After falling into a woodworking career by accident, Simon Pirie has brought an artistic eye to the world of furniture crafting

Simon Pirie would be the first to admit that furniture making wasn’t his first choice of career.

Although he had a keen interest in woodwork, he was rather swayed by the more “glamorous” appeal of fine arts, training as a sculptor with a degree course in Sheffield.

“I had always been attracted to the woodwork side of things, but somehow the furniture looked a bit woody and dull,” he says with a smile.

“It was more edgy to do fine art, but more difficult to work out how I was going to make a living out of it. Actually, the first thing I did was make a cabinet for a friend.”

It was quite by accident that Simon’s career took a new direction, when he enrolled at Hooke Park College, part of Beaminster-based furniture maker John Makepeace’s Parnham Trust. While learning more about the trade, Simon also developed an understanding of British forestry, with the course focusing on the use of British wood – something about which he remains passionate today.

“So I ended up going down the furniture route,” he explains. “But it had interested me already – I had already made some things.

“I’ve come full circle – some of the work we’ve done more recently is a bit more sculpture-like,so it’s nice that element is coming back in.”

The Hooke course Simon completed was validated by Bournemouth University, and his links there led to a long-standing connection. Not only did he design and make furniture, including the facility’s boardroom and ceremonial pieces, but he lectured on the furniture course for five years.

“That was the transition from me teaching to becoming a full-time furniture maker,” he says. “The first job I did when Iset up my own business in 1998 was for Bournemouth University.”

Contemporary furniture company Simon Thomas Pirie Furniture began life in a small, dusty workshop making one-off pieces of furniture.

“A dining set at the time for us was a really big job,” remembers Simon. Within two or three years, Simon was joined by furniture maker John Beaves, who is now the company’s other director. And the projects they take on are somewhat larger in size.

“We are now doing whole houses,” says Simon. “We design a lot of our own pieces, but we also work a lot with interior designers and architects in collaboration with them.

“We’ve just done a very high end penthouse flat in Sandbanks where we did everything but the kitchen. But we do very large, high end kitchens as well.

“People come to us because we can do stuff differently. We are predominantly timber-based, but we do use other materials. The kind of people that come to us are looking forsomething they can’t find on the high street – it’s more much individual.

“The very nature of what we do demandsthat we are always doing one-off, because everything that we ever do is new. That adds a certain risk to it, in a way, but it meansthat the design is alwaysfresh.

“We are always coming up with ideas and then having to work out ways to achieve it. That’s part of the buzz of what we do.”

Simon Thomas Pirie was originally based just outside Lytchett Matravers, but moved to new workshop space at Briantspuddle, near Bere Regis in 2007. The company has already outgrown the space, and is looking at extending to expand its showroom.

As well as bed heads, dressing rooms, wardrobes, gym mirrors and wall panelling, the firm recently branched out into garden furniture, in partnership with a Sitting Spiritually, a company making classic swing seats.

“They came to us to ask if we would design a more contemporary looking swing seat for them,” says Simon. “We sold them an existing design that we already had called the floating bench, which went into an exhibition at the Chelsea Flower Show. It gotshortlisted for the Chelsea Flower Show product of the year, it got huge amounts of press.

“We didn’t win – a hosepipe beat us to it. But it was kind of the product of the year, because it was everywhere – in every weekend supplement and on telly. It also got into two gold medal winning gardens, so it was good for us too.”

While Simon admits the garden furniture was “kind of an aside”, it is part of his desire to continually do something different.

“What we have to try and achieve is a balance between large and small products,” he explains, “you want the quality. We will do anything. “I love it, it’s a great way to make a living.”

Through his work with timber, Simon is keen to promote the plight of British forestry, and tries to use local wood whenever possible.

“The British forestry industry is in a fairly ragged state, so using British timber is quite challenging, because of the quality of the wood you get,” he says. “It’s a bit like food miles – you can source locally. We will buy walnut logs. It’s not commonly grown,so when we hear about one we will go and cut it ourselves. We are always on the lookout.

“Quite often we have a client who will have a tree. It’s a nicer story for them to be able to to tell people they’ve a personal relationship with it. What better way, if a tree has to come down, to make it into something and give it a second life?”

Many of the wood is now imported, as much of the British grown timber has too defects to work with, but Simon saysthings are beginning to change.

“More and more designers are going down the route of trying to use local timber,” he says. “Is is happening, but it will be a slow burn.”

Simon Thomas Pirie Furniture

The Courtyard Workshop, Rogers Hill Farm, Briantspuddle, Bere Regis

T: 01929 471900