Sean Sutcliffe

07.10.20. Designer’s studio, Berkshire

Sean Sutcliffe co-founded high-end furniture maker, Benchmark, with the late Sir Terence Conran in the early ’80s, when he was fresh out of Parnham College. Initially, he produced work for The Conran Shop, Heals and Habitat, before helping Terence change the face of the London restaurant scene by creating furniture and fittings for Bibendum and Quaglino’s.

Subsequently, Benchmark has gone on to do commissions for the likes of the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, the Eden Project, Vodafone’s world headquarters, and The Gherkin (or 30 St Mary Axe) to name just a few. Sutcliffe has also collaborated with the likes of Foster + Partners and David Rockwell and has just launched a new chair collection with the up-and-coming designer, Mac Collins.

Most recently, the company made all the pieces for the Connected project – organised by the American Hardwood Export Council and on show at the Design Museum until 14 October 2020 – which featured furniture made from designers such as, Thomas Heatherwick, Jaime Hayon, Maria Bruun and Ini Archibong, among others.

Starting with a team of three, the firm now employs 70 people. In other words, Sean has built a hugely successful business around skill, craft and, of course, wood.

In this episode we talk about: his relationship with Sir Terence; how his love of timber began; studying at the legendary Parnham College under John Makepeace; finding the heart of a craftsman; the future of work; and the importance of apprenticeships.

It’s searingly honest and really quite emotional.

Find out more about Peter Lord and Aardman

The Sage Sit/Stand workbench and desk by Benchmark