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Designer Bethan Gray Ella has several customisable elements, including the legs, and the choice of a plain or buttoned back The curvaceous Ella range for WorkHouse, signalGray’s move into the contract market Carve, a coffee table made under Gray’s G&T label, a collaboration with Thomas Turner
20 Nov 2014

Bethan Gray brings a homely touch to contract design

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The Welsh-born, London-based designer is satisfying demand for contract furniture with a homely touch with a new range for WorkHouse

Designer Bethan Gray has made quite an impact on the industry since launching her first solo collection two years ago. Formerly the design director of Habitat, Gray's self-produced boutique collections have earned her laudations as one of Britain's most exciting new designers, and she has collaborated with Harrods, Lapicida, Yoo Home and John Lewis. With the Ella range for WorkHouse, she's turned her hand to contract furnishings, so onoffice met up with her at the launch.

What inspired the range?
It's an upholstery collection that's homely and warm and contemporary, but is fit for purpose for contract space as well as the home. So there's an armchair, two-seater and three-seater, but we can do modular pieces as well. There's a plain or padded back, and the curvaceous leg or plain rounded leg, which can match the colour of the upholstery. The idea is to have elements of modularity and customisation.

It clearly doesn't have the traditional contract furniture look...
Yes, that's why WorkHouse approached me. They wanted a softer alternative to upholstery in the contract market. Plus, it's something that they needed for some of their own projects.

How did the collaboration process go?
The design direction was very clear from the start, and it helps to have that clarity. I did four or five designs, which we honed down; that's when we decided on including the different options. The range is made to order in the UK, so they can offer that kind of customisation. Then we went on a factory visit together to work on the detailing, and I had my six-week-old baby at the time, so he was the first tester of the comfort! It was a great collaboration and it's worked out well in quite a short space of time.

How short are we talking?
I can't actually remember when we finalised the drawings but the first sample was done a couple of weeks ago. Which is nice, because in furniture quite often it can be two years before you see the range, so it's good to see it turned around so quickly.

Do you consider this a new avenue for you as a designer, since your work is not usually contract-focused?
It's funny, because with my boutique collection we have a lot of pieces that go to hotels and some offices as well, so I think there's more of a need in the market to have warmer contemporary pieces instead of only hard-lined, harsh contemporary things. I think it's something that's evolved naturally, because the market wants it.

What are you working on at the moment?
I've got a pop-up in Harrods showing new pieces including a console. We've got a new dining table with marble top, and a chair, mirrors and a tray table. Then there's a range for John Lewis that has just launched, called Genevieve. It's made from brass, solid wood and marble, so it's nice to be able to use those materials at more affordable prices.

What do you think it is about your particular style that is standing out in such a busy market?
I love using natural materials that have warmth. Obviously there's a lot of that in the classic area already, so perhaps it's because the contemporary market wants more warmth in their designs.

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