Can you tell us a brief history of Restoration Station and how your own experiences led you to start/join the company?
RS was the inspiration of Sheona Alexander who was running SCT’s addiction recovery programme a few years ago. Students on the woodwork course were repairing and restoring donated furniture under tutor Bernard’s expert guidance.
Like me, Sheona’s a big fan of mid-century furniture and knew that trendy folk were wandering past the back door of the workshop scouting out vintage goodies in neighbouring shops. She put two and two together and came up with a great social enterprise model that gives students the chance to learn more skills, get work experience and build confidence in our shop/workshop.
It also has built in environmental benefits as we intercept furniture from the waste stream. What’s not to like? I joined shortly after - initially to help with branding and communications.
I love workshops and making with wood, maybe because my parents were self-building a timber framed house during much of my childhood. I studied a post grad in sustainability and spent a year volunteering with social enterprises in Mumbai. Added to which I get maybe a little too excited about beautiful objects from the 20th century.
When Sheona took a career break I jumped up and down with both hands in the air asking to cover her manager role. I was delighted to step in and that Sheona was happy for me to carry on after her return.
Can you tell us the most moving experience that you've had through Restoration Station?
There have been many. Bernard gave a new trainee a wooden rocking chair and a sheet of sandpaper. When he returned two hours later, I expected complaints about the dull task. Instead he said that it was amazing to be so immersed in an activity that meant his head wasn’t ‘on at him’ for two hours straight - the first time in months he’d experienced relief from his harshly critical inner dialogue.
Abuse and trauma lie behind many people’s addictions. It was explained to our team during training that it’s not always possible to process these experiences verbally - especially if they occurred during childhood. Creative ‘right brain’ activities enable people to work through this distress non-verbally.
There’s such injustice in the long term consequences of abuse, seeing that the restoration work is helping people to move on from such troubling experiences is profoundly heartening.
A former trainee was with Restoration Station nearly two years. Diligent, capable, hard working, reliable - but finding a break to make the big step into work was still tough. We did interview training with him, gave a CV workshop, wrote references, arranged coaching. He had interviews, a couple of try-outs, but still no joy. I could see he was losing heart and had to accept the reality that it’s hard for anyone to get into a new trade. Then one Friday he told me he’d been offered a job. It still makes me happy to think he eventually got the break that he deserved.
The launch party for our London Design Festival exhibition in 2017 was amazing. Furniture designer/maker/artist Yinka Ilori ran workshops with our trainees who re-invented 10 vintage chairs. Yinka brought along a beautiful range of colours from which students selected their palette, and he was just brilliant at enabling our trainees to express themselves in the work. The finished chairs were amazing - such character and artistry. The reception in the press was phenomenal - and international.
But what made it for me was the smile on the face of one of the students at the launch party - a combination of delight and long held beliefs being confounded by the event and all the compliments his work had earned. His sense of self seemed to be shifting.
All credit to the team of volunteers at creative agency Zetteler who introduced us to Yinka, managed that whole project and roped in loads of willing and gifted folk from their incredible network to make it such a success.
Along with restoring and upcycling, do you also design and make your own furniture?
We take on commissions for bespoke pieces, and make homewares: chopping boards from locally grown London plane, and beautiful oak spatula’s with a blackened burnt edge. The latter comes courtesy of designer-maker, Heather Scott. She delivered a brilliant workshop on a visit to London and taught our team the scorching technique. She followed up by sharing her spatula design with Restoration Station and even sending over a huge box of oak ‘blanks’. Amazing!
We’ve got a really exciting commission on right now for Something & Son, making 45 stools for their installation in the Tate Britain garden this summer. The concept has a focus on growing medicinal and edible plants in spaces where community can thrive.
Our stools’ seats are made from chopping boards, promoting re-use and upcycling and tying in with the food theme. Something & Son have given us access to the Makerversity workshops at Somerset House so that we can produce the required volume and quality. It’s a fantastic place to work and our trainees are enthused by the whole process - learning new skills and getting to grips with more professional machinery than we can fit into our little workshop.
It’s a stretch to deliver this number of units in a short timeframe (cutting and sanding 180 legs, drilling and countersinking 540 holes…) but our experienced trainer Laurence is rising to the task with his usual combination of panache and equanimity.
What is your favourite Restoration Station product?
The shop is dangerous territory for me - I fall for the charms of furniture too easily. I spent an uncomfortable fortnight bracing myself to be separated from a pair of ‘60s Danish teak dining chairs with petrel blue hopsack seats displayed in the shop. Eventually my resistance crumbled and they’re now safely installed in my bedroom. I have no regrets, they are so beautifully crafted - they bring me joy every day. Plus, like so much of our stock, they were a bargain.
Of what’s in the shop right now, I have a love/hate relationship with a ‘60s dentist lamp. It’s a terrifying great thing with 5 heads! It has a beautifully made dimmer with a dial set in a big cast aluminium sphere. It would look stunning in the right interior, which on this occasion is not my home..
What do you think makes a good company?
Positive impact and...good company! The team and how we get on together defines our experience at work, and colours that of our customers. Plus so many other things, but those two are a good start.
Can you describe your workplace?
Creative, restorative, future-proof. It’s about people and it’s about recovery, so very positive and friendly. We care about each other and our customers, while restoring and making lovely things that might just help the world survive the madness of consumerism.
What is your life motto?
Umm, haven’t had one til now, But as you’ve made me think about it, probably ‘make the world a better place’.
What's next for Restoration Station?
Our stools will be gracing the gardens of the Tate Britain from June 22nd - please take a seat (they’ll be for sale).
We’re looking forward to a new venture running workshops for people who aren’t in recovery to learn restoration skills and make their own homewares.
Plus it’s June, which in retail land means…Christmas! We’ll be making batches of homewares in advance: our chopping boards in locally grown London plane, Heather’s oak spatulas with burnt edges – and maybe some new designs…
Check out more of restoration station here - restorationstation.org.uk