Out Of The Box: A Revival In British Craftsmanship

Out Of The Box: A Revival In British Craftsmanship

Trained in interior architecture and previously the interiors editor of WGSN, Ali Morris has spent over a decade writing about design for titles such as Kinfolk, Wallpaper and Dezeen. 

“With each piece we make, we ask ourselves ‘how can we create an object that tells somebody as much about Purdey as possible through its design and craftsmanship?’” says Luke Wycherley, an experienced maker and managing director of Little Halstock, the bespoke cabinetry company that produces some of the most beautiful objects in the Purdey collection.

Wycherley has built his business on boxes – but these are no ordinary boxes. Produced at Little Halstock’s West Dorset workshop, each exquisitely crafted piece is decorated using the art of marquetry, where wood veneers are sawn into a pattern and then assembled like a jigsaw. It’s a technique that can be traced all the way back to artefacts from Ancient Egypt, evolved through 16th- and 17th-century Europe, and today it’s synonymous with hundreds of hours of design, passion and craft, imbued with thousands of years of heritage and artisanship. 

“The thing that people don’t realise about boxes, is that they have to be absolutely perfect,” says Wycherley, surveying the details of the Audley House Marquetry Humidor – the first piece Little Halston produced for Purdey at the start of their collaboration in 2016. “The client can physically pick them up, see them 360 degrees and interact with them, so in their simplicity, there's no room for error. You’d be amazed at the investment of time, skill and precision. Every piece, no matter the scale, goes through five quality control checks, to make sure it’s up to standard.”

Made from more than 500 finely cut pieces of burr walnut, European walnut, sycamore, madrone, pear, ash, lacewood and mother of pearl, the humidor is an ode to Audley House, Purdey’s iconic London home. Each one takes a Little Halstock master craftsman 90+ hours to complete and captures the detail of the storied building all the way down to the WWII bomb damage, which is still visible on the marble pillars in front of the entrance. The interior is lined with Spanish cedar with a Xikar humidifier and gauge that ensures cigars are kept at the correct humidity. Engineered hinges stop the lid at precisely 95 degrees.

As well as marquetry boxes, the studio produces everything from bespoke cabinetry for high-end residential projects and yacht interiors to one-of-a-kind luxury gifts. In Beaminster – a Dorset town once home to Parnham College, the world-famous design school created by pioneering designer John Makepeace – Little Halstock has 15 staff working across three 9000-square-foot workshops. The first workshop, dedicated to production, is run by a team of six cabinet makers; the second is where all finishing, gilding, leather, veneer and metal work takes place; and the third is where the finished high-value pieces – most worth over £100,000 – are stored. “Undertaking this many skills in-house is only possible thanks to our multiskilled makers, who we are very fortunate to have,” says Wycherley.

Born and raised in the area, Wycherley trained as a cabinet maker, but when he left college at the age of 17 he struggled to find an apprenticeship. It’s an experience that has stuck with him and why he shares an affinity with Purdey in his motivation to reinvigorate British craft and skilled trades. “This country isn't very good at supporting craftsmanship or small businesses who want to get apprentices,” he laments. As a team, Little Halstock visits at least five schools a year, introducing the younger generation to the unique materials, skills and projects that they work with. 

Little Halstock is also part of Ateliers de France, the professional network that brings together more than fifty Houses working in heritage restoration and exceptional projects. Through this alliance, Wycherley has been able to glimpse how craftsmanship and skilled trades are perceived in Europe compared to Britain on the whole – there’s a marked contrast. “When you go into workshops in Europe, you see generations of craftspeople there, people who are proud to call themselves master carvers, cabinet makers or fine decorators,” he notes. 

Through his work, Wycherley is determined to bring more of this sense of pride to the UK, so that his team can not only continue to make beautiful objects, but pass their skill and passion for making onto a new generation of talent. It’s a sentiment that aligns completely with the Purdey philosophy – the proof of collaboration that places tradition and craft at its heart is in the marquetry boxes themselves.