“Christian, we are making you redundant,” isn’t how most businesses begin. But East London Furniture isn’t a typical business. After becoming unemployed from photography gallery Christian Dillon spent his days scribbling chair designs, studying cutlery at the London Design Museum, and sitting in the V&A bookshop reading about tables.
Then in 2011, his friend and eventual business partner, Ben Green had a newborn son and found himself in need of a high chair. They didn’t know it yet, but a business was also about to be born, too. Shoreditch at that time was in the throes of a booming renovation, a run-down suburb rapidly transforming into a centre of creativity and design, with an abundance of waste material cast out onto the streets daily.
“We found some material outside of my house,” Christian recalls, “and we sat there on the street with a saw and made this chair.”
That effort inspired other efforts, and soon the pair were joined by friend Reuben Le Provost, a photographer with a keen eye for mid-century modernism. Employees from a neighbouring company, Meanwhile Space, saw the pair at work and offered them a former shop in Hoxton Street. There, they could continue recycling the area’s refuse into furniture people would want to buy.
“We started with nothing, we found the materials, a place to assemble them and built a business.” Their scavenging yielded surprisingly quality material. The pine boards in Victorian-era walls had spent a century ageing to perfection. Carpet, ceiling tiles, scrap metal, even glass began to find its way into an evolving collection of furniture shaped by the whim of its resourceful craftsmen.
Today, the three have moved to larger premises in Bermondsey, south of the river, but the original sense of opportunism remains. “I began this journey by gaining access to a workshop. It was not based on a business plan but on doing. And I have a notion that others can do something similar, not necessarily woodwork, but start a project, if they have access to the right resources.”