We recently headed down to East Sussex to meet Simon and Penny Andrews founders of The Andrews Partnership.
After meeting at their beautiful country home just a stones throw from the beach we drove the short distance to their rural workshop where all the hard graft and toil takes place. The journey from home to work took us through a beautiful picture perfect town and out across rolling countryside. As we climbed a slight hill we were then met with the most breathtaking view and Penny said, “This is my view during my commute to work every day.”
Immediately, life envy set in and we were enthralled even more as we discovered the reasons behind a complete change of lifestyle that Penny and Simon had recently decided to embark upon.
What did you do before founding the Andrew’s Partnership?
Simon: My background was really in IT, so I founded and ran a number of IT businesses and within those businesses my strengths always tended to be within marketing, PR and sales. This was almost entirely in and around London – it was a very London centric type life in those days!
Penny: I started out as a journalist, and then like most people I took the King’s Shilling and moved into PR where I then worked predominantly in London and Surrey. I worked for bigger agencies, small agencies and also for myself for a bit. When I was freelance, I worked in-house for Hewlett Packard and then helped to run IBM’s PR across Europe. It was a very exciting job, jumping on aeroplanes, very dynamic! I did that for three years.
I then took a career break to have my children and when I returned I worked for myself doing pretty much the same thing for smaller businesses.
So both of you have creative minds?
Penny: I think we’ve both always done creative stuff. My father was by training an electronics engineer but he was always making things, we never had anyone in our house to fix anything, make anything, do anything! My mother was a fabulous cook and sewer so I come from a long line of makers and doers and I think I sort of went into the intellectual side of creativity and I’ve come back out the other side and gone much more into the making again.
It’s in the genes then?
Penny: I think it is! My brother makes films, he lives in Belgium and he actually helps us source pieces from Belgium. That’s great, having an insider!
Simon: It also means he is able to store the pieces until we have sufficient space to bring them all over at the same time.
Penny: He’s fluent in French and Flemish which is massively helpful!
So was there a catalyst for you to set up the business?
Simon: We have always had an interest in furniture and this was the case going back well before we met, although it was nothing to do with us meeting. I think really we knew that we’d got to the point where the PR and marketing life that we led was one that we were just getting a bit bored with – the challenge had gone.
But the catalyst was moving down here, we said ok, we’re going to move, that’s going to change lots of stuff. We’re moving away from the established environment that we’ve been in, we’re moving away from friends and family and we want to make a proper go of things rather than it being a retirement hobby. For one we need to carry on making a living and secondly when you’ve got twelve and thirteen-year-old girls – it’s not possible! I dare say if we hadn’t moved, we would have done it anyway at some point but there often has to be a trigger to set it off.
Penny: Yeah and also for me, my mum was an Ercol obsessive and I grew up in (I didn’t realise at the time) this completely Sixties monument to Modernism. I mean there was Ercol everywhere! My dad was into Danish lighting and we had this amazing light that went down our hall that was coloured glass. I remember it – my brother and I thought it was hideous at the time!
My mum had a stroke unfortunately and had to go into care and I cleared her house out and that chair in the corner was sitting in her bedroom and it was like a light on moment for me! I thought god that is so beautiful – I could hear my mum saying, ‘It’s Ercol, you know.’ All those years ago, she could have said it was the Kaiser Chief’s for all I knew, but at that moment I could see its beauty!
My mum also had one of those day-bed chairs as well, (I don’t actually know what happened to that, I wish I knew) but I saw one on eBay and I thought, I want to do that. That sort of fitted in with what we do with the furniture and I thought I’m going to do this. Although I had dabbled in upholstery I did some more training and now I absolutely love it.
Would you say that the majority of your pieces are Ercol?
Simon: In terms of volume, yes and the reason for that is just because they’re easy to sell because there is a real appetite for this beautiful iconic furniture. They are also wonderful to work on and restore. We have also established a reputation as being knowledgeable and expert at Ercol restoration.
Penny: But also for me, I know that I actually have to like it. I don’t want to sell it if I don’t like it. I can’t sell something I don’t like and I won’t buy something I don’t like. I don’t really care if its worth thousands, if I actually don’t like it and I couldn’t see it in my house and I wouldn’t want to sit on it or use it, I have to really love it.
When did you learn how to restore furniture?
Simon: I’ve learnt as I’ve gone along, my maternal grandfather was a furniture maker and I had an uncle that was a French polisher so my learning has been informal. I’ve picked up quite a lot along the way with lots of reading as well. I am also fascinated to understand how stuff fits together for me that’s really what drives me.
Penny: I’ve always sewed and have made my own patterns, when I was younger I made all my own clothes! I love it and you really understand about fabric. I found a little rag doll that I made when I was about twelve with clothes and everything so you actually have an innate understanding about fabric and how it works and how you can cut it and how you do things. Neither of us are pretentious about the pieces, I’m a great fan of the William Morris ethos: Have nothing in your house that you deem neither to be beautiful or useful. If you don’t love it or you can’t use it, dump it. And don’t be so pretentious about it.
How do you decide which fabrics to use?
Penny: Oooh, it really depends! I’m quite into Moon because I love (its purely selfish) working with fabric when it’s pure wool, it’s British, it’s woven in Leeds, it’s stunning. It’s like silk, it’s just beautiful to work with. So I work with them quite a lot. Sanderson I’ve worked with quite a bit as well. It also depends on what the client wants.
Do you like to stick with British designers?
Penny: If I can, I I think it’s quite important to support local designers and also there are hundreds of people, very local who make very short runs of fabrics. I like Moon because it’s British and they’re the last consecutive milling, weaving company in the UK. They can trace their heritage right back to about 1790 or something and they’re up in Leeds. And it’s just beautiful. The quality of it, when you work with it.
Do you remember what the first piece was that you ever sold?
Simon: The first piece we ever sold (that we had done together) was an old Victorian bureau. It was one of the first pieces which I restored.
Penny: It was lovely, it was slim and slender, very unusual and I was quite sad when that sold.
Do you have a typical customer?
Penny: I think we have distinctly two don’t we?
Simon: They tend to be urban, thirties, first proper house together
Penny: Yes, they are often East London types – quite money rich, time poor. They know what they like but don’t necessarily have time to go out and really, deeply think about it. And then we’ve got another quite healthy group who have probably what we’d called empty-nesters. People who’ve finally reclaimed their home after their children have wrecked it for twenty years and they are just having what they really like.
And how do you find things working together?
Simon: We like it; we like working together a lot.
Penny: Honestly, we really like it actually. It’s really good fun. We do actually work very well.
So is that the best thing about running your own business?
Simon: From our point of view, it is. We would never want to do anything where we weren’t working together. We enjoy our time together, you’ll see when we get to the farm the two workshops are adjoining so we are always within close proximity.
Penny: Yeah, there’s nothing nicer than sitting there on an afternoon listening to the radio and the suns shining through the doors it sounds so cheesy but its true .As well,for me, I think the greatest reward is actually being able to make something and say – I did that! You know, to take a really messed up old chair and two weeks later, a week later, have this beautiful old thing that goes out the door to its new custodian.
What do you do when you’re not working?
Penny: Teenage girls take up a lot of time
Simon: We both like cooking and we both, way back in our various pasts cooked for a living one way or another.
Penny: Simon ran a gastro pub and I did the Corden Bleu thing and I filled freezers for people, my filling freezers career paid me through university. I also like to ride with my youngest daughter there’s nothing like it. Alice loves it, she’s really quite good.
And any big plans that you’d like us to mention?
Simon: We’re hoping that at some point soon one of the larger units at the farm will become available to us so that we can actually have a decent studio area where we can have pieces on show for people to come and look at from time to time. That will be quite a big step for us.