British upholstery company Maker&Son arrived stateside this year with its all-natural sofas, chairs and beds—and big plans to upend the traditional direct-to-consumer business model for selling furniture.
When Alex Willcock and his son Felix Conran set out to create a sustainable sofa, they did so with a wide-ranging vision of what it means to design an environmentally sound product. “It’s not just about what it’s made from—it’s how it’s made, where it’s made, and how long it’s going to last,” explains Willcock. “When we started designing, one of the things we said is that we want people’s children to fight over [our sofas] when they’ve gone.”
Ultimately, product development took Willcock and Conran more than two years. “It wasn’t just the materials, it was about getting to a point that you could combine all of those in the right way,” says Willcock. Cushions are stuffed with ethically sourced feathers (a byproduct of the meat industry) around a sturdy latex core; the solid, skirted base is spring-loaded and made of sustainably sourced hardwoods. Producing the arm of each sofa without plastics, polyurethane foams, velcro or staples requires a painstaking process of shaping the piece with layers of cotton, wool and natural fibers. “You’ve got the cost of the raw materials, and you’ve got the human power [required] to make that whole thing happen,” says Willcock. “We decided that we were not going to engineer to a price point. Instead, we decided to engineer it to be the most comfortable thing that we have ever sat in, and then figure out what that costs.”
Maker&Son debuted its first piece, the Song sofa, in 2018. Featuring loose seat and back cushions with a generous flange, the relaxed silhouette seems to beckon for a nap. The company found an immediate audience online—especially on Instagram, where it frequently posts slow-motion videos of Marnie, a family friend who appears in much of the brand’s photography, catapulting herself onto the pieces to demonstrate their comfort. Inquiries from Australia and the U.S. flooded in. But for Willcock (whose resume includes cabinetmaking, retail operations and big-data marketing) and Conran (a designer and artist in his own right), their vision of creating an environmentally responsible product was diametrically opposed to international freight. Instead, they partnered with local manufacturers to bring their wares to each country, launching in America in partnership with Lee Industries at the close of 2019.
The line has already begun to expand; it now includes beds, an array of seating configurations, and a newly launched box cushion that offers the same construction and comfort of the original product with a more formal look. The company has also been developing a vegan sofa, set to roll out in the U.S. this year.
Though Conran moved into a live-work by-appointment New York showroom when the brand launched in the U.S., the company’s distribution in all three markets is focused on a fleet of mobile vans that service its online customers. Inside, the van holds a piece for sit tests, as well as fabric samples of its covers—soft, washable linens, linen-cottons, corduroys and velvets. (Maker&Son also does COM orders.) The plan is for customers to find the brand online, book a van visit, and perhaps even place an order while they sit inside.
But for now, Willcock wants to address comfort. “We very rarely talk about trying to sell you something,” he says. “Instead, it’s about creating engagement with the benefit, which is being that comfortable. Because when you become that comfortable, a lot of amazing things happen—you’re not just physically comfortable, you’re mentally comfortable.”