Q&A with David Wilson, co-founder and Creative Director at Dovetailors

David and his wife Emmanuelle founded Dovetailors in 2005. We caught up with him to find out about his inspiration, passion and how his role has changed since those early days.

Describe your job in one sentence

I’m effectively responsible for the overall creative direction of the business, which means I bring in and develop the technology we need to achieve our design goals and support the team with the skills they need to get the best from it.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I love problem solving and this is the perfect job for that. I also really enjoy  mentoring the team, filtering down the knowledge I’ve gained over the years to other staff including Catherine and Charlotte. We have recently implemented a lathe onto the Bacci 5-axis CNC machine and I have been enjoying training Ethan to use it.

How did you get started in furniture design?  

I trained as an engineer and gained a PhD in engineering before turning to furniture making, which is when I learned to work with wood and became a skilled craftsman. I started making things at home like bookshelves and drawers and realised I loved the practical application of the engineering and design skills I had developed to that point.

Eventually I made the leap from engineering into full-time furniture making, bringing me in tune with the traditional cabinet making techniques that I find so satisfying and creative.

Interestingly, it is now the engineering skills I started out with that are really coming into their own, in combination with the craft. I have realised that complex engineering allows for more accurate, creative and exciting furniture design. I will always love making things by hand but I have grown to appreciate that modern designs really benefit from the use of machinery. 

Where did the idea for Dovetailors come from?

We started out as a small designer maker called Wood B in Nidderdale in 2005 with a turnover of just £1,600 a year. Emmanuelle, my wife, joined the business to handle the operational and sales side and this gave me the freedom to spend all my time making and designing.

In the early days all our work was one-off fine furniture commissions for individuals. Now, the majority of our work is commercial furniture and component manufacturing.

What sets Dovetailors apart?

We have gained a huge amount of experience over the years in achieving economies of scale and keeping costs down with efficient design and manufacturing processes, even for the most complex items such as curved sofa frames.  This makes us highly sought after by high end furniture companies that want to make something cutting edge yet profitable.

Design innovation and integrity are really important to us. It is also important to us that we are not creating things that are easily copied. We value the complexity of skills our staff have and their versatility.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the business over the years?

Growth always presents challenges for any business and we have grown in spite of ourselves. Our focus has never been to make as much money as possible. Our main goal is to keep the 15 plus people we employ happy and in jobs they enjoy. Doing that means we are always advancing and developing our capabilities to keep things interesting for all of us.

How has the market changed since you started out?

The demand for fine furniture is less and fewer people are able to spend large amounts of money on a single item of furniture, even if that piece will last generations. We have developed our designs to meet the trend for well-designed, quality pieces that are purposeful and durable. There is still a market for well-made and timeless pieces that are built to last and this is what has inspired designs like our tripod stacking chair and trestle legs. The designs themselves are very stylish and minimalist, which appeals to those who want something a bit different to look at, yet still functionally very good.  Other changes include the growth of design-led commercial furniture and we have developed our B2B and CNC work in response to this market.

Where do you see the company in 5 years time?

At the moment we specialise in four key areas – commercial manufacturing, design, furniture for community spaces such as churches and B2B work with partners. I anticipate greater balance with each sector contributing more of an equal share to our workload. With such a creative team working for us, I also see our own designs becoming a far more prominent part of our business.  

church furniture design

What’s your favourite thing in the workshop and why?

I’m attracted to any new piece of equipment. Currently it’s the Bacci 5-axis CNC machine. There is so much to challenge me in terms of its capabilities and I am discovering new things about volume, size, accuracy and how it can help us meet challenges in the design process. I love how graceful it is when it’s at work. The vast majority of companies only make use of horizontal capabilities  but we make use of everything, including the lathe.

When you’re not at work what do you enjoy doing?

Work never feels like work, so I enjoy experimenting with ideas in CAD even when I’m not in the workshop. Other than that I like to swim or do as little as possible.

What’s the best thing about Yorkshire? 

I’m a Yorkshire native and I have a great love for the area, particularly after living in other places. I like the people and the landscape, from the post-industrial built environment to the countryside. In fact, the combination old mill towns scattered round the beautiful countryside is probably what I like most about it.

Describe Dovetailors in 3 words

Innovative. Clever. Beautiful.