Lakeland Fells furniture is carving out a reputation in Windermere

PUBLISHED: 12:53 30 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:41 20 February 2013

Andrew Smith with a Belfast sink unit

Andrew Smith with a Belfast sink unit

A young team of creative craftsmen is carving out a reputation in Windermere. Eileen Jones reports

Theres been a bit of puzzling over the monkey puzzle tree in the Lake District of late. One notorious elderly specimen was controversially felled at the Brockhole visitor centre at Windermere.

But not far away, outside a cabinet-makers workshop, are the remains of another giant. This one turned up as a gift Andrew Smith having been struck by lightning. A tree surgeon friend rang and asked if itwould be any use, said Andrew, proprietor of Lakeland Fells furniture and the Special Spaces kitchen showroom. I thought it would be in small pieces.

What turned up on the trailer were four two-tonne lengths of wood, each ten feet long by three feet diameter. Not one to look a gift horse in themouth, Andrew, graciously accepted.Its an amazing wood, he explains as we stand by one still-uncut length of tree, seasoning outside the workshop door. Its full of knots. But it makes fantastic looking feature furniture, even though its very hard to work with.

Each wood is a new medium for Andrew. He points to a coffee table made from zebrano, an exotic African hardwood with a zebra-like striped finish. He lifts a piece of wenge, sometimes known as African rosewood, and noted for its dark, purple colour. Then length of ebony, dense and black.

Theres pitch pine, Douglas fir, and Cedar of Lebanon, often used for bedroom storage furniture as a moth repellent. But best of all is oak. Its the sense of tradition and such a lovely colour, a beautiful grain. Its a forgiving wood to work with.

Since setting up Lakeland Fells Furniture ten years ago, Andrew has built a reputation for quality and design, from childrens toys to boardroom tables.

Andrews team manufactured all the furniture for the luxury Cedar Manor Hotel which, with local design team Fidget, won the international award for the best hotel interior. What often first catches the eye of these corporate clients are the toy trains and the wooden aeroplane in the showroom. We made a load of wooden cars a few years ago to give to clients, but its developed into a successful sideline.

And now theres another sideline in wooden toy-boxes. Theres nothing we cant make in wood, from a toy box to spiral staircase. All this, and Andrew is not yet 30. But the former Kendal College cabinet-making student has now launched a kitchen design and fitting service called Special Spaces that incorporates bespoke, handcrafted furniture making.

Its a fun and funky place to visit, where colour-changing LED units light up glass finishes; where lights are turned on by infra-red switches; where Xbox technology demonstrates pop-up knife blocks. Theres removable hob controls that can be placed out of a childs reach. Theyre gadgets but not gimmicks.

The workshop is just around the corner, the base for Andrews team of young craftsmen. Theres Oliver Elder, just 23, who runs the workshop, 18-year-old apprentice Blake Wilson. Mark Ruscoe, the site joiner in charge of installations, is the elder statesman, at 32.

This is a field where its hard to be taken seriously when youre young, says Andrew. But I dont believe that traditional craftsmanship is anything to do with age. Among those convinced by his youth policy is Malcolm Ogden of the Bowness Hapimag Resort. They insist on attention to detail to create the wow factor, he says. Jason Dearden, of the Windermere Marina Village, where Andrews team re-fitted more than 90 flood-hit bedrooms, adds: The furniture is outstanding in quality and durability.

Andrew, who lives in Windermere with wife Donna and daughters Betsy, three, and baby Molly says: One of the most satisfying jobs was when we used locally felled timber from trees that had come down in a big storm. They came covered in mud and chicken poo, the bark still on. The transformation was really satisfying.

Solving the monkey puzzle

The monkey puzzle tree Araucaria araucana, originally from South America, is so-called after the owner of a specimen in 19th century Britain suggested that its unusual branches would puzzle even a monkey to climb.

The Brockhole monkey puzzle tree was 110 years old when it was felled, to the dismay of campaigners who fought to save it. It was planted in the Grade II-listed garden of the Gaddum family home on the shores of Windermere in Cumbria against the wishes of Edwardian designer
Thomas Mawson.

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