Posted by: njs44 | August 27, 2010

Benchmark

How rare it is these days to buy something from the person who made it. I was fortunate yesterday to visit a place where they make furniture, from start to finish. Benchmark Furniture is a small company in Berkshire which produces some very beautiful pieces, and the entire process takes place on this one site. We were shown the timbers piled up, drying. The planks still had the bark on the edges. There were some pieces of bog oak, carbon dated as 5,000 years old. There was the largest (as in longest) piece of oak the director of the company (who showed us round) had ever seen, which was used to make a table for an Oxford College. There were other pieces of timber at various stages of drying, seasoning, waiting to be made into tables, chairs, and other items.

The company is small, which has the advantage that the managers know everyone who works there. As he took us round, the boss stopped to talk to people, praising them for their work, thanking them for their efforts, enquiring about what they were doing, in a friendly, interested way. It seemed to me a wonderful model of what manufacturing should be. Craftsmanship, care, attention to detail, humanity – all things that are missing in so many areas of business these days.

We saw the places where the wood is treated, where upholstery is done, where they store discarded things, in the hopes of it being recyclable. We saw a huge order for the Library of a famous Public School just about to be despatched in time for the beginning of term. We sat on chairs, and sofas, stroked the lovely wood of tables and benches, drank in the atmosphere of a place where beautiful treasures are made.

And then, at the end of our tour, he showed us the 500-year-old Oak tree in the centre of the site. It is a living link with the source of their work, a link to the earth, a link to the past. There were saplings on sale, and I so wanted to buy one, but have nowhere to put it. Oak trees can grow very large, and I know my small back garden could not cope. I hope one day I will find somewhere to plant such a tree, and then I can go back and see the place again.

http://www.benchmarkfurniture.com/

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