Welsh furniture designer Bethan Gray’s love of craft and cultures shines through in her elegant creations.
Furniture designer Bethan Gray’s love of craft and cultures shines in her creations
Apassion for making has always run through Welsh furniture designer Bethan Gray’s veins. Her forester grandfather whittled little tables for her when she was a child growing up in Cardiff, Wales; her greatgreat grandmother was a trained cabinetmaker. “I was always building stuff at school, making things as presents for friends,” Gray reminisces. Today, after two decades in the business — first working as design director at UK high street retailer Habitat and then establishing her own London-based studio in 2008 (with her husband and business partner, Massimo) — Gray is now firmly one of the most sought-after designers of her generation. This September, during London Design Festival, she will launch not one but five new projects, each with a love of craftsmanship at its core. At Decorex, Gray will introduce new additions to her Shamsian Collection, which first debuted in 2016 to showcase the extraordinary 16th-century Islamic marquetry techniques of Iranian artist Mohamad Reza Shamsian, one of the Sultan of Oman’s favourite artisans. “I’d wanted to do something with wood that was more decorative, and I’d never seen that level of craftsmanship before,” Gray says of the way Shamsian and his team of master craftsmen have created techniques to inlay delicate layers of veneer — stain washed in shades like jade, teal and rose pink — with elegant, fine lines of brass. The handcrafted nature of the range (each piece can also be customised in size, colour, metal and ombre finish) has proven a great success. “When the collection first arrived at our Sydney retailer Living Edge last spring, one piece sold before the team had even unpacked it,” says Gray. Now the designer’s graphic Nizwa and Dhow patterns, inspired by Omani architecture and traditional sailing boats, and initially applied to cabinets and consoles, will appear on a new bar cabinet and two brass-based tables in marble. Gray’s Dhow pattern will also debut at Decorex on a capsule collection of ceramics for Stokeon-Trent-based pottery makers 1882 Ltd. Across town at Design Junction, Gray has designed a pop-up whiskey bar for Scottish distillery The Glenlivet, and Swiss watch brand Rado will launch her take on its True Thinline model. During the design festival, Anthropologie will also introduce Gray’s new Strike collection of bed, chairs, tables, cabinets and rugs, with patterns inspired by forms, textures and motifs found in nature.
It’s clear Gray has found her niche. “I want to create a connection between the beautiful things I love to design,” she says, “with where they’re being made and who is making them.” Visit bethangray.com; livingedge.com.au; londondesignfestival.com
Omani fortifications were the inspiration for the Nizwa Cabinet, from Bethan Gray’s Shamsian Collection. The designer in Oman (below).