Rituals: South London Makers

If you’ve gone for a drink in Peckham, you’ve probably sat on one of their designs. The brainchild of furniture designer David Marsden and his brother, graphic designer Steven, South London Makers are a creative construction team specialising in contemporary carpentry. Having worked as craftsmen with their dad when they were kids, the duo made their name designing AliBaba’s juice and snack bars. Currently working on redesigning one of London’s best-known clubs, we went to their East Dulwich workshop to talk tea, rituals and plywood.

What are you working on at the moment?

We’re working with a major London club redesigning their VIP area. They’re trying to get away from their current image – what they want is something clean and new, so instead of getting in a big architectural firm to do something trendy, they went to us for something more authentic.

Do you have any materials or techniques that you gravitate towards?

Plywood mostly because of the ease of it. You can control it a lot more. Working with solid wood there are so many parameters you have to adhere to because wood can contract and move. We’re definitely open to using new materials – we’ve been experimenting with things like rubber and 3D printing. At the end of the day I feel like you can use anything as long as it sits with the theme and works with the overall look. You can add a lot of value to a basic material when you give it a form.

David selects: Suede Varsity Jacket

Shop now

Steven selects: Harrington Jacket

Shop now

Do you have any daily rituals?

I tend to turn up to work at around 08:15 to make a coffee and be in before everyone else. In the winter the main thing is to get a fire going and get some heat in the workshop. When we’re working on a project like our current one, we go to Steven’s flat to put together presentations and mood boards. But, lots of tea, that’s the main ritual.

How do you share the workload?

Steven does the graphic design for presentations, mood boards and all the marketing, as well as the admin. I do more of the technical side and come up with the ideas and how things will work. We build together – we meet in the middle when it comes to hands-on work because it’s when we have the most fun.

You have a very clean, modern aesthetic – how much of that comes from the client and how much comes from you?

It's more of a practical thing – when we started working with the club they wanted to use lots of leather, but we don’t like to use materials that date, so we stuck to metals, solid wood, plaster. Things like that so its really raw. It’s so much easier for things not to date if you just keep it really, really simple and just classic. That’s the main thing – we want to keep it clean, utilitarian and usable. This is why we like modular design – if everything is set in stone its just asking to be changed, but if its modular it means that no matter what you’re doing, you can alter it. 

What's the process when your start a new project?

First we come up with the initial ideas and theme - if it’s for a client we’ll present that to them and see how they react. We start with preliminary sketches and make them presentable before making models and 3D printing them to show it to the client. Then what we normally do is work out what materials we need, cut them in the workshop and then assemble it on site.

What inspired your designs for the Ali Baba Snack Bar in Peckham?

It was all based around a Japanese theme. We were going to go for something circular but the cost would have been excessive because of all the bent ply, so we came up with the idea of using ten sided shapes and worked from that. Our friend Oskar Proctor did all the photographs inside and it was really nice to work with him because we’ve been best friends since we were kids. A lot of people have said it looks like a Japanese airport bar, which I really liked.

What does your slogan ‘Design for everything’ mean?

Steven is from a graphic design background and that helps us provide a full service from crafting to branding. Before he joined it was going to be a making company which can be annoying because you’re just creating things to other people’s specs – that was one of the problems I had with just making stuff for peoples houses, I never got to see it used.

That was the best thing about making the Ali Baba Snack Bar in Peckham - when we built it and it was full of people. Richard Wentworth was there because he’d done a sculpture for Franks and we got a picture of him on one of the seats. It was just great to see someone you admire using something you’ve built.

Visit South London Makers