We recently spoke to Duncan from Bespokea as part of our Meet The Forgers’ series. Brilliantly unique in it’s concept, Bespokea is a furniture design business based in Walthamstow, focusing on commissions and great customer service all from his workshop.

We found out how Bespokea came about and what challenges (if any) that Duncan is facing right now.

Tell us about your business 

Bespokea makes great kitchens on a budget with amazing levels of customer service.

When did you set it up and why? 

I began thinking about this business before the banking crash in 2008. I was running a spray finishing business that had mostly trade clients. I realised that a lot of the kitchens that were coming through were actually fronts to fit Ikea units. This was quite a common practise among architects to get a kitchen that looked more expensive than it was.  However, the quality of the doors I was spraying was pretty poor as they tended to be cut from inferior quality materials by builders rather than made by a cabinet maker.  As I happened to be a cabinet maker as well as owning a spray shop, it seemed there was an opening to start a new business making bespoke doors for Ikea units (Hence the name bespoke + ikea = Bespokea).

And there it sat for a long time. The crash was devastating to the industry, I had to finally liquidate the spray business in 2011 and basically got a job for 3 years to support my family. I am not a great employee and made the move back into my own business again in 2015 and set up Bespokea. Having had a  business with employees, large overheads and all the stress that brings, I decided to keep this as a far smaller concern that focused on customer service rather than volume. As such, I make genuinely bespoke kitchens that keep the cost down by using Ikea components as opposed to selling expensive doors that fit Ikea units. Yes, there really is a big difference!

 What kinds of businesses or individuals would you like to connect with through Forge?  

I generally get enough enquiries to keep me busy. However, they have tended to be spread over London. A site visit to Crystal Palace takes up a large part of the day! I want to get more local work and to tap into the creative scene that exists in Walthamstow. Forge seemed to be a good start in achieving this. Although I first set up a workshop back in 1991, we operate in a very different world today.  This was pre-internet and I did my accounts by hand in a ledger. Whilst I am fine with having a website, Instagram and technology in general, there definitely seems to be a different vibe among younger small business owners that I haven’t quite managed to define but want to explore more. As such, I am happy to connect with anybody, but architects and interior designers are the obvious candidates.

What are the challenges and opportunities that your business are currently facing during the pandemic? 

The pandemic has not been overall as bad as it could have been so far. My kitchens tend to be part of a larger project, normally an extension. As such, they were not cancelled, but were put on hold. As I pay reduced business rates I got a grant, I have had one payment of 80% of income and another of 70% to follow. Because its just me in the workshop I have been able to play about with my own projects and generally enjoy making things! In the last few weeks I have picked the delayed contracts up again and have a few more in the pipeline.

How have you had to adapt? What measures did you have to put in place? 

I am much more concerned about the recession that is going to smack into us even harder than the last one.  Already architects that I deal with are seeing a massive decline in enquiries for new projects. Many Eastern European workers left before the lockdown and a lot probably will not come back. Day rates for general labourers have shot up as a result, making building costs much higher. Low interest rates will help, but the general uncertainty will stop people committing to major projects for some time to come.

On the plus side, I have had more people contact me about just replacing their current kitchen as opposed to a full extension. I find that I have to adapt to this by offering even more customer service in terms of sourcing a builder, more input on the design, early site visits, etc.

Tell us something we might not know about you

Something you don’t know…. I always find it astonishing that my grandfather was born in 1868 and so was too old to fight in WW1.

What inspires you? 

Great design, from Chippendale to Eero Aarnio. And Jerry Garcia.

Bespokea join the Forge community as part of the fourth and final edition, Cohort 4.