HOW IT WAS ALL MEANT TO BE...
I never really appreciated how quickly time passed until my children were born and I started a business, but as Michael Altshuler says...The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.
During our first year of production I carved every single letter myself! By the second I found myself being pulled in many directions and found that I hardly had a chance to pick up the mallet and chisels. Very soon my family had grown significantly and I was suddenly responsible for a wonderful team of fourteen amazing craftsmen and women.
As I look back, it all stems from the need to produce something unique and special for a good friends birthday. It was a big party for which I hadn't prepared; I found a piece of oak and some rope in my workshop, played around with the tools I had inherited from my father-in-law, and after some time I had an Alice-in-Wonderland-proportioned swing with my friends house name carved on the edge. It was far too large to wrap up with what I had available, so I coiled up the rope on top of the wood (the way we still present them today) and walked into the party. The response not just from the recipient, but also those attending filled me with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
My Father says it was always meant to be… From when I was six and my parents built their own house back in Norway, I said I wanted to become a carpenter. I think I simply took the rather long way round. My last year of studies (and an English boyfriend) brought me to London, I got a job in the City, met my husband and moved to a farm in Elham when our daughter was born 12 years ago. We renovated the farm house and I was finally able to get back to my passion of creating things in wood. On the day of making the first swing I even remembered the skill of rope platting (splicing) that my grandfather taught me as a child. All of these skills, woodworking, rope work, business skills and my passion for creating new and interesting designs now came together.
I feel very privileged to be able to create beautiful things that will be around long after my life time. I try to share a bit of my passion and joy of working with oak and have had numerous school classes visit where we get the chance to show the children how you embrace the beauty of nature to create useful objects. I love seeing their faces when they have turned a rough block of wood into something beautiful that they can take home and be proud of. I think in turn this energises our team at O&R and reminds them why we do what we do.
We know that every single hand carved oak piece we make potentially becomes somebody’s heirloom. It is THAT special present for THE big day. A lot of thought goes into giving someone a present from The Oak and Rope Company, and we have to make sure it is perfect in every way.
When we had to move away from the farm where it all began, I refused to move into a business unit. I simply do not believe that people working in unit 5c on an industrial estate can make the things we do. The love, care and attention that the whole team feels for what we deliver to our customers is invested into every piece. You can not get into that mindset if you are next to a ‘unit’ selling plumbing supplies or car batteries (convenient as this may be). I am of the view that where we are located also makes us who we are… It helps us to be the very best at what we do!
So for a few years we moved to one of the last working Hop Farms in Kent, Lenhall Farm in Bishopsbourne, an area of outstanding natural beauty. Sadly, 18 months ago we had an horrendous fire and the workshop burnt to the ground. It is the sort of experience that really binds a team together and through a lot of hard work we are even bigger and better in our new location at Highland Court Farm, just outside Bridge near Canterbury.
We now have a show room open to visitors in beautiful brick barns dating back to the 1920's. They were built by the person who inspired the story behind Chitty-chitty-bang-bang. In a large barn next to us are a group of artists and poets, a small jam making kitchen, a bee hive specialist and one of the coolest new party venues in Kent, The Night Yard. You simply can't stop being energised and inspired in surroundings like these!
From this small corner of Kent our products are shipped world wide. Royal patrons and famous bottoms are sitting on our swings and benches, there are a couple of our height charts in Alaska and one famous actress made sure anybody who was anybody in Hollywood had one of our cheeseboards under their Christmas tree. We never disclose who our customers are, famous or not! Confidentiality and professional courtesy are bywords for the business.
There have been occasions where we have realised that the same person would receive two garden swings for the same birthday and we have discreetly made alternative arrangements with the clients without spoiling any surprises.
In everything that we do, from the selection of the very best materials to the engraving, sanding and oiling of the finished article, how the present is wrapped and delivered, we recognise the joy and importance of giving and receiving a meaningful gift that carries with it the wow factor.
We even recognise that not everybody can plan ahead, so we also have a fast track option for people like me…