The Georgian era perfected the art of space-saving furniture and now, over two hundred years later, David Norman, the founder of functional furniture storage company Furl, is obsessed with it.
Norman’s inspiration has been taken by the multi-functional nature of Georgian furniture, with wheels on chairs and tables — and the expanding or extending mechanism with drop leaf — which allowed them to move to the side and created entertainment space in big drawing rooms.
“The Georgians were the innovators of furniture,” says Norman. “We aren’t doing anything new, we are just reinventing the wheel and making it more accessible and modernising it in today’s smaller spaces.”
Today, Furl has created more than 20,000 products being used in London alone since the business started and is on target for £5m in revenue this financial year.
Norman has been a problem-solver and entrepreneur since leaving school at 15. He set up a business selling computer spares and was soon able to purchase a property in Spain. It was there he noticed that storage beds were readily available to buy, even in supermarkets.
In the UK, it was a different scenario. “We’ve been obsessed with beds with drawers — they have a place but not much else,” Norman says. Looking for engineering companies in the UK, he took his search across Europe to find the spring mechanism he needed to design his own storage bed.
He fell upon an Italian company he still works with today, near Milan, which made sofa bed mechanisms for cruise ships that stood up to daily use of hospitality. Norman, 49, knew they would be of quality “which would last forever.”
Once he received the samples, he went to John Lewis to buy some fabric and a local market for foam and a staple gun. After his first bed sold within days, he made four more which sold quickly on eBay.
He closed his computer business, purchased a van and started delivering across the UK. Norman’s design is still being used today.
“To create a product which people hadn’t seen before that made people go ‘wow’ is pretty intoxicating,” says Norman, who started out in 2007. “Once they had it delivered and were raving about how much more tidy their house was and how it changed the way they live, it was a massive motivator.”
Norman worked for 18 months on his own before employing his first three staff, who are still with the business today. Originally called the Storage Bed Company, the company rebranded into Furl after Norman felt the business was being pigeon-holed into one product.
“Not many people understood it as a brand name but all of our products ‘unfurl’ in some way and it evokes movement,” admits Norman, who today employs over 30 staff. “When you explain the reason for the brand name it clicks.”
Now, Furl’s mission is to not only grow across the UK but create everyday space for storage that nobody had thought of before, such as storage in the arms of sofas. “It’s empty air inside covered by fabric,” adds Norman. “It’s a really useful space which should be used and we do that to the absolute best of our ability.”
The internet retailer has three showrooms in London and a show pod at its Nottingham factory, while its product range now extends to a wide range of beds, sofas, ottomans, extending tables and compact foldable home office units. Noman says: “We’re like an open kitchen where people can see products being made and we love to showcase that.”
Yet, he admits that a shortage in skilled staff has been an issue on the manufacturing side.
“Nottingham used to be the upholstery capital in the UK,” adds Norman, who has now started an apprenticeship scheme to tackle the shortage.
“It’s the best way. If we can’t find them out there then we’ll make our own. That’s been our motto.”
Behind the brand: Furl founder on employee satisfaction
“My vision is to employ more and more people as it gives me huge satisfaction.
“Staff have been with us for 15 years and many staff over 10 years, primarily on the manufacturing side. There aren’t many places or people who believe they have a job for life now, but those who do join us see that here.
“It’s a joy to have people long term. We all need to grab onto things that give us pleasure and I hope to reach 50 and beyond.”
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