Her designs marry her passion for natural materials with the latest technology
written on: 22-12-2021 14:45pm
Bethan Gray’s pared back, contemporary furniture in wood, marble and leather has established her as one of Britain’s most sought-after designers, with a clutch of leading awards and her furniture and product designs stocked in well known retailers such as John Lewis. Studying three-dimensional design at DeMontfort University in Leicester, she was first spotted by industrial designer Tom Dixon. He offered her a job working alongside him at Habitat and six years later she became design director herself and was responsible for several of the company’s most successful furniture lines, until she decided to branch out and establish her own studio in 2008. Bethan is married to Massimo, who runs the business side of the company. The couple have one son and live in a converted Victorian villa in West London.
- How does a design start life? My process is very much research based, whether I’m working on my own ideas or a brief from a client. I draw on photos I’ve taken on my travels as well as looking through library books and architectural details. From that, I develop concepts which are presented to the client and then it becomes a collaborative process.
- Which culture has inspired you most? My influences are from all over the world. The Alice project for instance, was based on the black and white marble churches in Italy and Switzerland but the herringbone pattern in that collection is also a significant Islamic design.
- What is your favourite material? Natural materials: leather, wood, glass, marble and semi-precious stone. I have been working on a few projects in the Middle East which involve helping to regenerate traditional crafts in those areas. In The Ruby Tree collection we worked with master craftsmen, whose ancestors built the Taj Mahal.
- Tell us about your link with India. My maternal ancestors were classic Romany gypsies, who originated from Rajasthan and travelled all over the Middle East, before settling in Wales. I have realised in the last few years how much Eastern culture has informed my work. It is in my DNA.
- Was your family creative? They’ve always been arty in some way. My mother is Romany gypsy so has very much passed on the gypsy traditions to me in music, art culture and crafts. My father’s nickname is Woody, because he likes to make things from wood and my Scottish grandfather was a forester, so he used to make things from wood for me as a child. My great-great grandmother was a furniture maker which was very unusual work for a woman in the late 1800s.
- What is your kitchen like? The most striking aspect of my own kitchen is really our garden: we are lucky to have large doors which lead directly on to a green leafy space which has been planted with tropical plants – so the garden becomes a feature of the kitchen. The inspiration was the yoga retreats we loved so much in India and we wanted to create a jungle look at home. We have a lot of display areas in our kitchen and even use the work surfaces to display the wooden and hand-carved pieces such as chopping boards, bowls and my collection of kitchen utensils.
- What influence has Tom Dixon had on your career? Tom has had a significant influence on my career. He discovered me at my graduation show in 1998 and awarded me a new designers prize. Part of that was a placement at Habitat, working for Tom initially and I was there for 10 years. I travelled the world visiting factories and craftshops and that is where I learned my trade. I was eventually design director and left to set up my own studio in 2008.
Credit: Susan Springate (Words) Published: As featured in EKBB Magazine, Issue 243, July 2016