Best of Bri­tish

What price a good night’s kip? If TJ Brown hand-crafts your mat­tress, it could be £250,000

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents -

The man be­hind the £250,000 mat­tress

TJ BROWN NEVER SET OUT to be­come a bed­maker. Long be­fore he be­gan mak­ing some of Bri­tain’s most ex­pen­sive beds (they can cost up to £250,000), Brown, 73, used to play key­board for reg­gae artist Des­mond Dekker.

Orig­i­nally from Ja­maica, Brown moved to the UK in the 1960s, and went on to es­tab­lish him­self as a soul artist. ‘I was called the black Howard Jones,’ he re­calls with a laugh. ‘I had six key­boards on stage and I played alone.’

By 2000, hav­ing mar­ried and had four children, he tired of the un­sta­ble nature of the mu­sic in­dus­try – ‘You’ve got a home and kids, and you’re sit­ting there wait­ing for some­one to call you,’ he re­calls – and ap­plied for a job at bed­mak­ers Savoir, which, es­tab­lished in 1905, makes fewer than 1,000 be­spoke beds a year. He started out mak­ing mat­tress springs, but in the fol­low­ing years, moved up the ranks and to­day is one of the mas­ter crafts­men. (Brown con­tin­ues work­ing on his mu­sic in his spare time and still plays the key­board.)

To date, he has per­son­ally built around 1,000 beds, work­ing from an oak tres­tle ta­ble with the name of the cus­tomer pinned to the wall, so he can keep them in mind dur­ing the process. Fa­mous Savoir cus­tomers have in­cluded Oprah Win­frey, El­ton John and Kylie Minogue.

There are four va­ri­eties, priced from £8,875 (for the No.4) to £69,272 (for the No.1). They also cre­ate be­spoke beds – the most ex­pen­sive was £250,000. Brown him­self has the No.2 at home. ‘I sleep on a cloud ev­ery night,’ he laughs.

A No.1 bed can take Brown 120 hours to make. The most time-con­sum­ing part, he ex­plains, is con­struct­ing the mat­tress, which is made of hand-tied pocket springs, horse­tail hair, cot­ton and wool. It is con­structed to suit the per­son (or cou­ple’s) ex­act height, weight, sleep po­si­tion and likely dis­tur­bances. Ma­chines are used to sep­a­rate the strands of the horse hair, cut head­boards and curl springs to dif­fer­ent ten­sions. ‘Apart from that, we do ev­ery­thing by hand,’ says Brown.

He uses three dif­fer­ent nee­dles, ‘One for slip stitch­ing, one for a side stitch and the big­ger nee­dles that you use for tuft­ing so you have to press hard on the cir­cu­lar pieces of ma­te­rial – they look a bit like petals.’

To pro­tect his hands, Brown wears leather fin­ger-cov­ers that he made him­self. The rest of his wardrobe mainly com­prises three-piece suits, an­tique pocket watches and cow­boy hats (with match­ing boots). ‘I’m a very ex­pen­sive per­son, like a Savoir bed,’ he says.

When he has fin­ished mak­ing a bed, the fi­nal touch is to sign a la­bel on the mat­tress. ‘I put my heart and feeling and soul into a bed,’ he says. ‘They’re like my ba­bies, but you have to let them go.’

Clock­wise from right Mas­ter crafts­man TJ Brown at Savoir, Lon­don; a com­pleted No.1; pocket springs hand-tied in soft cal­ico. In­ter­view by Jessica Carpani. Pho­to­graphs by Eleonora Agos­tini

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