Rural Dorset cottage showcasing Britain's finest craft
PUBLISHED: 09:02 29 December 2014 | UPDATED: 14:20 25 March 2015
(C)2008 Peter Booton Photography, all rights reserved
Mark Henderson set up The New Craftsmen to celebrate and promote some of Britain's finest craft makers. His rural Dorset cottage provides the perfect backdrop to showcase some remarkable pieces from this collection
After renting properties in Lulworth, Milton Abbas and Tolpuddle for more than ten years, Mark and Fenella Henderson bought their present home in the lea of one of Dorset’s great hillforts 20 years ago. During the week they both work in London – Mark is Chairman of Gieves & Hawkes, No: 1 Savile Row and of The New Craftsmen, but most weekends the couple escape back to their rural Dorset home. “When we come over the hill on a Friday evening you can just see the cottage tucked in, and it looks absolutely stunning,” says Fenella.
The two-up, two-down cottage had been previously ‘done up’, but not to the taste of its new owners. “So we waited for a while and then got planning consent to double the size of the property,” explains Mark. “We’ve got a friend who is an architect and she designed the basic layout for us.” By adding a two-storey extension at one end of the building the Hendersons gained a new, much larger sitting room separated from the existing kitchen by a slate tiled informal dining area, as well as extra bedroom space on the first floor.
Mark takes up the story: “Then we went out and found a few pieces like the old beam in the sitting room which looks as if it’s been there for a couple of hundred years. But in fact it came from a reclamation yard where we also found a lovely stone fireplace for the room. Just those two features alone ended up making that room, really. All the doors are stripped pine and they also came from Wells Reclamation in Somerset.” Fenella adds, “The lovely thing is that because the cottage is our little bit of weekend luxury it’s an indulgence, really, so you can surround yourself with the odd lovely thing you like. That’s what it’s all about, picking up bits and bobs as you go along.”
The Hendersons have also spent many long hours transforming the sharply sloping hillside garden surrounding the cottage. “We created the garden from scratch,” says Mark. “We hired a local man with a digger and he dug out about 1,000 flatbed truck-loads of earth to the top of the hill. And then we really just built it up from there. The actual putting together of the garden and the building of the steps and the terraces is all our own handiwork. We’ve planted every tree, pounded the earth down and laid the lawn, too. It’s been a lot of hard work,” he adds. “The garden is a labour of love!”
Finding lovely items for their Dorset home was never going to be a problem for the Hendersons. Mark is passionate about high quality craftsmanship and in 2012 he co-founded The New Craftsmen which represents a selection of the finest craft makers in the British Isles. “I’ve worked in the luxury goods industry all my life, which is all about craftsmanship – beautifully made objects. I’d been working with individual craftsmen for about ten years and I’d mentored shoe-makers and a weaver,” he reveals. “Many craftsmen live in remote places and hate selling and marketing themselves. So the idea behind The New Craftsmen was to set up an umbrella brand that would represent the best in British craftsmanship.”
After reviewing over 1000 makers, Mark and his team approached 30 craftspeople initially and they all said, ‘yes’. “That was absolutely fantastic, so we had our dream selection to start with. Since then we’ve been adding to that selection and our goal is to get to about 150, but we can only take a few at a time. We do have a point of view that they have to be very high quality and fit in with our stable because we represent them to interior designers and architects, etc. And if they want something unique or unusual for their clients then they can have it made,” he adds.
The New Craftsmen currently represents over 75 of the finest craft makers throughout the British Isles, spanning from Cornwall to Orkney, who produce a wide range of crafts from small gift items such as glassware and jewellery through to ceramics and furniture.
Among the beautiful and functional items from The New Craftsmen which adorn Mark and Fenella’s home is a luxuriously soft and rare sheepskin rug sustainably produced on North Ronaldsay by Isle of Auskerry, a business family-run by the sole occupants of this remote, northernmost Orkney island. “The sheep eat seaweed and are unique in that their fleeces are completely symmetrical, which is rare in the animal world,” says Mark. Alongside the fleece, on the slate-tiled floor of the dining area, is a Hamylin leather back chair designed by London-based Gareth Neal in collaboration with renowned experts in leather craftsmanship Bill Amberg Studio. This eye-catching chair combines Windsor-style vernacular oak with an oak-bark tanned leather back which was cured in Britain’s last surviving oak-bark tannery.
Flying the flag for craftsmanship in our county is West Dorset potter Tim Hurn, who was apprenticed to Bernard Leach’s eldest grandson at his Mulcheney pottery on the Somerset Levels. Tim specialises in wood-fired salt glaze pottery ranging from eggcups to cider jugs which he produces in his own-built Anagama ‘cave’ kiln.
The superb work of another renowned Dorset craftsman, furniture-maker Jamie Ross of Sturminster Newton, takes pride of place in the dining room. Jamie’s semi-contemporary dining table with curved ends is made from local oak and, as well as being beautifully figured, the top and legs display detailed brown oak cross-banding.
Other exquisite glassware, textiles, block prints and woven basket-work from all over the British Isles certainly add much interest to the cottage’s charming interior. Isn’t it time you invited the finest British craftsmen into your home?
The New Craftsmen
Founded in 2012 by Mark Henderson, Natalie Melton (a former commercial director of arts and business), and Catherine Lock (a product, trend and brand developer) The New Craftsmen works with a selection of Britain’s finest craft makers to showcase the materials, skills and craft products of the British Isles. The brand represents a vision of sustainable, real luxury, expressed through dedication to materials, method and design. Its ethos ‘resides in artisanship, traditional skills and craft being used in contemporary ways…’
The work of selected craftsmen was first showcased in two pop-up locations in Mayfair. Crafts are now available online at thenewcraftsmen.com and from a new retail shop in Mayfair (not far from Selfridges) at 34 North Row, London W1K 6DG. Tel: 020 7148 3190
Dorset craftsmen featured in the piece
• Tim Hurn, Potter: Home Farm House, Bettiscombe, Bridport DT6 5NU | Tel: 01308 868171 timhurn.co.uk
• Jamie Ross Furniture: The Hatchery, Peaceful Lane, Sturminster Newton, DT10 2BD | Tel: 07970 124527 jamierossfurniture.co.uk