FFB – cabinetmakers and veneer specialists
FFB are hard to find – in more ways than one. I've been here many times but as usual I miss the almost invisible turning to their workshop. There are no big signs, no showrooms. Similarly their presence on the web is minimal; just one page giving the most basic information. But this is no oversight – their customers prefer things this way.
FFB is a specialist firm of cabinetmakers employing twenty craftsmen and office staff. Their speciality is fine veneer work. I speak to Paul Excell, a veneerist, who is cutting and laying up veneers ready to go in the huge hydraulic press. He's been here for fifteen years, was seven years at another veneer specialist, and was trained at Gordon Russell Ltd in nearby Broadway. 'I started at Gordon Russell when I was sixteen.' he tells me. 'I served my apprenticeship there with a block release four times a year at Brunel Technical College in Bristol. I was at Russell's for thirteen years and then the company was taken over. The new owners weren't prepared to train people up and so I stuck it for a year and left. So I've been all my working life in veneers – I'm in for the long haul!'
Recruitment in craft-based businesses is an ongoing problem. I ask production manager Abigail Black if the company is taking on new apprentices. 'We are,' she says, 'but good people are difficult to find; many applicants just don't realise how hard the work is. One problem is that an apprenticeship is not sold at school as something worth considering – everyone is pushed towards university application.' This is something I've heard on other factory visits and 'success without effort' seems to be the expectation of many young recruits.
Most of the work done at FFB is for top-end London-based interior designers - what you might call 'the Decorex brigade'. They prefer FFB to remain in the background. This is the way this sector of the market works; no-one actually says where the furniture is made, or by whom, and the name of the interior designer overshadows all else. Sometimes in busy periods leading up to important trade shows FFB will be making similar pieces for competing designers. Discretion is the rule, and FFB know they have to remain anonymous. How different this is to the parallel world of product design, where everyone is so keen to know and recognise the maker.
Due to the nature of the work done by FFB, with everything made for a specific order, the only piece available for this show is a sideboard I designed in collaboration with Sarah Kay for the exhibition 'Design Shanghai'. It was beautifully made by head cabinetmaker Jeremy Higson, with rippled sycamore veneer work by Paul Excell. And it's been on a slow boat to China and back!
FFB : Furniture For Business.