Graham Barnard, managing director of Matrix Kitchens in Knightsbridge, London, has been designing kitchens for almost 30 years. He founded his retail company Matrix in 2000. Here, he explains his decision to offer a ‘bespoke’ British-made product alongside a German brand and the impact it’s had on business
We spent 20 years being a solus dealer of a high-end German brand, but in the end it became a bit like wearing someone else’s clothes and we felt it was holding back our creativity.
We now use our bespoke furniture alongside a German brand and often blend them together. Our showroom is about choice. This allows our designers complete creativity and the ability to adapt to exactly what each individual client wants.
Our clients love the idea that some of the furniture is designed here in the UK and made locally. Many of our pieces are actually made here in London.
Occasionally, people just want a simple white handleless kitchen and our German manufacturer has the perfect solution for this. Sometimes they want to take this a stage further and introduce a bespoke element, such as a pocket door unit, or some steel crafted doors, and we can do this, too.
The German furniture gives us the stability and regularity of supply, delivery times and price, but our bespoke aspect gives us complete creative control. We truly have the best of both worlds.
Business is good and I would say that our growth is very much down to our design ethos and we attribute that to adding a bespoke side to our business. It removes boundaries and makes you think differently.
Having an English heritage to our branding runs right through our team, displays and to our customers, but our showroom is about choice and it’s the client who decides what value they put on the provenance of their furniture.
I don’t think clients should always buy British regardless and I always cringe slightly at the simplicity of any ‘Buy British’ campaign. How many of us drive British cars or wear British clothes these days? It’s up to us, as designers or manufacturers, to improve our offering, quality and service so that buying British isn’t a sympathetic or nostalgic decision, but the right decision based on their wants, needs and budgets.
My sense is that there is a move towards valuing craft and we do that particularly well here. I think we have always been particularly good at bringing in ideas from all over the world and adding our own unique twist on a design. I see influences from Europe, and especially the US, in many of the British designs I see coming through. Retailers have to look to their own markets and decide whether they are ready for this trend. My impression of the retailers I visit is that they are continuing to raise the bar. The standard of showrooms is now incredibly high and constantly improving.
Clients used to buy into the snob value of buying a foreign branded kitchen, but that has rightly changed and they’re now much more savvy, caring more about the quality of the furniture and seeking more individuality and creativity.
This is where I feel that British manufacturers have the edge. Our furniture industries tend to be smaller, making fine furniture and bespoke items, so adapting to trends is almost instant. Large factories just can’t cope with much individuality and adapting manufacturing processes takes time.
We’re in an exciting period of British furniture design. I no longer see a static industry, I see a vibrant one. This is why I’m so excited about the next few years of British design.