- We visit the British furniture brand’s Hackney studio to discuss their 50s inspired products, how their brand has grown since their 2009 Canteen range launched, and how their direct to customer model has fostered not only independence, but quality too
“The Canteen Leg. Yup, that’s how it began” Patrick Clayton-Malone asserts – we’re discussing the origins of Very Good & Proper, the British furniture brand he co-founded in 2008. With designers Ed Carpenter and Andre Klauser, VG&P have quietly spent the last five years producing simple, elegant furniture designed for Patrick’s co-owned restaurant chain, Canteen, and making them available to the public. And it started with a leg.
“Back then, it was more of a traditional relationship” Patrick adds, “Very Good and Proper were the manufacturing company, and Andre and Ed were commissioned as the designers”. The result was their now iconic, colourful Canteen range, including the 50s school chair inspired Utility Chair, the Canteen Table (and Leg), and the Hook and Knob. Eight months in, the pair joined the business, from which point the three have been working together since. “These guys have a lot of experience in manufacturing, so the remits [of our roles are clear],” Patrick says of their relationship, “but it’s also very collaborative.” He adds, “I guess [I take care of] the business side”, but it’s not a hands-off role: involved in the physical processes too, the three work together on developing prototypes and designs that meet the high level demands of a working restaurant environment.
Whilst the idea of setting up a furniture brand to kit out your restaurant sounds might a little unorthodox, it speaks volumes about Patrick and his partners’ interests in ‘curating’ the entire experience of dining at Canteen. Priding itself on being a classless dining experience, and driven by quality produce and simple, flavoursome British cuisine, like Canteen, from the start VG&P fostered an egalitarian outlook. Championing the direct to customer model, they’ve always made their products – designed for commercial use – available to public through their online store, offering an intimacy with their customer base.Pictured: Patrick Clayton-Malone, VG&P’s co-founder. Patrick is also a co-owner of successful London restaurant group Canteen, and is co-owner of new restaurant / bar Merchants Tavern, opening later this year
“What’s led us [as a design company] is the rigours of contract furniture use”Harbour Chair prototype, 2013
A variation of the 2012 ‘Design of the Year’ nominated Harbour chair, this elegant version is in dark wood, other versions include an ash solid seat and back rest, with powder coated steel frame.
- It’s a model that’s replicated in their product design, and the origins of the company in the first place: “There was a lot of frustration with the traditional designer licensing model from these guys,” he says, nodding to Andre and Ed. “I understood that as well. It didn’t seem to be a particularly fair set-up. It makes it hard to a) get designs to market and b) make money from it. If you’re in control of that process, from making to selling directly, it means you can offer a more reasonably priced product. Everything is ‘reasonably priced’”, Patrick states. “VG&P and Canteen share those philosophies. We always wanted to match what we did in the kitchen with our furniture. With Canteen, we go direct to producers – we don’t go through markets. Our fish comes directly off boats off the south coast; likewise we go direct to a co-operative for our meat in the Kent-Sussex borders. You’re cutting out as much of the middle as you can by selling directly. We’re doing that here too”. For VG&P, that means a superior product that’s also fairly priced.
‘As much’ doesn’t mean all though: the brand has picked up admirers internationally, with items like the Canteen Hook and Knob being stocked by London’s TwentyTwentyOne store, and New York’s MOMA amongst others. And the US is a market that the company are looking to move into. “There’s definitely an appetite for what we’re doing”, he puns (inadvertently. The proof is in the pudding: Facebook purchased 500 of VG&P’s Canteen chair for their Southern California HQ earlier this year, and their products are being selected for architectural commissions across the world, including Google’s HQ. “We’re seeing interest in Asia as well”, he adds. It’s interesting to think of the world’s biggest (and cheapest) manufacturing exporter importing the products of a British furniture designer, which itself is designed to create fairly priced (affordable) design items.
“We’re not strict in the sense that everything is British made. The plywood we use, for example, for our Utility Chair comes from Germany, which is nearer the source of wood. It’s also where the expertise are. Same with Canteen; you can’t always get great tomatoes here in the UK, so we buy them from abroad when we have to… But”, Patrick continues, “its great to use expertise in the UK where we can, and manufacture here where possible”. Their new accessories range, launching during the upcoming London Design Festival, is example of this.
“We’re producing a stoneware range with young British designer Ian McIntyr, and a stoneware company based in Godalming. They’re the only producer [of this calibre] in the south.” The set, which includes a stoneware water jug, small and large plate, will be shown at upcoming 100% Design, alongside VG&P’s new accessories range, which includes “a knife we’re working on that’s being manufactured in Sheffield.” More importantly, the new VG&P accessories range will be the cornerstone of Patrick’s new restaurant venture, Merchants Tavern, which opens its doors later this autumn in Shoreditch.
Canteen Utility Chair, 2009
Solid wood seat (beech / oak)
Powder coated steel frame
Available in 4 colours,
custom colours orders on request
Above: Andre Klauser. “We’ll be showing at the vintage shop No. 2 Columbia Road ; there’ll be an interesting conversation between new and old”.Canteen Pub Stool
or solid wood
Powder coated steel frame
Foot rest stainless steel
Other RAL colours available
for special order
- Patrick himself is seated on the other cornerstone of the upcoming Merchants
Tavern collection; the beautiful 1950s inspired upholstered chair will feature heavily across the bar lounge and restaurant of the new venture. “This is the final chair,” he says, patting its sides. The accessories range is completed by two sets of cutting boards, a salt and pepper grinder, steak knife, aluminium (and copper) spun tumblers, (all of which are tantalisingly absent from the studio space when we visit,) but all of which will feature in the restaurant. “They’ll be marketed to the restaurant industry, but” he says,“you know how MAC makeup was originally created for professionals, then they became a very popular consumer brand…? Well, , we’d very much like to do the same sort of thing. Our products are professional quality, they are aspirational and they last”.
The biggest departure – or should I say development – between the brand’s Canteen and new Club range is its maturation. “Canteen has historically been very colourful. Merchants Tavern presented the opportunity to do something more considered – in that sense, its brought VG&P on”. Still inspired by a mid-century aesthetic, Patrick asserts “it’s grown up. Any ‘kitsch’ element isn’t there. Merchants Tavern has been massively influenced by a ‘Madmen meets Victoriana’ aesthetic – that period of late 50s, early 60s great design, where there was a great simplicity to things. A lot of hardwoods, leather and natural materials”. This growth echoes the company’s desire to “develop the brand beyond what we started with, to become more whole. It’s a big year for us in that respect”.Words Betty Wood
Photography Jasper Fry
Very Good & Proper will be showing at 100% Design, and at Two Columbia Road during London Design Week. Merchants Tavern opens later this autumn, with the collection launching later this yearAbove, the new Club chair
Subscribe to Port Magazine annually and receive each issue to your door.Get PORT in print