Celebrating 20 years in business is a significant milestone for any company, especially when the firm in question has evolved to become a renowned industry name. Alexander Rose has spent the last two decades leading the way in product innovation in the outdoor furniture sector, and has many more plans up its sleeve. Borge Leth, MD at Alexander Rose, speaks with Hospitality Interiors about breaking into the contract market, the company’s expansion into Europe and why our current throw-away ethos should be binned for good.

Although traditionally an outdoor furniture manufacturer for the high-end residential sector, Sussex-based Alexander Rose has built a firm reputation in the contract market over recent years, having secured a number of prestigious hospitality projects.

The company’s MD, Borge Leth, started out as a cabinetmaker by trade and naturally possesses a genuine passion for design and craftsmanship. This shines through in the company’s focus on innovation, quality and sustainability that remains at the heart of Alexander Rose products.

The creation of high-quality products is the core of Alexander Rose’s design ethos. Under the guide of Borge and head of design, Alan Morley, the company strives to provide aesthetic furniture that lasts. Throughout its 20 years, the company has introduced numerous innovations and ranges to the outdoor furniture sector.

These include Broadfield, the first garden bench with curved back slats; Avant, the first range constructed from stainless steel; and the Iroko swing seat, which still sells well after 18 years on the market. One of its more dramatic designs of recent years is the Ocean Lantern, a striking woven pod in an open-weave pattern that can be either freestanding or hung to create a focal point in any outdoor space.

Although Borge acknowledges that trends in the outdoor furniture evolve – “I hope so, otherwise we have the wrong stuff!” – he admits that it’s a gradual process: “Nothing ever happens straight away in this industry – everything evolves over time. When the company started in 1993, 90% of our furniture was made of wood.

“Stainless steel was introduced in 1999, and has been a slow process. It never really took off in the UK market because it is very conservative, and the material is thought of as too contemporary. However, stainless steel did take off in Europe, and now our Avant collection of 50 pieces is considered a classic design.”

The choice of materials has always played a big role in Alexander Rose’s design process. Contemporary furniture using steel, aluminum and woven rattan has come to the fore. However, wooden furniture is still the most popular for the UK market, and the company takes great care to ensure that it is as sustainable as possible. Alexander Rose is involved with the Made Aware scheme, and over 95% of its timber is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified.

Borge explains: “Wood is the only sustainable material available, and can grow a lot faster than people think – anything from 12-100 years. Alongside environmental responsibilities we also take the longevity of our products seriously. Our furniture is built to last for up to 20 years, going against the current consumer mindset of buying cheaper pieces that need to be replaced after only a year or two”.

Alexander Rose’s emphasis on aesthetics and durability has made the company’s move into the contract market one of relative ease. Out of the 300 furniture pieces on offer, 80 are specifically suited to the contract market. Since the appointment of contract sales manager, Katy Heasman, three years ago, the company’s presence in this sector has soared in both the UK and Europe.

Alexander Rose’s success in winning contract projects is thanks in part to its ability to provide a bespoke service. Proposed designs are displayed via three-dimensional digital software, allowing the client to visualise how the space will look. “This is a tool that you need to have when working in the contract market,” Borge explains.

“Contract clients want something unique that no one else has. Hotels are design-led, and designers want to put their own mark on it as part of their branding. Bespoke projects present new challenges and create greater potential for innovation.”

Working with contract projects to create bespoke designs can also bring forth new ideas for the company’s stock ranges. “Bespoke helps everyone in the creative process to come up with new ideas,” Borge says. “We designed a stainless steel range for one hotel that didn’t materialise, and this is now part of our 2014 range.”

Alexander Rose is growing in popularity in both the UK and Europe. The company’s expansion into the Continent has taken a front seat in recent years, with 20% of its products now being exported. With a new sales representative in Germany and distributors throughout Europe, the brand is only set to become more popular overseas.

“The market for outdoor furniture in the UK is shrinking,” Borge says. “In 2012, we had the wettest summer in 100 years, and in 2013 we had the coldest spring in 50 years. Weather forecasters have actually started to put their hands up and say ‘we can’t forecast – we give up!’

“This industry is so affected by the weather. At this year’s Solex trade show,, for example, we did extremely well because of the sun – everyone was smiling and happy, and this had a positive impact in terms of sales. Last year we were practically in canoes, so didn’t do so well.”

A positive attitude is one of the hallmarks of Alexander Rose. As Borge enthuses: “Happy people is what it’s all about, and this is reflected in our products and client and customer services.” Constantly generating new ideas and finding ways to expand is part of the company’s drive and mindset, and the industry is left in anticipation for what the next 20 years will bring.

Alexander Rose’s iconic pieces
1. Broadfield Bench in iroko hardwood (1998)
2. Royal Swing Seat in iroko hardwood (1999)
3. Bengal Ring Top Table in teak hardwood (2001)
4.  Avant 263 Armchair in stainless steel and teak hardwood (2003)
5. Belfry Picnic Table in pine softwood (2004)
6. Wave Swing Seat woven in bronze rose fibres (2008)
7. Colonial Chaise Lounge woven in red pine rose fibres (2011)
8. Tivoli Armchair in roble hardwood (2012)
9. Ocean Lantern woven in bronze rose fibres (2012)
10. Hyacinth Wing Chair woven in twisted rose fibres (2013)
11. 4m-high hand-woven Reindeer in red pine rose fibres (2013)

Where is the furniture made?
Alexander Rose wood furniture is precision manufactured in the company’s factory in Bolivia. The hand-woven collections are made in its factory in Cebu in the Philippines, where great care is taken to allow the local economy to prosper through fair wages, healthcare and education opportunities. A newly-created Apprenticeship Scheme at the Cebu factory provides long-term training for young people, helping them to secure employment and keep traditional craftsmanship techniques alive.

Where can I see the products first hand?
Alexander Rose’s products are displayed at its headquarters in Burgess Hill, West Sussex, as well as the recently-opened Stylematters UK showroom in Knutsford, Cheshire. The company also exhibits at a number of trade shows across Europe, and will make an appearance at Spoga+Gafa in Cologne this September and the Moscow Garden Show next March.