’s your most treasured piece of furniture that you own? 

I don’t own it yet… but it will have a mast and sails and will be well stocked with wine!

Whose work would you love to get your hands on?

Thinking of South African work specifically for our home in Devon, it would have to be one of David Krynauw’s Haywire chandeliers to suspend in the double volume of our open plan lounge and living area, any of Réne Roussouw’s exquisite rugs and some chairs or loungers from Haldane Martin’s Hula and Papa Sun collections for our large stoep.

As 2020 draws to a close, what are you most excited about? 

Surviving this year of change! And looking forward to growth in both SA and the UK next year. | @andrewdominicfurniture

WORDS: Sarah Jayne Fell & Andrew Dominic
PRODUCTION: Sarah Jayne Fell
B&W portraits & Cape Town workshop images: Piers Buckle
Colour portraits in Devon: James Darling
Video footage: Jan Verboom Photography