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