Headed up by Sean Dare, Dare Studio is an award-winning British Design Company producing contemporary furniture and lighting products for the domestic and contract market. Sean's sister and his mother are both involved in the business. Sean's wife is an artist, involved in basic colour selection, fabric selection and curating the exhibitions.
Dare's studio is based in Brighton, so we met for a coffee and several pastries to discuss Dare's success, and the launch of his new chair, Spline.
You participate in a lot of exhibitions?
Yes, 100%, Clerkenwell Design Week, Grand Designs and Decorex in London last year. And I was at Milan last year, although we didn't exhibit.
Were all the shows successful for you?
Clerkenwell was very, very successful for me. The beauty of Clerkenwell Design Week it is that architects and designers are all nearby. They are quite a busy bunch, so this event 'dropped on their doorstep' is a brilliant idea! I'd say two or three of the big contracts we have been involved in have originated from Clerkenwell Design Week.
Did you go to Milan this year?
Not this year, we were too busy. I was going to because I have just designed a range for Herman Miller, but I've had to 'blow it out'. It's a shame because I was going to feel like 'royalty'!
Working for Herman Miller is very exciting?
Yes, it is. It's a modular seating range, very functional as apposed to 'aesthetically defined'. It is a very simple modular seating arrangement that incorporates power sockets so you can sit down in a reception lobby and plug in your laptop.
And how do you feel about the changes to 100% Design?
I felt that last year's was the best they have done in years. They really upped their game and reorganised the spacing of the show. In the last few years the show has lost its definition; you had light switches next to a furniture stand, next to a bathroom fixtures and fittings, hence the reason Media 10 are dividing it into four key areas this year. It will be a busier show at least for the first year, because everyone from the trade is going to go to check it out.
You also exhibited at Grand Designs, an interesting choice of show for Dare?
You obviously get a lot more general public going to that show. I don't sell very much, but it's all about getting the Dare Studio name out there.
And you've worked with Conran?
Yes, we got two products into Conran, and I've designed some products for Conran since. But for me the retail side of the business is an interesting one.
So who would you like to collaborate with, that you haven't already?
Aston Martin has approached me recently to talk about a range of branded products, which is very exciting.
Which other British Designers do you admire?
Well, obviously Russell Pinch, the integrity of his work is fantastic. I am also friends with the Deadgood boys who were helpful when I was thinking about going it alone. I met with them a few times before I set up the studio, hungry for information on how they did it and all that sort of thing. Also Decode London - I went to them a lot for advice prior to starting up too. I also admire Modus - I was at school with Ed Richardson so I've been watching his career with interest.
So furniture designers are a friendly bunch?
I'd say in the contemorary furniture spectrum, that yes they are. The young, fresh talent has brought with it a young, fresh attitude. Whereas the more traditional furniture industry is run by the 'old school' still, resisting new blood coming into the company.
The market has shifted, certainly during my career. In the past the UK market has been dominated by traditional, transitional furniture and probably still is, because it's accessible and fits into most decors. Whereas I do think the contemporary side is growing, Ikea has helped, and the awful 'do it yourself' home programmes on television.
You grew up in Zambia?
Yes, I was born in Kabwe. My father used to work for the mines, so I was there until I was about six. I don't remember much about it, but I have been back a fair few times, which has encouraged memories.
Your new chair Spline has just won the Design Guild Mark?
That was a strange experience; this was the first year they have allowed the designers to present their work and I was one of the last three to present. The judging process was very long, so the panel of judges were tired and hungry by the time it was my turn, so I did it all in about 30 seconds. I could see the look of relief on their faces that my presentation was so short!
Has Spline been a commercial success?
It's early days, but we have received a lot of press for the chair, and we have just kitted out The Royal Obidos, the Seve Ballesteros premier golf course in Portugal with Spline Chairs. The interiors were by Jade Jagger as part of Yoo. I sent pictures of the chair by email and they immediately said 'yes, we'll have those'!
Tell me about the Jon Snow modernist chair you designed as part of Liberty National Treasures?
That was a great project and Liberty is a wonderful store to work with. It would have been even better if they had been able to gather all the celebrities including Paul Smith, Ian Rankin, and Tracey Emin to the launch. That would have given the event the gusto it needed and ultimately led to far more sales.
And are all you products made in the UK?
We would like to keep everything in the UK, but if a restaurant requested 50 chairs for delivery in six weeks, it would kill my workshop to do that, so I also use a manufacturer in Slovenia, they are geared up for quick turnarounds and the quality is very good.
A holiday would be nice! I said at the beginning of the year that I was only going to do two product launches this year, and already we are creeping up to the ninth and we're expecting another baby in June, so we're keeping busy!
And is your house full of beautiful iconic furniture?
No, my house is full of dodgy old prototypes that aren't comfortable because they were the first generation, so people come to my house and say "oh have you designed this?" and I'll say "yes, but it's changed quite a lot since then…!"
If money were no object, what piece would you buy for yourself?
Well, like most people I used to be Eames number one fan, but all the copies are ruining it for me now. Saying that I'd still love an original Eames lounge chair. However, if I had a big budget what I would do is design all the furniture myself and get it made. How egocentric is that?
I've already bought some of Russell Pinch's furniture; the little fold-out stool so my daughter can stand on it and brush her teeth. So yes, I'd buy something from Russell, Matthew Hilton and an Eames chair. For some time I've wanted to treat myself to a Flos Lamp, the one that bolts on to the wall and is nicely cantilevered, so I'll have one of those too.
Annalisa Hammond – Editor