With a penchant for travel and carpentry in his blood, Neil Buckley-Jensen developed the idea for web-based reclaimed furniture business Little Tree Furniture whilst meandering off the beaten track in India. Rejuvenated last year, the company is going from strength to strength – Victoria Noakes from Hospitality Interiors’ sister title, Furniture News, paid Neil a visit to find out more …
Having spent a number of years working as an air steward, involving numerous trips to India, Neil made the most of his spare time in the country by venturing further afield than his colleagues. In doing so, he discovered a number of carpentry yards, satisfying his fascination with woodworking by investigating the furniture created in the area. Neil found that the products were made from reclaimed wood, its inherent character creating a striking appearance.
Whilst working as a steward, Neil met his wife, and later, they bought an old 19th-century property in Bexhill, East Sussex. When it came to refurbishing the house, a number of desirable natural features became apparent, and Neil wanted to choose furniture that would complement and enhance the interior.
“We didn’t want to ruin the inherent beauty of the house by filling it with mainstream furniture, and at first we struggled to find the right thing. This prompted us to design our own furniture, taking inspiration from what I found on my visits to India. We ended up taking our plans to India to get them made from reclaimed wood,” says”Neil.
Upon finishing the house, the response from family and friends was extremely positive, planting the seed for Little Tree Furniture. In 2009, Neil began fulfilling bespoke commissions – however, the economic climate at the time prevented the business from fully getting off the ground.
Deciding that a change of tack was needed, Neil expanded the company’s product offering and moved the collections online, which proved a wise step for the business. Now, Neil’s home-turned-showroom provides the setting for customers to see Little Tree Furniture’s products up close.
Little Tree Furniture works with around 100 manufacturers across India – the majority in the north where wood is easier to acquire. Wood is readily recycled in India, and the company uses high quality reclaimed wood from many different sources – ranging from Catholic churches and old Colonial buildings to railway sleepers and fishing boats. Much of the hardwood is over 100 years old, meaning each piece has an intriguing story behind it and features a unique, distinctive appearance.
The company produces a wide range of furniture, including dining tables, chairs and benches, chests of drawers, bed frames, wardrobes and cabinets – with a choice of styles. Little Tree Furniture’s Cafe Living range is reserved especially for a variety of commercial spaces, and includes a selection of striking reclaimed and industrial-style stools, tables and chairs.
“The traditional carpentry method used by the woodworkers in India really appeals to me and fits in with the ethos of Little Tree Furniture. The classic, old tools used in India are similar to those used in the past in Britain, showing that we are connected in history,” Neil explains.
“I feel that I have a genuine bond with the people I work with in India, and in a way I”view them as an extended family. It is important for me to know those involved in the different stages of business personally, and Indian culture has a significant meaning to me. This ties in with the fact that Little Tree Furniture is at heart a family business with an emphasis on traditional values, customer focus and a personal service.”
The eco-friendly appeal of Little Tree’s product offering, alongside the multitude of design capabilities afforded with unique upcycled furniture, mean that the company garners interest from those looking to escape from the norm and differentiate themselves from competition. Interior designers, architects and specifiers make up a large part of Little Tree’s target market – the trend of upcycling being one that translates well into both residential and hospitality projects.
Although initially just catering to consumer demand online, the company continues to receive an increasing amount of commercial interest – with Nando’s and Turtle Bay restaurants and Park Inn by Radisson hotel now amongst its repertoire. Neil is keen to develop this side of the business, and as such is strengthening Little Tree’s commercial product portfolio further.
Amongst these ambitious plans, maintaining the essence and integrity of the brand is of utmost importance. Neil’s vision is to remain web-based whilst growing the company to meet its full potential. With the glowing reputation that the company has acquired in its relatively short lifespan so far, surely Little Tree Furniture is looking at a bright future.