From an atelier in Crouch Hill, Tree Couture creates bespoke furniture that are collector’s items. Founder Troo Heath-Crew tells Mark Kebble how an eclectic journey took her to North London to create something rather special
You have travelled extensively – how have those experiences shaped your work?
My life has been so wonderfully varied and unpredictable that all the experiences and encounters I’ve had throughout its course have naturally shaped my life and, in turn, my designs. In all the different environments I’ve lived in or passed through, I suppose I’ve subconsciously built up a kind of weird and wonderful mood-board.
What did you love about wood when you first worked with it?
My first experience of working with wood was actually in the Brazilian rainforest. I spent some time living in a small community of forest dwellers on the banks of a tributary of the Rio Negro, one of the main arteries of the Amazon River. I helped out by offering an extra pair of hands in physical duties such as the maintenance and repair of their wooden homes, weaving the palm roofs and, during the low water season, replacing the stilts that the houses stood on. The tools we used (and made) were very rudimentary, the wood was green (unseasoned) and the woodwork was extremely crude though highly functional. It was only many years later though when I came back to the UK that I actually started to learn woodwork formally. I signed up for a woodwork for women course in Islington. Making my very first dovetail joint there was a euphoric moment, which I celebrated on the way home on the Tube by eating a wood shaving!
What are the advantages of using it as a material?
Wood is an organic material that never stays still. It moves and breathes and shrinks and expands – it is the Gemini of the natural world – always on the go! I suspect boredom would have quickly set in in me had I ended up working with an inert material – something that is constant, consistent and with fixed qualities, such as metal or glass. Wood, conversely, is warm and delicate and frequently unpredictable and what’s more it’s THE most sustainable resource on the planet when it is managed correctly. At Tree Couture, we only work with hardwoods that are sustainable, which essentially means that the wood is sourced from forests where everything that is harvested is then replanted with trees of the same or similar species.
Every Tree Couture piece is essentially a celebration of wood – in all its sumptuous colours and tones, its solidity and strength, its durability and its inherent beauty as well as in its intrinsic value. It is a noble material and every one of my designs has to do that justice and ensure that it lives on for generations to come.
How did all this lead to the launch of Tree Couture?
The concept of Tree Couture was devised by me and two very successful entrepreneur friends of mine who also share a passion in design and handcrafted furniture and have since gone on to set up Thinkers HQ (thinkershq.com), a unique boutique investment and management consultant company that take on and develop entrepreneurial talent.
Our collaborative idea was to create limited edition collections of immaculately handcrafted pieces whilst introducing sensibilities of scale, yet retaining the individuality of each piece. We’re all about creating strong, beautiful pieces of furniture that last, sort of contemporary antiques. We have no interest in mass-production or manufacturing and handcraft only small numbers of our collections from our London atelier. So every piece forms part of a limited edition and is individually numbered and ‘signed’ with our inlaid gold makers mark.
Probably the most significant aspect of what we do at Tree Couture that sets us apart from the vast majority of other furniture companies is that we work exclusively in solid wood. That might sound a little strange to many, but in fact most ‘wood’ furniture is made of composite boards such as MDF and wood veneer that is usually no more than 0.6mm thick! And even amongst handmade furniture, it is really rare to find table tops, desks and doors made from solid timber.
Tell me about your North London atelier…
Once part of an old dairy, our atelier, workshop and design studio are tucked away in a vibey little historical cobbled mews in Crouch Hill. We have transformed what was a dark, abandoned and derelict workshop into a warm, vibrant and inspirational space that is a creative hub and a constant hive of activity.
The work we do in the ‘mill’, a large brick vault of a space with its cathedralesque roof and its countless metres of industrial ducting, is quite heavy-duty and not for the faint-hearted or flimsy-muscled! The mill accommodates a host of glorious woodworking machines – our ‘Iron Maidens’ – each of which has a highly specific role to play in the conversion of timber – from rough-sawn planks, to perfectly flat, smooth, dimensioned components on which to carry out the intricate handwork. Our bench studio is a much calmer place, bright and white and flooded with sunshine in the summer months. It is here we carry out all our handcrafting. Benchwork effectively involves everything that is carried out using small portable power tools or hand-tools. Whether it’s the precision-cutting of joints, chiselling out of recesses for hinges, locks and escutcheons, inlaying of contrasting wood or fine metals or the painstaking application of fine leather-work, our handmade workbenches never have a dull moment.
We have recently taken on another building – a magnificent beauty of a space – in the same mews, which we will be expanding into when we’ve finished the big refurbishment. So it will be wonderful to spread out a bit, expand the scope of our operations and explore some exciting new ideas we’ve got in the pipeline.
How did you come to work with The Clerkenwell Collection and what does showing your work there offer you?
In addition to helping to manage the financial and commercial aspects of Tree Couture, Thinkers HQ have given me the opportunity to have great retail exposure as a resident maker in another of their projects, The Clerkenwell Collection (theclerkenwellcollection.com). TCC is a wonderfully exciting place to be involved with: it’s all about celebrating talent and quality, and the creation of a personalised, engaging experience for visitors. It’s an ever-evolving gallery, store and events space with a much celebrated bar and kitchen, a biodynamic wine cellar with tasting rooms, a tailoring studio and it will soon be home to a treatment spa.
We are lucky enough to have our furniture collections on permanent display there, which is a tremendous asset. The opportunities that arise from involvement with such a space are innumerable and, apart from the obvious commercial ones that enable our pieces to come to the attention (and stroking hand) of the discerning customers and clients that pass through there, there are also all sorts of collaborative possibilities with the other resident and showcase designer-makers represented at TCC. In fact I have already completed a collaboration piece with tailors Bespoke HQ and am soon to embark on another project with textile designer Catalina Guirado-Cheadle of Guirado Design.
Find out more at treecouture.co.uk