Harriet Thomas – Living Pieces
Bumps and scrapes, a pot too hot, an ink stain or two. An old armchair worn in by the familiar shape of mum or dad – taking a much-needed load off. That scuff mark on the table leg aka goal post, reminiscent of an indoor football game (surreptitiously played whilst mum cooked the Sunday roast). Each piece of furniture absorbing the life around it like a tapestry of events. A testament to life well-lived.
There is something about an old piece of furniture that fuels the imagination. Who sat there? Who were the first people to fall in love there? And if it could talk, how many conversations would it recall, of hope or heartbreak? From moments of rest and relaxation to the everyday heart-warming chaos that is family life.
Harriet Thomas inherited her love of wood and furniture at an early age. Watching her grandfather turn wood, developed in her a fascination for the different textures, grains and tones inherent in timber. Over time, Harriet also developed a passion for Ercol Furniture having inherited her grandmother’s Ercol Studio Couch and some 477 chairs.
This year Ercol celebrates its 100th birthday which marks a century of quality workmanship behind its award-winning furniture. But it is the older Ercol pieces that really inspire Harriet’s creativity.
She found that working in an office environment, once graduating from Uni, was not the best way to spend her days. She had suffered from migraines since childhood and the lighting, space and screens were not conducive to a migraine-free day.
Harriet Turns Hobby Into Business
Harriet grew up in Oxfordshire but on moving to the South West she fell in love and lay her roots down in Exeter. She managed to buy a house and it was around this time that she realised for both her mental and physical well-being, she no longer wished to be tied to an office environment. She decided to turn her restoration hobby into a business, encouraged by her friends. She said,
‘A friend of mine said, “You’ve been doing this furniture for other people’s houses for ages, why don’t you make the most of your talent?”’.
Harriet turned part of her Dad’s barn into a workshop and started her own business. She managed to apply for the Prince’s Trust Enterprise Scheme, ‘slipping in’ as she puts it just before her 30th birthday. She said,
‘They’ve been amazing, I’ve got a great mentor who’s really helped me out with the practical side of the business, how to do accounts and things like that. For me, it’s all about furniture, texture and wood!’
In terms of the restoration process, Harriet does everything from stripping back the darker wood, which is not ‘on trend’ at the moment, to sanding back to bare the wooden pieces, before refinishing it. She doesn’t believe in completely obliterating the past, however, wanting each piece to retain some of the ‘lived in’ feeling that it carries.
‘I don’t remove every little mark; it’s had a family before; it’s lived before and been loved before and I like to keep that character.’
‘I’ve got the same solid dining table that I’ve had in my house since I was little. It’s got marks where my brother bashed his cutlery on it, glitter engrained from my niece, but it’s loved and lived in.’
Like a comfortable pair of old slippers.
Harriet has managed to create her workspace to suit her needs which has seen both her mental wellbeing improve and the majority of her migraines alleviated. Working on the furniture restoration creates a state of ‘meditative calm’ where she can spend hours focussing on the grain and the repair at hand. Therapeutic wood, soothing for the soul.
Harriet, who already owns a Morris Minor, would love to own a retro van for transporting the furniture in the future. She laughed,
‘My Smart Car is just not that practical for transporting furniture in; although I have managed to squeeze in several chairs!’
If you would like to get in touch, pop onto the website www.thomasnorrisrestorations.co.uk or follow Harriet on her social media pages.
Written by Stella Nicholls
Interviewed by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photos provided by Harriet Thomas