We caught up with Richard Foreman, the founder of Tudor Oak. Richard has started as a traditional oak furniture manufacturer, working on his own. He set up the brand Tudor Oak, making reproduction oak furniture, which quickly became one of the most established in the country. Although he had recently retired from making furniture, Richard keeps busy.
Q: Everyone knows that a person’s childhood very often determines their path in life. What was yours like?
A: My earliest recollection was the Battle of Britain, September 1940. Because my father was away at war, the thing that we were taught from a very early age was the element of self-sufficiency and thrift, because there were little food and a scarcity of most commodities.
When I was very young, I became extremely practical at doing all sorts of jobs around the home and outside, for example, carpentry. My ability to use hand tools and particularly working with wood started at the age of 5 or 6, which continued through my school days where I had a good woodworking teacher. My father was also a great example to me. He was always disappearing into his workshop to do something in wood or metal; we saw practically nothing of him.
In actual fact, I didn’t receive any formal training in furniture making, I am self-taught.
Q: What inspired your future craft?
A: I grew up in old houses, and my family always had a few antiques, mostly made of oak, generally from the 16th-17th centuries. Some pieces were bought by my parents and some were inherited and passed through generations. At this point, I started to relate to oak, and antiques in particular, and my interest progressed. I became aware that a piece made out of oak, however plain it might seem at first, could be completely transformed with love, care and use – it would change in colour and a patina appear; it was then I realised that I wanted to make future antiques.
I began to recognise different periods of English furniture. First of all, I started visiting antique shops and looking at different items with great interest. I learned to look at a piece and know whether it was from the Jacobean period or early Georgian or Elizabethan.
I also started talking to antique dealers and spending time with restorers. They showed me how they achieved various effects when they were restoring a piece of furniture and the importance of timber selection at all times.
Q: Can you remember the first collection or the first pieces of furniture produced by Tudor Oak?
A: The first collection was made in a small workshop in my garage with a set of hand tools. I designed and made in the 17th-century style, 2 dining room suites: tables, chairs and sideboards.
At the time, I lived in a beautiful, mid-15th-century house, so it was perfect as a showroom for my furniture. I used it for 2 years.
Q: Do you prefer period properties to more modern houses?
A: For me, a perfect home is a medieval house, with lots of wonderful quality beams. There are so many ordinary cottages or old houses around. They have their own merit, but my favourite period is from the early 15th to mid-16th century.
Q: Do you have any favourite pieces of furniture?
A: Yes, to see a magnificent Elizabethan table with carved bulbous legs and decorated frieze, accompanied by early chairs and sideboard in a beautiful early room is just wonderful. It gives you a sense of warmth and permanency, especially if there is a decanter of vintage port and 2 glasses on the table!
All furniture has to be beautiful; I have very high standards and strict requirements – the piece of furniture can be perfectly made, but I would say “It’s great, but it’s not beautiful. It does not live”. In my view, furniture, whether it’s an antique or a reproduction, has to have light and life.
Q: Do you have a personal formula for success?
A: For me, it is to have plenty of work and within it a great variety, this creates energy from the interest and then achievement spurs you on further.
You also have to have a natural instinct for business opportunities. It is important to see clearly what is right and what is wrong in what you’re doing and being able to adapt very quickly. There is an element of luck, but you get your luck by working hard.