Clive Christian Furniture: ‘I’m a guardian of the brand’

Oli Deadman (pictured) took the reins as head of design at Clive Christian Furniture in January. Soon after saw the company’s first new product launch in a decade. Chris Frankland gets the inside story and an insight into his role at the iconic luxury furniture brand

There can be no better time to talk to a furniture designer than when they have just launched a particularly significant new product. It would be fair to say that Clive Christian’s new Garden Kitchen fits that description perfectly and it was high on my list of things to talk about with the company’s new head of design Oli Deadman.

And ‘particularly significant’ is no exaggeration as it was the first new product launch in 10 years for a company whose name has become a byword in luxury, bespoke furniture, employing 55 staff and operating 18 stores around the world – one of which it owns and the rest are franchises.

And this is the first time Clive Christian Furniture has ventured into outdoor kitchens in its 50-year history.

According to Deadman, the new outdoor furniture is just the vanguard of more to come in the future. He tells kbbreview: “We are currently putting together the finishing touches on a couple of installations that are being photographed now and will be released later on this year. This is just the start of a regular occurrence of us looking at the market and releasing new products to say ‘we’ve got these brand new capabilities available, fantastic new materials that we could and should be using and getting them out there for our clientele’.”

Garden Kitchen

He adds: “There are lots of exciting things in the pipeline and the Garden Kitchen has been a great opening gambit to say ‘hey guys, we’re back and we’re producing to the same unbelievable levels of opulence that we always have, but you can have that outside too now’. And that opened us back up to different audiences that perhaps saw us being a little quieter over the past 10 years. But we have been in the background, we have been working on ourselves, looking at how we introduce new products and how we benchmark it to ensure it meets our brand standards.

“And with the reinvigoration from the new company ownership, you will see a lot more exciting things to come over the next months, never mind years.”

The reinvigoration Deadman refers to was the management buyout of the company in October 2019 from Souter Investments led by current chairman – and former owner of fireclay sink manufacturer Shaws of Darwen – David Dare, and the subsequent appointment of Phil Cole as global sales director in October 2020.

Deadman recalls: “David Dare wanted to push us back into the forefront of design and consumer-led areas that we always have been in traditionally. He has reinvigorated the brand and given us the support to be able to regroup.” And regroup it did with a vengeance with the launch its first ever outdoor kitchen.

Carte blanche

Deadman may only have moved into his role as head of design this January, but he joined Clive Christian Furniture straight from university in 2009. He tells me what attracted him to the company: “It was the possibilities. As a designer, you are always limited to a brief, but with Clive Christian you get to work with the most fantastic materials, the most fantastic clients. 

“You don’t have the budget constraints you might have with a client off the high street, so you can really design to your heart’s content and realise the client’s dream. Which is a fantastic thing to be able to do. 

“You have carte blanche – you have a full range of palettes, materials and processes with access to some of the most fantastic materials on the market, you have a workshop full of people who want to work and want to develop the very best products they can.”

Initially, Deadman worked under founding designer David Dunkley. He recalls: “I came in via a design for manufacture background, and as I grew and took on more responsibility and worked within more design areas that led me to work closely with David and Clive himself. It was the complete opposite side of the company and it was lovely to be able to go and see David and Clive and talk through different aspects of products that wouldn’t necessarily be at the forefront working in manufacturing, so that allowed me to grow and see things from a different perspective. 

“As a creative designer, it’s my job to say ‘this might not be in your wheelhouse now, but it will be in two weeks’ time’. To push the limits, which is essentially what Clive Christian has always done and will continue to do going forward.”

Sketch of Garden Kitchen

Before quizzing him on the fine detail of the Garden Kitchen, I was keen to learn more about his role as head of design.

He says: “I very much feel like the furniture I work with is my baby. I would say I am a guardian to ensure we maintain the past qualities that are synonymous with us as a brand, to keep the character and exceptional elements true to our heritage, but also to drive the product in a direction that maintains its opulence and grandeur and its wonderful wow factors, by introducing new materials and new processes to bring the customers in. It is very tricky because design is essentially an argument. I always say that without a little bit of confrontation every now and again on what is possible, we’d all just manufacture the same product. 

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“So I have to diplomatically push the envelope on our comfort zones and, I suppose, on what the market sees as being a comfortable thing, just as David [Dunkley] and Clive did when they came up with the iconic Architectural kitchen. We are in exactly the same position today, looking to push those boundaries with design. Every single day I have to ensure that we uphold the ethos of producing the very best for the very best clients around the world. We have an excellent team of men and women who are all very proud to be working for a British powerhouse of manufacturing excellence.”

Future

As well as ensuring they remain true to their heritage, he tells me that 70% of his time is spent thinking about the future: “What do we want to put in the next showroom? What do we want to be releasing next year? I would also be involved in special, bespoke projects. Such as one we have at the moment for a client in our Nantwich showroom. 

“They wanted to commission us to do a piece of marquetry that sits on a 2m square piece of cabinetry that will depict the London skyline. Projects like that, that take some real meticulous thinking that we want to put a little of our magical design stamp on – they are generally the bits I would get involved with.”

And that brings us neatly to speak of the Garden Kitchen. Deadman reveals how it all started: “When we came first started talking about the Garden Kitchen, it was led by a large project that we were doing over in Spain [at the tail end of 2020]. We had already done the full property, and the client asked if we had anything we could put on the sun terrace. 

“It was one of those briefs where you think ‘crikey, that’s a huge step for us in a different direction’. It was as much, if not more so than usual, about the engineering of the product, to make sure it can live up to being outside in the elements with the rain, snow and sun. So I went away and did an immense amount of panicking. How would we make something that would stand up to this use?”

And before long, Deadman found the perfect solution. He explains: “We arrived at the concept of designing the furniture as if it were a superyacht and taking the exacting engineering standards that you would expect
with a piece of high-precision coachbuilding and combining it with the glamour and elegance of a Clive Christian installation. 

Craftsmen at work

“The timber we use, Royal Iroko, isn’t just beautiful with fantastic grain and tone, it was chosen because of its natural properties that deter fungus growth and water damage. It has fantastic natural resistance to UV.” 

On top of that, it is further treated with a synthetic oil to ensure it is fully sealed against water ingress and the Garden Kitchen also uses adhesives from the boating industry – “the same as is used to secure the outer cladding of a yacht hull that has been designed to sit in water for all of its life”.

But the nods to superyachts do not end there: “We will be offering it with a choice of two handles. The first is inspired by a deck cleat and is made from 316 grade stainless steel with a beautiful, highly polished finish. And so everyone will know that it might be a kitchen, but it is part thoroughbred yacht in its heritage.”

Hidden gems

And thinking back to the question that he tells me David Dare would always ask of a design – ‘Is it Clive Christian enough?’ – Deadman affirms: “It is Clive Christian through and through – as much as a Metro Deco or an Architectural kitchen. We picked up on the beautiful details and hidden gems. You’ve got the surface level of the products, impeccably smooth and sleek exterior with its milled-in inlays, then inside you have concealed drawers with edge-pull handles that pull out and reveal drawer bottoms that have been lined with a stainless steel gridwork that can hold a ridiculous amount of water spillage if the drawer is left open. Everything is thoroughly thought about.” 

Summing up his design ethos, he says: “We always take a brief on face value and then think about how we can take that out of the comfort zone. How do we take that away from the market expectation and turn that into something that is going to turn people’s heads? And that attention to detail goes for all Clive Christian furniture. Industry-standard is not acceptable at Clive Christian Furniture.”

He admits he thinks high-street furniture companies have “really upped their game” in recent years and adds: “It makes us home in on what makes us different. It keeps us sharp and on the top of our game.”

And if the passion and enthusiasm that comes across during our interview is any indication, the brand’s powerful heritage is in safe hands.

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