A talented furniture designer has relocated from London to North Yorkshire. He tells Ruth Campbell how it turned out to be a good move, both for his family and his business

Within days of relocating from London to North Yorkshire, celebrated furniture designer Jake Phipps recalls breathing an enormous sigh of relief. He and his family had barely finished unpacking at their period farmhouse beside the River Tees when Jake, who, as the son of an army officer and artist mother led something of a nomadic childhood, felt that he could, at last, put down roots.

“I think this is the first time I can genuinely say ‘This is my home’,” says the designer whose award-winning furniture, with prices of up to £25,000, sits in galleries, upmarket hotels, stately homes and royal palaces throughout the world.

Some of Jake’s best-known pieces include metallic-lined light shades made from bowler and top hats. Elegant yet witty, and inspired by a surrealist painting, this was the idea which launched his career worldwide.

But not one to stand still, he went on to surprise with a series of increasingly innovative, eye-catching creations, from a dazzling, futuristic-looking table with a multi-faceted reflective surface clad in 900 individual shards of mirror-polished steel, to a black lacquered cabinet encrusted with gold-plated barnacles.

And the beautiful rural landscape he is now surrounded by, close to the historic market town of Barnard Castle, is already inspiring a stunning new collection of coloured resin pieces, due to be launched this month.

In search of a larger workshop, from where he could manufacture his own products, Jake was lured to this part of the country just over two years ago by his wife Mel, who grew up in the area. The couple, who used to live in a three-bedroom terraced house in Battersea, moved into this six-bedroom rented North Yorkshire farmhouse when the youngest of their two sons was just a few weeks old.

Set on one acre of land and looking out on open countryside, it’s a far cry from the London life they were used to. “We are just a hundred metres from the River Tees, there are sheep grazing just a few metres from our door and our two-year-old learnt to ride his bike within two weeks of being here,” says Jake.

Mel, who now works in the business with her husband, says: “It’s lovely to come home and get to know the area again. I love the boys growing up in a community where everyone knows everyone else.”

Another benefit of moving North has been discovering a highly-skilled workforce on their doorstep. As well as using local steel fabricators and coach builders for the metal finishing and component work for his latest creations, such as the Flux - a heavy glass-topped table supported by a sinuous coil of braided brass wire - Jake also offers internships to students from the School of Design at Northumbria University. “For my apprentices, it’s not about cabinet-making and dovetail joints; my work involves so many different materials and processes,” he says.

The couple’s recently refurbished light and airy home provides the perfect setting for Jake’s designs. Two playful Tweetie brass pendant lights hang above the kitchen island, while the Jeeves bowler hat light, which sells for £197, hangs in the boot room.

“Mel has a very good eye for interior design,” Jake points out. “I am forever coming home to discover new plans of hers. At the moment it’s putting panelling in the hallway, a weekend project for me.”

Jake’s polished brass stools, inspired by empty ammunition shells, add a touch of modernity to the otherwise traditional and formal sitting room, which also houses a few inherited pieces from his grandmother. Above the fireplace, Jake’s Stellar mirror, with its crystalline-like surface of multi-faceted polished steel, adds drama: “It’s based on the interior of an amethyst geode, reflecting and sparkling, breaking down the light,” explains Jake. He combines artistry with functional, practical design. “A lot of what I do is very sculptural, I am a furniture maker at heart, but I guess I am an artist too,” he says.

Son of the renowned equestrian painter Susan Crawford, he resisted going to art school: “I realised at an early age I didn’t want to follow in my mother’s footsteps,” he says. While Jake’s painter sister Jemma is known for her portraits of the Queen and other royal family members, he says: “I enjoyed making things rather than painting. That was the path I chose.”

After Sherborne School in Dorset, Jake, now 42, studied estate management before enrolling on a two-year cabinet making course. When all the furniture he made for his graduation show at the John Makepeace Parnham School of Design sold out, he set up his own business, making one-off tables and cupboards for private clients.

His first big break came in 2007, when the Duke of Devonshire asked him to build a small breakfast table which could be extended to seat 22. The resulting circular table of rippled sycamore with a silver trim and twisted base was such a big hit the Duke went on to buy more of Jake’s pieces for his stately pile, Chatsworth House.

That encouraged Jake to develop his work further. But the design he is most proud of, a black, lacquered folding chair which the leading Gebruder Thonet furniture manufacturer agreed to produce, was also, he says, his biggest mistake. Priced at nearly £300, it didn’t sell well and the patent was costly. “A lot of time and effort went into it but it was too heavy and expensive,” he says. “I learnt a lot from that.”

But success followed with his bowler hat light, which was inspired by the Belgian surrealist painting by Rene Magritte and attracted high-profile customers including Tommy Hilfiger, Philippe Starck, Intercontinental Hotels and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Pushing the boundaries with his pioneering metalwork, Jake went on to use laser cutters to create the jewel-like surfaces which evolved into his highly sought-after Stellar consoles, mirrors and screens, some of which have been bought by members of the Saudi royal family.

With the business enjoying steady growth Mel, who has a background in sales, recently stepped in to take charge of business development and client relationships. And they clearly make a good team. “It’s working out well as we’ve got different strengths,” says Jake.

His latest coloured resin designs take their inspiration from the cycle rise to his workshop in nearby Richmond. “When you get to the top at Richmond, it’s a fantastic view, looking back, with the most inspired colourings and chromatic changes during the course of the day.”

All in all, it’s been a good move.

W: http://jakephipps.com