Cord Industries creates high-performance furniture “like they did in the good old days. When an item’s only design criteria was to work perfectly and last forever.” We had the pleasure to chat with founder Dave about his design inspiration and philosophy, how Cord came about as well as exciting plans for the future…
So let’s get down to it, when did you decide to start your own business? Phil and I started Cord Industries down here in Cornwall in 2014 as a way to supplement our income from the speciality coffee company we both worked at. Phil left the company early in 2015 for a really exciting position in London so by the time that summer came around I thought it seemed like a good time to take Cord Industries forward, full time, on my own.
What’s your background and how did you get here? That’s a very long story but to cut it short I’ve always been interested in metalwork as well as designing and making things. I studied engineering at college, at home in North Wales, and was working on the bar part-time in a nightclub for extra cash and I totally loved it. I found myself pursuing a career in that instead and by the time I turned 29 I was in Cornwall managing the bar at a Michelin star restaurant in one of the top hotels on the north coast. My bar had won its class in an ‘Imbibe’ magazine hotel bar awards, I was a UK Barista championship semi-finalist, my cocktails had got me into a Diageo world-class final (a HUGE cocktail competition) but I was desperate to get off the front line. The long and antisocial hours were starting to get the better of the passion I still very much had for working behind the bar.
Just when I was ready to walk away a local coffee roaster who I had got to know through competing in the UK Barista champs called me up and offered me a 9-5 job as a barista trainer. I totally jumped at it. That was in 2010 and that’s when I got to know Phil. He shared my love of designing and making things however his expertise was in woodwork.
So, in 2014 he needed a dining table and benches for he and his wife’s new house so he asked me if I could make a set of hairpin legs for him. I made the legs, Phil made the top and that was the very first Cord Industries table. We thought it looked absolutely boss so we took some pictures and put them on some marketplace websites to see if we could sell a few. And slowly but surely we did. By the time Phil left for London in 2015 it was clear we were on to something but it was a long way from being a genuinely viable business. It was still a long way off that when I gave up work a few month later! But the time just seemed right.
What’s been your biggest highlight so far? Can I have two?
Of course, you can! First – the day I put in my notice in in work. My only work booked for that day was barista training with a really good local wine merchant, on their premises in the morning. It was a beautiful summer’s day, I emailed in my notice before I left the house and went off to do the training. When we were finished I asked if he had any recommendations for a really good bottle of bubbles. I can’t even remember what it was now but I took the bottle straight home and cooked a nice lunch with Lou, my partner. We sat in the garden toasted the future and took the rest of the day off.
Second – the Updater Commission in New York. Everything about that job was incredible. For a tiny, tiny company like Cord, jobs like that are what you dream of. Updater is an American company that helps people move houses or offices They handle all the mail forwarding, transfer of accounts and utilities etc. As it happened, this time it was they who were moving offices. Not just down the street but to a full-floor penthouse, in pretty much dead-centre Manhattan. The order itself was pretty big, 26 bar stools and a coffee table all in cherry-wood and the guys at Updater were just a total joy to deal with, really straightforward and relaxed. It just had everything you want all rolled into one order. Good money, prestige, lovely client, top spec on materials, everything.
Can you take us behind your design process? I only have a few rules.
- No timbers that appear on any endangered lists
- No sourcing from developing countries
- Use both wood and steel
- Make it strong
And I always consider
- What’s the simplest solution?
- Cost/speed of production (bearing in mind the rules, I also don’t want to be too exclusive, you can’t change the world by selling only to the richest 10%)
- Cost of transportation
What are your favourite materials to work with? No prizes for guessing it’s wood and steel. If I had to pick a favourite a timber I would have to go for walnut. It ticks all the boxes a quality hardwood needs to. Its normal colour is an absolutely sumptuous kind of chocolate colour but sometimes we see some utterly breathtaking boards with a slight burgundy or purplish hue to them. The grain too is pretty special, generally straight, but occasionally we see boards with the most outrageous swirling, meandering grain patterns and some very striking knots and features. It’s very expensive and hence uncommon, so getting to work with it is like a special treat!
What do you believe makes good design? I’m fascinated by the idea that beauty is virtue of good function, not something that needs to be designed. Any product that works perfectly is inherently beautiful, no matter what its actual form is. We see this most strikingly in the natural world where there is a complete lack of conscious ‘design’. Only the perpetual and completely random trial and error of evolution is what dictates the form of everything in the natural world.
Every organism, from a single cell to apex predators is perfectly suited to perform its task as part of a greater ecosystem. Was physical beauty ever even a consideration? Of course not, but the beauty is undeniable. With that in mind, to me, it’s also what underpins the old design adage, ‘form follows function’. Design something that works perfectly and forget about the looks. If you nail the function and create a product that does exactly what it is supposed to do, every time, forever, people will find it beautiful.
Who’s your favourite designer? Sorry! I’m going to pick a car designer. Colin Chapman. He founded the Lotus formula one team in the fifties and subsequently Lotus road cars. Few designers, in any field, can claim to have left such an indelible mark on their industry. Without boring you with the engineering details in 1962 he unveiled the Lotus 25 F1 car. It marked the AD to BC of race car design, that is to say, every existing car was instantly obsolete and every single car since, right up to the present day, has copied the fundamentals of the design. So many of his designs contained ideas or principles that were utterly groundbreaking, at the time but have since become the norm. Think of him like one of those very early Greek mathematicians. To the rest of humanity, the earth was quite clearly flat. But at the time, outrageously maverick thinking showed us something that is now universally understood. He was just as forward thinking as a business-man too. He was the first guy to bring commercial sponsorship liveries into motorsport and he founded a company making Lotus road cars so he could ‘cash in’ for want of a better phrase on the strength of the brand he had built in F1. A practice pioneered by Ferrari but crucially Chapman’s cars were much cheaper and more accessible to the everyday enthusiast Also, they were ‘self-assembly’ kit cars. Flat-pack if you will.
And what inspires you? My background in engineering, a mechanic father and the sort of competitive nature that comes from being a twin has left me hopelessly addicted to motorsport. Going back to what I was saying earlier about the natural world has no concern with looks, thoroughbred race cars are perhaps the best example of this within the man-made world. The guys who design these cars are concerned only with pure performance yet the cars they design, particularly those of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s are probably the most beautiful cars ever created. I often liken those cars to birds of prey, they are inherently very stocky and powerful yet graceful and elegant at the same time. To me, race cars are proof that you can ignore looks and still create something beautiful.
Do you have a favourite piece? If I have to pick one of mine it has to be the bar-chairs. It’s a really nice mix of wood and steel, It’s super strong. The back-rest is completely modular. And it’s our best seller!
So what’s next in the pipeline for you? I have a design for a triangular section, sheet steel leg that will have separate cast-aluminium feet. I need to get some funds raised as the set-up costs for cast components are really high. The cast feet can be electroplated silver, copper, rose-gold etc. Whatever works well with the powder coat colour on the rest of the leg. I’ll also add a solid 2-3mm veneer of the same wood as the table top running up the back of the leg. The triangular cross-section will make it incredibly strong but it should also have a really cool mix of colours, finishes and textures. And the possible combinations of those colours finishes and textures are pretty much endless.
Thanks so much Dave for taking the time to answering our questions so thoughtfully!
You can check out all of Cord’s high-performance furniture here.
All images by Cord Industries.