Journalist Terry Stiastny meets Raft’s founders Mick Quinn and Heinz Frye - and discovers some unusual combinations..
“I suppose we are pretty obsessive. Nuts, really, isn’t it?”
Mick and Heinz share an obsession -- producing the best-designed and best quality furniture they can. I’d just put it to them that designing your own product, getting it made in your own factory out of materials you source and prepare, if necessary on the other side of the world, then warehousing and delivering it yourself -- is far from typical. As if that’s not enough it all has to meet their high ethical standards: they insist on using only reclaimed teak, for instance.
Heinz Frye is in charge of operations and logistics. At 6’5” and of German origin, he looks as though he could single-handedly deliver your large teak table to your top floor apartment. Mick Quinn is wiry, London-Irish by origin, and is the designer and salesman with a flair for style and words.
So what’s it all about, guys?
“It’s a bit of a mission to do things the right way..."
Mick says, “We’re just fascinated in how things are made, what they’re made of. We start with materials - as honest and genuine as possible - then come up with a look that complements their character.”
Design is at the heart of Raft. And design begins with not only choosing the best materials, but also taking care over their sourcing.
“It’s a bit of a mission to do things the right way - using common sense but in quite a moral way,” explains Heinz.
“It’s about a whole approach to how you do business”, Mick continues. “For instance, it makes sense to use reclaimed teak for furniture. Not only is it a beautiful, weathered material that is effectively indestructible. It’s also the right thing to do.”
The teak that they buy in Indonesia is all recycled, rather than grown on plantations. And the way they buy it aims to help local communities. “People take down houses that won’t stand earthquakes in Yogyakarta in Java. We take the wood, we buy it off them, and with the money we give them they can rebuild their houses in new materials that can withstand earthquakes. That’s how we source our wood. Then our reclaimed teak furniture is manufactured locally.”
This is already beyond what most businesses do. I asked Mick and Heinz to explain a recent innovation -- using world-leading green methods to season the wood.
“Ah, using solar power to power our kilns in Yogyakarta?”, Mick responds.
Again, he says, it’s a question of common sense, but also the right thing to do. “The place has got sunlight from morning to night, they’ve got a massive natural resource. We weren’t happy to do what other firms are doing - burning fossil fuels to dry the timber and then calling it green!”
But if their timber is sourced and seasoned in Java, why did they decide to build Raft’s sofas in North London? Mick and Heinz say that it’s a combination of common sense, ethics and a dash of creativity.
Heinz says “We wanted sofas made to the highest standards - like our wooden furniture, distinctive designs rendered in the best materials. Fabrics, frames, springs and so on. The only way we could get the sofas we wanted for our customers was to build our own Raft factory. Having a London factory means we can oversee things easily. It also happens that manufacturing in the UK is pretty competitive cost-wise nowadays. Manufacturing locally also means we can adapt specifications and update styles very easily and that’s important for our sofa customers”.
"We’re just fascinated in how things are made, what they’re made of"
They are very keen to protect their own original designs - even defending their intellectual property in the courts on occasion. As Mick explains, “It’s never been about the money, but about protecting what we’ve set out to create – especially with regard to the eco certifications, which others skip on but are a huge part of our brand identity.”
Over the last 12 years Mick and Heinz have shown that you can combine exclusive style, common sense and strong ethics. Their obsessions seem to work for all of us.