We set off up North recently to meet the formidable husband and wife team Rick and Lindsey Wakefield from Hayloft Mid Century Design and Hayloft Gallery.
After reaching Derby we found ourselves chugging along on the quaintest little train as we headed for Matlock Bath, a tourist destination on the Eastern edge of the Peak district. The Heights of Abraham is a well known attraction in the area and provides countless activities such as cable cars, underground tours of caverns as well as spectacular views across the Derwent Valley. For a brief moment Hannah and I were lulled into the atmosphere of our fellow passengers and felt like we were on holiday ourselves.
But there was no ‘holiday feeling’ when we sat down with Rick and Lindsey to chat about their thriving business. As we entered their pristine showroom within an old textile mill we were not prepared for the beautiful and polished space that they have managed to create. By the end of the interview, we’d realised that we were dealing with two very smart individuals, working hard in a competitive industry and earning the respect of their peers, whilst almost unbelievably managing to make friends with their fellow dealers along the way!
You’ve created a beautiful space within an old textile mill, how have you managed it?
We have tried to create the image of a living space. Many of our competitors do not have this luxury and instead are continually fighting for enough space to showcase their pieces. We do all our own photography and it is crucial that this is of the highest standard. We also represent artists and we are able to show both the furniture as well as the art in context, it is important to be able to judge the scale and the impact of both. Past experience has shown that it is much easier to sell a painting for example if it is shown with a sideboard than if it has just been cropped.
So, is buying and selling furniture your main business?
It is probably a 60/40 split in favour of the furniture. The art sales are seasonal, as we sell the majority in September and October at the Affordable Art Fairs in Bristol and Battersea.
Do you represent a number of different artists?
Yes, we represent a total of about 12 artists with a core of 6 or 7 who we have collaborated with for over 10 years.
How did you get started?
Rick: Well, I started out making country furniture such as Celtic and Windsor chairs and tables, all from wood that I had milled myself. For me, it was all about the beauty of the timber which was a craft that I learned from my father who was a woodworker for 65 years.
Lindsey: At the same time I was at university studying the sciences and I think Rick expected me to get a job within this sector but once graduated I decided that was that and that I wanted to pursue my love of art. I had painted all my life, selling through galleries and it had always been my intention to carry this on.
Rick: Lindsey is the dynamic one and she wanted the furniture side of the business to really grow. She had always been inspired by the Modernist look, so the mid century furniture business emerged from there as we began to learn more and more about this design period. I moved away from making my own pieces to restoring the mid century pieces. We started off with more affordable pieces from Ercol and G Plan and now are focused on high-end recognisable names such as Arne Vodder.
Lindsey: On the art side we have been a gallery since 2000 representing artists and also myself. I used my student loan which I had managed to save from university to buy the first stand at the Affordable Art Fair. Whilst we had been selling at regional art fairs prior to this, it was apparent that London was the place to sell.
What sort of pieces sell particularly well for you?
Well the Robert Heritage pieces are a winner for us. We often buy from other dealers in original condition and we take it, restore it beautifully and with integrity to the Hayloft product standard which people can trust and respect.
Do you carry out all your own restorations?
Yes, we have another unit upstairs where this is carried out. This is with the exception of the upholstery, where we partner with someone who is highly experienced. Our customers are incredibly discerning and expect only the highest quality.
Lindsey: I have a particular dislike for anything which is ‘overstuffed’. Mid century pieces tended to be low slung and our instructions are always to replace everything as it was. We always use original Danish fabrics as we are not interested in any form of up-cycling.
Where do you mainly source your pieces from?
Mainly Denmark and the UK, although there are surprisingly a huge number of Danish pieces already in the UK. We still come across individuals who have had certain pieces since the 1960’s often with the original receipt which is always charming.
Who is your typical customer?
90% of our customer base is from the London area. We sell mostly to people in their 30s and 40s and also to individuals who are returning to this design for the second time around. Interestingly, we sell more to men than we do women, they seem to make quicker decisions. Our customers are definitely discerning and are not interested in ‘imperfect vintage’ but seek the fantasy of owning something collectible which feels new. They are confident to buy because the pieces we deal in are researchable.
Are you fascinated by the way the furniture was constructed?
Yes most definitely. This here is a Gordon Russell sideboard, who were pioneers in introducing modernism to post war Britain. Their designers were often cabinet makers also, so every aspect of the construction became part of the design. On this particular piece there is actually a label with the cabinet makers name on it.
Is Rosewood your best seller?
Yes, although some people do not realise that there are lots of different species and variations of Rosewood all dependant on how the wood has been cut. We can usually tell without seeing a piece how the finish will look just by knowing who the designer was and how they chose to cut the wood.
Do you champion the mid century style at home?
Well it does seem to satisfy our shopping needs! We have two young children though, so we have to be mindful of having too much non child-friendly furniture around.
Lindsey: I have sneaked away two beautiful Rosewood sideboards upstairs which are destined for our new house that we have just purchased and are currently renovating.
Is there a particular Designer that you love?
Rick: I enjoy the British stuff such as Gordon Russell and Robert Heritage, to see what they have done and to imagine the designers of their day.
Lindsey: I would go for Brazilian leather such as Jean Gillon and Sergio Rodrigues, and a beautiful chair by Jorge Zalszupin with a folded and delicately pointed shape.
How were you introduced to Brazilian Design?
In actual fact it was here in Matlock at an auction when we got hold of a number of Zalszupin pieces that had been locked away in council offices. I kept my hand up until everyone had finished bidding.
Do you have a particular favourite piece at the moment?
Yes, these 6 Rosewood chairs from Heals 1947 by the designer A. J. Milne. They are a brilliant modernist design and would have been totally cutting edge for their time.They were covered in rotted lemon yellow fabric when they came in and look at them now!
Do you have any upcoming plans for Hayloft?
We are thrilled to have been invited to join LAPADA so will be exhibiting for the first time this year.We have also had a handful of our contemporary artists accepted for the Fair which is amazing for their careers also. The chance to be in Berkeley Square in the magnificent marquee is a wonderful opportunity and we are over the moon.
ON THE MARKETPLACE