Sebastian Cox is passionate about sustainable design. He preserves ancient woodworking crafts while investigating newer, experimental techniques, reflecting a growing concern for the environment and interest in crafts.
At his Greenwich studio, the increasingly influential and sought-after designer runs an apprenticeship course for young craftspeople and manufactures his furniture collections and bespoke pieces for private clients.
He has also notched up collaborations with MADE.com and Benchmark, the furniture company co-founded by Sir Terence Conran.
Cox grew up in rural Kent where his parents restored timber-framed buildings.
At Lincoln University, he did a Furniture Design and Craftsmanship degree, completed an MA in Design in 2012, then set up his first studio in a Lincolnshire barn.
Soon after, he moved to London. “I showed my MA project, a collection made of coppiced hazel, at the London Design Festival. Suddenly I’d sold 24 pieces, including a desk, lamp and hat stand, to a shop in Paris called Caravane.” Anthropologie also bought his designs.
Today, Cox and his wife Brogan, both co-directors, and a team of designer makers and apprentices work at Thames Side Studios, where more than 500 workshops are occupied by craftspeople from bicycle and canoe makers to artists.
His studio is divided into spaces for the different stages of manufacturing: a sawmill to produce planks; two traditional and digital workshops for assembling and finishing pieces, and a design studio-cum-showroom.
His timber — hazel, chestnut, hornbeam, birch and wild cherry — from woodland owned by his family, is harvested using renewable, traditional coppicing. Another source is fallen or felled trees from London boroughs.
Private clients commission Cox to transform fallen trees in their gardens into furniture. With designer Ninela Ivanova, he has created pendant lights and stools of waste willow wood fused with mycelium derived from fungus.
Cox is known for reviving traditional crafts for his pared-down, predominantly blond wood pieces.
His Swill bench, co-created with Lorna Singleton, has a coppiced oak seat made using swilling, an ancient Cumbrian process. His elegant Bayleaf armoires and sideboards are made of plane and sycamore. His Hewn trestle table combines coppiced hazel legs and a solid ash top.
A central plank of Cox’s philosophy is that his staff should be skilled in every facet of the trade: “They don’t need prior knowledge of furniture-making, which we teach them. But I want to see a practical aptitude and enthusiasm for it.”
Ex-apprentice Indira Esser-Dunbar, now a designer maker, says: “I make anything thrown at me, from tables to cabinets. I do wood-turning and operate computer-controlled machinery.”
Brogan says: “We feel strongly about championing apprentices. They’re a great asset. We’d like more employers to recognise the benefits of taking them on and for more young people to consider apprenticeships as a great route into the creative industries.