Helen Holmes has been along to meet Sarah Codrington, founder of The Children's Furniture Company, to chat about beds, paint colours and, er, Go-karting.
From the from the window of her Victorian townhouse, in a bohemian corner of Brixton, South London, Sarah Codrington waves madly. She’d forgotten to mention that there’s no house number on their front door and she’s spotted me wandering around in the street looking confused.
Sarah set up The Children’s Furniture Company in 2002. She had been a high flyer in marketing and branding, but with two children under five she found that all the travelling she had to do was taking her away from home more than she would like. “My company had just won a big account re-branding Aeroflot and I thought ‘I really don’t want to spend the next two years in a grotty hotel in Moscow.’”
At around the same time, Sarah’s husband, Charlie, a furniture designer, had hand made a bed for their eldest son. “It was a really lovely bed,” says Sarah, “and when I looked into it, I realised that there weren’t any companies out there making good quality, non-gimmicky, furniture for children. There was nursery furniture. There were places at the very top end making expensive pieces, and there were companies selling beds in the shape of cars and things like that, but there really wasn’t anything in between.”
So Sarah set aside some money to get the company started and resigned from her job. “The first thing we did was the Ideal Home Exhibition – it was a nightmare! But it was also a good thing, because we only had three months to prepare and it forced us to get everything together.”
Charlie, who had been running his own business since he was 21, making upmarket shaker-style furniture in a workshop in Chelsea, designed the first range (and has designed all subsequent ranges) and they managed to find manufacturers who were prepared to produce small quantities. It’s a testament to the speed of their success that within six months these same manufacturers were unable to cope with the larger volumes that Sarah was ordering.
In fact, the only thing to have suffered from the swift growth of the company is the interior of their Brixton home. “We keep saying we’re going to do it up,” Sarah laughs, “but we’ve been too busy.” In truth, although the house is a little rough around the edges, and peppered with bicycles (Charlie’s second love, after furniture-making, is cycling), there are some really lovely, battered but solid, pieces of furniture around, the paintwork is in muted greys and greens, and it’s all been thrown together with the effortless chic of its naturally stylish owners.
Sarah runs The Children’s Furniture Company from an office at the front of the house, and Charlie has a workshop up the road in Loughborough Junction, where he hand finishes some of the furniture. One of the company’s main aims is to produce furniture which will work for their clients in the long term. The more ‘childish’ elements of their designs – engraved or coloured panels at the head and foot of beds, for instance, can be reversed, or replaced with plain panels to make it suitable for an older child or adult.
In the spirit of customisation, they’ve also recently added a ‘Pic N’Mix’ feature on their website. Here customers can decide exactly which combination of water-based, environmentally friendly paint colours they would like on their furniture, and colour it in, online. “The kids love it!” Says Sarah. “It’s great fun. And I always send a sample of the colours through the post just to make sure people know exactly what they’re getting before we make the finished item.” This is a good thing, as when I have a go I manage to produce a particularly foul colour combination on my first attempt – before Sarah gently steers me in the direction of their suggested palettes.
As well as furniture, the company also produces an old fashioned go-kart. “Our sons wanted one,” explains Sarah, “So Charlie built one. And then a friend suggested that we should sell them, so we did!” The Kombi Kart arrives in bits, for maximum father-son (or mother-daughter) bonding during assembly, and is also currently available in a special Dennis the Menace limited edition, to celebrate 70 years of the Beano.
They might be making serious furniture, but you can’t accuse Sarah and Charlie of lacking a sense of fun. And although Sarah admits that working together can get fraught at times, “We both want to be in charge!” Ultimately it seems to work for the whole family. “Creatively, we’re very good together. We come up with lots of ideas, and Charlie is great at making things happen.”
The only downside for Sarah is her inability to switch off from her beloved business. “I wake up first thing in the morning thinking about work, and if I come in late at night I just have to check my emails before I go to bed.”
The Childrens Furniture Company 020 7737 7303 www.thechildrensfurniturecompany.com