Richard and Juliet:  Made by the Forge

Part 1: Ignition

What happens when an eligible, fully qualified farrier, working hard at his anvil meets an established horse enthusiast? Sparks inevitably and literally fly. In a low ceilinged, smoky forge, Richard’s eyes met mine. In three years, we tied the knot. Horses brought us together and while Richard maintained his farrier business, I continued to work with the animals I was so passionate about. We started to think about what was necessary to forge our own independent future. We lived in a tiny cottage in Suffolk, halfway up a hill, with the appropriate name of Highview. Having two children inevitably made the cottage smaller. Further up a muddy track, Richard worked in a garden shed lit by a single, bare lightbulb. Blacksmithing carries its own risks and there were many moments when the shed barely escaped the consuming flames of Richard’s profession.

We had no customers, no website and no money but we did have ambition. And an idea. Finding your element is a watershed moment for most people and Richard and I recognised that this drive was a strong desire to make amazing looking ironwork. As the first pieces were fashioned, they went up in our modest home just to see what worked. Now, our kitchen wasn’t the smallest kitchen in the world but it was a photo finish with the winner. In it, you could swing neither a cat nor a mouse. If Richard stood in the middle of the kitchen, he could reach each wall and not have to move his feet an inch. So the first thing on the agenda was to make space where there was none and the precursor to Made by the Forge was born… Kitchen Irons. Richard made superb looking and practical hanging racks which hung from the ceiling. Every spare space on the walls was covered with hooks and rails.

We both aspired to live self-sufficiently as much as possible but while TV’s Tom and Barbara lived ‘the Good life’ 24/7, we just never found the time to cultivate our own food. Booze? Well, you always find time for booze. Money was so tight, Rich tried his hand making cider (it made your eyes hurt just smelling it). The Hedgerow Wine looked lovely… And if you wanted to celebrate anything with our Elderflower Champagne, it’d better be a ship launch so no one had to sample the vile stuff. Heady times. The rest of the cottage was home but with uninsulated and paper thin walls it was also very draughty. Stand at the right spot on a windy day in the living room and it felt you were standing on a cliff in February. So bespoke curtain poles were expertly fashioned and swiftly went up and thick, heavy curtains followed. We were soon able to call our cottage cosy and snug. This kickstarted our mutual love of interiors and well-designed and beautifully crafted pieces. And then something magical happened. And you never forget your first…

Part 2: Blast Off

It was just a normal visit for Pete the vet but a significant moment for us. Once he clocked the curtain poles, he asked…

“Can you make some of these for my cottage?”

Eureka! It was our first client and our first order, a momentous day. This started a very heavy work period for Richard. He’d be out shoeing horses all day and at night, he’d be in the shed thrashing out ironwork in the garden. From the very start of our adventure we’d both decided our mission was to hammer out the best ironwork on the planet. Our ambition was to establish Made by the Forge to be the number one place to go and we are still working hard to maintain that level of quality today.

Like all fledgling businesses, our new company had to expand to grow its customer base. Richard set up shop in a converted shed at a local farm. In a surprisingly short time, we found out that word had got out that Richard was forging some terrific products and God bless word of mouth. We had no time or money to employ a marketing company but we knew where our business had to be based to be accessible to all… Where else but online? Richard is a metalworker not a computer coder but needs must. While I worked on designing the products, Richard got hold of some free software and built a modest website while learning coding from a book. It was enough to start the trickle of interest that hinted at enormous potential. Work started to come in. We now found ourselves with two jobs, day work to keep the bills paid and night work to keep the dream alive. It was tiring but fun. Then an idea came along that was instrumental in taking the company that was now known as Made by the Forge to a whole new level.

A friend of my brother’s was a designer who knew many others. Richard and I were keen to collaborate with designers to expand the product line. In a dingy London pub, it was agreed that the designers would come up to Suffolk to witness and experience first-hand the realities of forging ironwork. Each was tasked to make a light in exchange for designs and the promise to share profits from pieces made from those designs. It was such a simple idea but there was something great about it from the very start. The Forge Project was a collaboration between designers Anthony Dickens, Chris Eckersley, Gareth Neal and William Warren, all established, well known product designers. Each was tasked to design a light and hand-craft it themselves. They came to Suffolk for the weekend and got cracking. It was a hugely memorable weekend for all the right reasons and everyone learned from everyone else’s other points of view. To keep the rustic mood going, Richard took his guests to the local pub via his pony and cart and the whole atmosphere of hard work and creativity was intoxicating - as was the beer.

Anthony Dickens secured us a stand at a top London design event at Design Junction. Despite our initial excitement, the event didn’t go as well as we hoped. When you are starting a new business, set-backs can be very discouraging but we held fast despite living on coffee for five days while manning the stand. We ended our event with £2 left in the bank and very few sales. And you can always rely on somebody to kick you when you’re down. “We were packing the stand and products into our van in Oxford Street,” said Richard, “and someone walked off with our prototype standard lamp while our backs were turned.” Deflated, Richard and I had no way of knowing that even a miserable week in the right place would take Made by the Forge to another level.

Part 3: Healing

Three months after being stolen from in Oxford Street, Richard got a phone call. On the line was a man called Will Hobhouse. At that time, Will was the Chairman of Heal’s. Heal’s, as any casual or ardent fan of interiors knows, is London’s most famous furniture and lighting retail outlet, a company that has been supporting new designers and companies for well over two centuries. Will had seen Made by the Forge’s stand at Design Junction (Result!) and wanted Richard and I to design and manufacture a range of lights with Anthony Dickens for Heal’s Tottenham Court Road store. Well. It’s a long way from forging metal to having your work being thrust into a shop front in one of the most respected companies in London but how exciting is that? Heal’s wanted great and innovative products and Richard knew that’s one thing he could deliver. We went back to Suffolk, fired up the forge and created the truly stunning Farrier’s Cage chandeliers and Made by the Forge was off to the races. “To have our work displayed in one of the most prestigious stores in London,” says Richard, “…is still one of our proudest moments.” We were caught up in the whirlwind of public relations and marketing that follows such exposure. There were meetings, dinners, parties, and displays. It was like being just a little bit famous for just a short time but Richard’s true character - when it came to schmoozing important people - was about to emerge in a way that I really hoped wasn’t noticed.

When you forge iron, there are few airs and graces. Let’s be blunt and say there is none. Your social profile or social skills are not relied upon. You wear a leather apron, withstand the sparks, heat and blisters and fashion pieces with your physical might, craft and skill. Nothing else matters in getting the job done. But if you want exposure and success in your business you have to schmooze. Understanding this, we both packed our fancy clothes and changed into them in the back of our Land Rover to prepare for another event at the height of summer when T- shirts were de rigueur. All dressed up with somewhere to go, Richard was missing something. It’s said that if you arrive at a party fashionably late wearing Crocs, you simply arrive late. Richard hadn’t packed his smart shoes and decked up in a suit, hair resoundingly uncombed and wild, he attended a swanky do with me on his arm and Crocs on his feet. To this day it is still unknown that anyone noticed. Perhaps sophisticated Londoners accepted that this was what country types did.

After this surprising and brief brush with temporary exposure, it was back to the forge to earn an honest living again. Changes occur, as they always do and as the Heal’s Chairman and our champion was superseded, Richard and I moved on and made a special effort to concentrate on our supportive and loyal clients and customers. There is nothing more important to a business like Made by the Forge than happy customers and the feedback that continues to pour in to our website is a shining testament to the work we do. But we had a hard decision to make after all the effort spent on the lighting range. The sad truth was Made by the Forge could not compete with the cheap imports that were coming in to the country thick and fast. “We always wanted to stay 100% British made - which we still are - so we took a step away from lighting and concentrated on what we were best known for,” said Richard. “…world class interior ironwork for the home.”

And as a lovely plus, Made by the Forge’s products were being bought, used and appreciated by those whose identities we are sadly unable to reveal. We worked out that if we could persuade our celebrity clientele to put in a good word, their endorsement might boost sales but our business relationship with all our customers, regardless of their fame, is not something we feel comfortable exploiting. It’s enough to know the work is valued. Made by the Forge’s products have featured in a broad variety of magazines and media. While coverage of the products have been scattered throughout a collection of interiors magazines, we reserve a special pride for articles that feature and celebrate Richard’s skills as an artisan craftsperson. And the magazine Country Living has featured Richard and applauded his talents twice in two very flattering articles. These continue to give the company great credibility in a vastly competitive arena.

Part 4: Growth

So, onwards. Regular customers will know that right from the start at Highview, we made a pledge to plant a tree for every order received. Made by the Forge is growing just as our 12,000 trees planted so far, are growing. As their branches reach for the sky, we too have expanded into a bigger workshop. And with more space comes more opportunities. We are totally committed to the ethos of buying a lifetime guaranteed product just the once. To that end we are currently designing a contemporary Garden Range of ironwork. We’ve also launched designer Chris Eckersley’s new contemporary Bathroom Range. We will also be adding more Kitchen Range products such as ceiling rails enabling you to hang pots and pans from an area of your kitchen you never dreamed could be so useful, practical and stylish. We aim to collaborate with other designers as we expand and we’ve taken on three apprentices to train to the highest standards. Our future will be forged in fire and our work enjoyed in your home for lifetimes. I

It’s been quite a ride. We hope you can join us as part of a growing clientele whose tastes and passions mirror our own. We would be honoured to be the best choice for your interior ironwork needs. Our journey continues... together.

Forge a friendship

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