Waters and Ackland - extreme cabinet-making in Staveley

PUBLISHED: 00:16 08 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:52 20 February 2013

Will and Oliver

Will and Oliver

Two men had a dream to make brilliant furniture and it has come true for them in an old bobbin mill. Roger Borrell reports Photography by Kirsty Thompson

If extreme furniture making ever becomes classed as a sport, Will Acland and Oliver Waters would be in the running for gold medals. Not only is their work beautifully designed, its made from the finest wood, quarter sawn in a style rarely seen in modern pieces. Its put together with skill and precision seldom used in modern furniture but some of it is quite off the wall.

For instance, a recent commission was an extraordinarily elaborate cabinet made for a local household to hide modern home entertainment kit behind an Art Deco style faade.

But it wasnt any old faade. Designed by Will and his wife Holly, this beautiful eight foot long box of tricks displayed cabinet-making skills of the highest level. The doors were made in 200 marquetry slats of wood creating a picture that looked straight from a colourful Cunard poster. Whats more, the picture moved seamlessly around the curves of the cabinet as the doors were opened.

The Cunard Cabinet took one man a solid four months of labour and it cost the client somewhere in the region of 20,000. The inlays included a mind-boggling array of woods including sycamore, cherry, walnut and quilted maple. We like a challenge extreme cabinet making is something we enjoy. But this was hard, said Olliver. There were some real technical challenges with this cabinet.

It was worth it. The piece represents an antique of the future and it reinforced the reputation of Waters and Acland to the extent that it attracted a Guild Mark from the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers.

This is the Michelin star of cabinet making, only awarded to an individual piece of furniture meeting the highest standard of design, materials, quality and fitness for purpose. A further testament to their talents came when Liberty, a retailer synonymous with luxury and exquisite design, agreed to stock two of their tables at the exclusive Regent Street store.

Not bad for two lads based in the old bobbin mill site in Staveley, near Kendal.

Will and Oliver were friends at school in Kendal but their career paths diverged and reunions were normally confined to Christmas. However, they met up when both were considering what to do next with their lives and they discovered they had a common ambition to make great furniture.

Waters and Ackland has been going for four years, using traditional tools and methods. They are based in the inspiring surroundings of the mill yard where they create the pieces and also have a showroom. Theyve exhibited in London and Cheltenham and theyve built up an international reputation with a representative in New York.

Among the items on show was a Dover sideboard, a substantial piece of oak in Japanese-style with strong echoes of the Arts & Crafts movement. Its unusual because they designed the top so the grain runs back to front rather than side to side.

While Will and Oliver do produce some top end furniture, their showroom is proof that great craftsmanship and design doesnt always cost a small fortune. They have lovely large dining tables which wouldnt break the bank and have started to create smaller items such as storage racks and wall lamps.

We aimed to be makers of high quality furniture, making things beautifully with perfect craftsmanship and excellent design, said Oliver. Thats a rare thing these days.

The print version of this article appeared in the January 2012 issue of Lancashire Life

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