Mark Gabbertas is one of those names that keeps popping up, as part of our coverage of the Furniture Makers’ Company ‘Design Guild Mark’ we have interviewed him quite few times, in fact he has been awarded a Design Guild Mark for the last 8 years! But we wanted to find out a bit more about what makes Mark click…
Hi Mark, can you introduce yourself for our readers?
I started the Gabbertas Design studio around 18 years ago. The journey leading up to this took many paths. I didn’t go to art college, but instead read political philosophy at Durham University before getting my first job in advertising as a motorbike messenger. I ended up working at Saatchi’s for 8 years before leaving and changing career completely to start as an apprentice cabinet maker in Battersea with a small company, Codrington Furniture, where I learnt the basics of furniture making. I finished my apprenticeship with the Parnham trained and rising stars, Stemmer and Sharp who were based in the feted Oblique Workshops in Dalston, where I also ultimately set up my designer/making business around 1992. There followed 8 years or so operating at a designer/maker at a time when the UK was discovering contemporary design and the environment for our design approach was very favourable.
I didn’t know this before but recently heard you came into furniture design a bit later in life after working in the advertising world, can you tell us what attracted to furniture design?
I always had a keen interest in furniture design and when at school I spent hours in the woodworking department making what now seem strangely prescient pieces. One of those which survived, a coffee table I made around 1976 when I was 14, was reassuringly included in the ‘Making Designers’ exhibition at the SCIN gallery with onOffice as part of Clerkenwell Design Week in 2013. It is quite startling to look at this piece from over 40 years ago and recognise a design language, albeit primitive then, that I still refer to today.
My ability to pursue furniture design practically and intellectually was in effect dormant until I embarked on the training as a cabinet maker at which stage I was able to rekindle the passion for the process and the end result. I had some serious catching up to do and would spend all my spare time in museums and galleries educating myself in historical and contemporary furniture design. I realise now that all this time, my aesthetic was being nurtured and refined and I was on a sort of super-fast self-educating journey.
I was lucky enough to be asked by a friend who was opening a restaurant in Soho to design and make the furniture for it. From this award winning project emerged the 3 degrees chair that was then put into production by Allermuir; my first chair, their first wooden chair, and the start of my collaboration with the pioneering brand. It was at this stage that I moved to my own studio premises in Fulham to concentrate on design projects.
What projects have you been working on lately?
It has been a busy time and a number of projects came to fruition recently on which we had been working for perhaps over three years. In Milan, we launched a number of projects for Gloster, including the William lounge chair, the Maya seating and screen programme and a series of accessories. We have also just launched with Allermuir the Mozaik stool and storage system and most recently the Oran sofa range, which has just been launched in North America at Neocon. For Oasiq, we have just added to the successful Sandur seating and Machar table ranges.
What do you enjoy about working with a mixture of furniture manufacturers?
Every company gives us the opportunity to design from a different perspective. Different markets, geographies, manufacturing processes and challenges, and most of all, different design solutions. We learn from and grow with each project.
What is next for you then?
We are trying to do less, better. We have moved the studio out of London and this is proving very interesting as we take more time to develop a project now. This allows us to put a particular project down and revisit it a few weeks later and this means that we look at it with fresh eyes, whose vision might previously have become somewhat myopic as a function of working in a shorter, very intense way.
The challenge is that we are busier than ever and have perhaps 15 projects going through the Studio at any one time…..these seem to be much bigger, comprehensive system orientated briefs now which naturally require a different approach to that for a single, standalone piece of furniture.
It is interesting that we have some design projects currently which could be termed more domestic in feel, which is a pleasant change of emphasis for us, and also we are working on a self-produced manufacturing intensive project which is a complete departure for us in terms of its logistics, pricing and marketing. We have been working on this for over 5 years now so it has been quite a slow burn.