A CREATIVE couple have turned their hobby of making industrial-style furniture for their own home into a business. Sarah Millington meets them

HE’S slightly embarrassed to admit it but Kevin Cannon has the high-end furniture shop Barker and Stonehouse to thank for starting his own business, Crescent Fifty One. Put off by the price tag on a table, he made the bold claim that he could make something like it himself – only more cheaply. His partner Carrie Clark, who helps run the company, was somewhat sceptical.

“It was about 1,200 quid – it was a really smart coffee table,” explains Kevin, 36. “I said to Carrie that I could make that and she said I couldn’t. She came home from work and I’d been out and bought a welding set, reclaimed wood and all the steel, and I built this table.”

The coffee table no longer graces Kevin and Carrie’s living room, having been replaced by a similar version in American walnut. They now own a house in Gateshead, which acts as a showroom for their furniture, but when Kevin began, around five years ago, it was just making “bits and bobs” for their first flat. They put pictures on social media and Crescent Fifty One (named after their current home, as well as all the Cs in both their names) developed from there.

“We never really intended to start a business but it was people seeing our furniture and saying, ‘I really like that. Can I get one?’,” says Carrie, 29. “The first table went on Facebook and it went crazy. I suppose that was when we started to think it could be a business.”

As orders came flooding in, Kevin found it increasingly difficult to make furniture in his time off from working off-shore as a mechanical technician. Then, around four months ago, he took the plunge and gave up the day job. “I gave up the big bucks for the big dreams,” he laughs. Ultimately, Carrie would love to join him working for the business but for now, she’s still employed as a graphic designer, helping out on evenings and weekends.

Kevin says he’s always been creative. “I think the design thing is just in you,” he says. “I’ve always been into drawing and art and I deejayed for many years. I think I’m a creative person who was trapped in a technical role and I’ve finally broken free. I’ve always done welding and I’ve always had to fix things and make things, so that was second nature for me. I’d done woodwork with my granddad, but it was one of those things I’d never really thought about.”

Carrie, similarly, comes from a creative background; she studied at art college and can sew (she’s currently working on a pistachio velvet chair that stands in the living room). In fact, Kevin says she’s the more creative of the two, admitting that he couldn’t do without her input. Their style is effectively their own taste, with Kevin using wood and steel to make pieces with an unadorned, utilitarian feel. He partly traces this back to his former job, where he was surrounded by metal, and likes the idea of being non-conformist when it comes to home décor.

“When you move into a house, you have to have this and you have to have that, but we’re just trying to go against the rules,” he says. “We love visiting cities for the culture and style of things – just raw and well-made, pleasing to the eye.”

“We absolutely love natural materials and the character that comes out in wood,” adds Carrie. “I bore all my friends now with wood,” Kevin admits. “I’ve started using better quality hardwoods that are not the norm. ‘No veneer in here’ is the phrase. , I would say oak is the most common because it’s sustainable. It’s reliable and it’s stable, and that’s why it’s so popular.”

Carrie estimates that in their kitchen alone, which, like the whole of downstairs, is crammed full of Kevin’s furniture, they have every kind of wood. A feature in the living room is the TV cabinet top, made from pippy elm and with their trademark live edge, when the bark is left on and the wood dried to create an uneven effect.

A special invention of Kevin’s, which Carrie demonstrates, is the “spinner” – a plastic bottle attached to a frame which dispenses dog food for their toffee-coloured labradoodle, Claude. Most of Kevin’s pieces are named after customers. “The industrial table is our bread and butter,” he says. “It’s called Kenny because he came to us with the idea for it.” “As we were making things, a lot of the time it was easier to name the product after the person,” adds Carrie. “With a friend of ours, Leon, it was getting ridiculous.”

While the business may have come about by chance, now that they’ve embarked on it, Kevin and Carrie are keen to safeguard its future. That means staying one step ahead – and recognising that the industrial aesthetic has a limited lifespan. “We’re trying to keep ahead of trends,” says Carrie. “We’re trying to steer our products into a more elegant and high-end style.” “You’ve got to keep moving,” adds Kevin. “When we started this business, we talked to lots of people and said this trend was going to be for four or five years. We want to carry on what we’re doing, but add more luxury fabrics.”

High on the agenda is finding premises – ideally in Ouseburn, Newcastle’s trendy enclave of creative businesses. Kevin, who currently works from his garage and a purpose-built workshop behind the house, is clear about what he wants. “The goal for me would be to have a big warehouse with a bar/coffee shop – kind of like a big unit that’s everything in one, but mainly being able to showcase the furniture,” he says. “Something like Kiln in Ouseburn.”

“If we’re making new concepts, we’ve got nowhere for people to come and view them,” says Carrie. “We often get people wanting to look at products and obviously they have to come to the house.” “It would be nice to be able to separate home life from work, which I find really difficult at the minute,” admits Kevin. “It would be nice to be able to leave work at the workshop.”

Wherever they end up, Claude will be going too – “He’s just going to hang out in the workshop,” laughs Kevin. And however the business progresses, Kevin and Carrie are keen to retain its authenticity. “I would love to get into Fenwick – they seem to be good at taking on new local small businesses,” says Kevin. “We try to keep busy, but we don’t want to go too big and let the quality or the service drop. We like the whole relationship with customers as well. We’re building a massive friend database.”

W: http://www.crescentfiftyone.co.uk