It’s time for June’s monthly maker. A month back, I met with North Docks resident and furniture design whizz, Tony Parry, founder of interior design brand Cappa E Spada. I called Tony from his studio at Make North Docks where he was spending the day working on some upcoming projects. Whilst I sat at my makeshift desk at home, a cup of tea in hand, ready for a catch -up.
Hi Tony, can you tell us what you make/do?
I make furniture, interior decor pieces, tables, coffee tables, lighting, anything I can apply my artwork to. I make the bases out of wood, and apply the artwork onto them. As well as that I also make cushions, mugs, anything really, I’m building an interior brand.
My customers also have the option to customise their furniture. I have a page on my website called ‘design your own’. Before I had this, customers would come to the website and see a product they like but not like certain aspects of it like the colour or legs, for example. Now they have the choice to pick different options for each element of the furniture and design a piece from scratch. Since that page became available, people have been able to come in and design with different artworks. It’s great because I’m not making the same table or design all the time, so it’s opened up a lot for me. Nine times out of ten the customers will stick around if they have more choice.
A lot of interior designers have come back to me for other projects because my work is very customisable.
What sparked your passion for furniture and interior design?
I’ve been doing interior design pieces for about five years now. I had a passion for design and I wondered why people weren’t applying artwork to surfaces. I started practising applying different materials onto different surfaces to see how well they would turn out. So I kept practising and ended up making one table that sold pretty quickly. I got a big retailer on board quite early on and it went on from there.
I’ve always been into art and design, and I also did an Art and Design course at Hugh Baird College. I kind of stumbled into what I do now without meaning to. I managed to find a technique on applying artwork to the surfaces and thought ‘that would make a nice table.’ Once I started building my profile and brand and getting more retailers on board, that’s when it got more serious.
I’ve been doing it for 5 years, but it’s only really been 18 months that I could class it as a real small business. The first 3 years are a bit of trial and error.
What has been one of your favourite projects or pieces you’ve worked on?
There’s been a couple! I’ve done some nice pieces for hotels. I did a piece for Mandy Dingle from Emmerdale. The owner of Just Eat bought one and Holly Tucker who is the owner of Not on the High Street bought two pieces for her house.
Are you on Not on the High Street?
I’m not on it with Cappa, but a few of my retailers are and they sell some of my pieces. It would be cool to get my own account on there, so I’ve been looking into that. I’m on lots of different platforms through my retailers, but you’ll never beat selling work directly through your own site and there are no commission costs. I’ve got an Etsy account too, but it’s rare for me to get orders on there.
You’ve already given some great advice for people who may be considering working for themselves. What other advice would you give?
The pricing side of things can be really difficult, being able to price stuff up. To get the retail price you’re supposed to add up your materials, labour and delivery costs and times that by 3, but that doesn’t work out for everyone. You’ve got to make sure you don’t devalue your work.
For me, it’s all about exposure; advertising and marketing. I do Facebook and Instagram boosted posts, which I have a budget for each month. I do find that they work, I only need one sale to make my money back on the post. You’ve got to be persistent with it and not be too down if one post doesn’t do too well and make sure that if you can, you keep a budget aside for it every month. The social media side of it can be difficult. Sometimes I find that I run out of content. I used to spend days with *Lee Kent where we would chill out for the day and take lots of pictures, and I’d put some nice clothes on (because I never do). Lee also made my homepage video.
There’s no right or wrong answer or a rule book telling you how to do it. As long as you’re passionate, you’ve got the drive and you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ve got to keep doing it and hopefully, good things will come from that. I’m still learning now, but I’m on much more of a track. The first few years you might not know what way to take it, but once you find your way you’ve got to stick at it.
*Lee Kent was a resident at Make North Docks and an extremely creative graphic designer and photographer, check out his work over on his Instagram.
What are you working on next?
I’ve got lots in the workshop at the moment. I’ve got a metal-framed peacock table which I’ve just finished.
A couple of years ago a customer bought a Last Supper base from me and had it in storage and when they took it out it was broken, so I’m replacing the base for them. I’ve got a Banksy piece to do on a coffee table of the Girl with Balloon. I’ve also got a birth of venus set to do; a coffee table and two side tables, I’ve never worked with that artwork before so it will be special.
Something I’ve always wanted to do is a big interior show like Grand Designs Live but it’s a huge operation to get all your work there and set everything up. So hopefully sometime in the future, I could do one of them.
Tell us one new interesting thing you’ve discovered recently (about your craft or just in general).
I’ve been learning how to create designs and illustrations on Photoshop, so I can design my own artwork and use it for my pieces and not just from a licensing company. I’ve been watching Youtube tutorials, learning how to fade images. And I’ve been playing with my logo, putting it onto the artwork and changing the colour etc.
What’s it like having a studio at Make?
It feels more professional and proper. Working from home is great if you can do it and have the product to be able to do that.
I used to work from a shed in my mum and dad’s house and I had a studio upstairs. So everything would be prepped and sanded in the garage and then I’d have to bring it upstairs to do the artwork and assemble it. I was able to afford a studio space when I started getting more sales and orders. Make has been good because I was able to move from my first space upstairs to a studio by the shutter so I can get my work out easily and quickly.
I’ve still got an office at home because as well as the making side, the assembling, artwork, processing, there’s also all of the admin and office side of it all, which is a whole other job. You’ve got to be able to turn your hand to pretty much anything, and able to be a bit of an all-rounder if you’re by yourself, but that all comes from experience.
Where can people find your products and services?
Want to see more of our monthly makers?
Great! You can find more over on our blog, get to know all of the amazing talents of our Make residents.
Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to stay updated with our latest news and happenings.