Teresa Rivera and Grant Wilkinson, May 2022.

Wilkinson & Rivera

Studio Visit

With the Milan Salone just around the corner, SCP’s Editor Duncan Riches talks to a new London-based creative partnership, Wilkinson & Rivera, who have just made their first designs for SCP.

Wilkinson & Rivera is the husband and wife team of Grant Wilkinson and Teresa Rivera, he hails from the UK, while she is from the US. They quit their day jobs last year to follow their passion for furniture design. We took a short trip up to their studio at the Blackhorse Workshops in Walthamstow, to find out what they are up to.

They first met while studying Fine Art at Camberwell University, part of the UAL in London. Teresa was on a study abroad scheme, taking a term away from the Tyler School of Art & Architecture in Philadelphia, where she was studying painting and sculpture. Coming from quite a regimented and strict academic environment in the US, she was surprised by the relaxed and informal atmosphere of studying in London. As Grant says, “Camberwell is a good time”. Teresa explains “I ended up just taking the opportunity to make friends, and learn London, and I caught the bug and fell in love with the city.”

After graduating Teresa did try to live and work in New York, her home city, for a year, but it just didn’t feel right, so she returned to London. Their romance blossomed and they soon got married. “We had a lovely reception in Peckham Registry Office and then a pub crawl”, adds Grant.

The view from the workshop.
Blackhorse Workshop entrance.

So, how did they come to the decision to work with furniture?

Teresa:
“I think we were both a bit put off from the idea of fine art. I think we felt to be a fine artist you almost had to be a celebrity.”

Grant:
“It’s a very exclusive club, selling artists.”

Teresa:
“Just the idea of it just being me, and my work, and what I have suddenly proclaimed as worthy of looking at or addressing, I was just very put off by it.”

Grant:
“I just never had confidence in my own ideas. I always felt so untethered when I was trying to make fine art. To skip forward to be doing this, for some reason, if I could tether it to a chair, to a function, then I had complete freedom to express myself. As opposed to when it could be anything, I just felt completely lost.”

Teresa:
“Yeah, we both got completely into function basically. I ended up in New York being an apprentice for a furniture maker. I got really into the idea of making a chair. When I came back, and we got together, he caught that furniture making bug.”

Grant:
“I was just trying to impress Teresa, so I tried to be a furniture maker.”

Studio tool wall.

“I just never had confidence in my own ideas. I always felt so untethered when I was trying to make fine art. To skip forward to be doing this, for some reason, if I could tether it to a chair, to a function, then I had complete freedom to express myself. As opposed to when it could be anything, I just felt completely lost.”

Grant Wilkinson

Grant ended up working at a traditional globe maker in Stoke Newington called Bellerby and Co., doing carpentry for them, while Teresa had become an interior designer. She was at the same firm for three years and by the end of it felt that with so much computer based work she was losing her skill for making.

Teresa:
“Then the pandemic hit and I fell pregnant, and we basically came to the realisation that we needed to make our own hours. We were kind of sick of working for somebody else’s creative endeavour.”

Grant:
“That was a complete turning point. I was working stupid hours and we were all miserable. So we just jacked it in. We had spoken about it before.”

Teresa:
“We had always dreamt about it, but something about having an actual responsibility that goes beyond just having to make your rent. We were deeply coasting for a really long time.”

Workbench.
Chair in the making.

They found the studio at Blackhorse Workshops as it was very close to their home. For them, it has the right mix of workbench facilities and studio space, allowing them to get their hands dirty making, while also taking their first steps as a creative business. After starting with desk space upstairs, they now occupy a single shipping container on the ground floor.

Grant:
“It’s so nice to have this little HQ now. We’ve been in this container for about six months, and here on site for about a year. It was essentially when we launched the Windsor chair, that we launched the company. We launched the chair on Instagram, the softest of soft launches.”

Teresa:
“We were very surprised by the reaction. The Windsor came from a doodle on a napkin essentially and we were spending a lot of time prototyping. When you work with your partner, things can be quite insular, you can be working in an echo chamber essentially. What’s really lovely about this place, is that we can be with other makers. But putting it out to the public, we couldn’t tell if what we were making was absolutely ridiculous and that no-one would care, and it was just something we got satisfaction making. So when it was received quite well, that was a surprise.”

Tools at the workbench.

"The Windsor came from a doodle on a napkin essentially... So when it was received quite well, that was a surprise."

Teresa Rivera

Teresa really wanted a stockist for the chair in New York, in part to give her a reason to be able to fly home and see family, but also because the design scene there is so vibrant at the moment.

Teresa:
“I think being a designer maker is a much bigger thing there, and which is perhaps why they are interested in our work. There is also just more money in America, and a more diverse set of money, it’s not just posh people in country estates. You have tech, music, clothing industries, you have so many industries where young people can make good money and they want to express themselves through their clothes, or interiors and so on. My most ideal stockist would be The Future Perfect, as I had been a fan of theirs for ever.”

Through a mix of good contacts and fortune, the pair got introduced to Laura Young from the Future Perfect and she wanted to both stock the chair, and to commission new pieces for Design Miami.

Grant:
“It was like a tornado for two months.”

Laura then introduced the pair to Sheridan, and the rest is, as they say, history. I ask them about the working process, what does it look like at the moment?

Grant:
“It really fluctuates depending on how much production we’ve got to get through. There are times when you get here and just bury your head in production all day.”

Teresa:
“It’s the forever story of the entrepreneur, we’re shipping logistics, we’re customer services and all that. We have one employee who has helped so much on the production side of things, which allows us a little rest from that and means we can work on some design work, or respond to briefs, when people tend to want something new. I think there is no linear way in which we work.”

Grant:
“I actually now think we have got quite good at taking it home with us, but in the right way. It’s easy to take the stressful things home, but we do some much of the creative side of things just hanging out at home. If one of us has a eureka moment, we take five minutes to talk about it, do a quick sketch. We procrastinate by doing the creative side of things, which now works really well. We don’t bicker about production schedules over cereal in the morning.”

Studio wall.

It’s early days in their creative practice, but I ask if they have a dream scenario going forward?

Grant:
“I think we are going through a transitional point at the moment. Up to this point everything has been handmade by us. We just realised that we are at capacity, we can’t make as much as we want to. Especially if we are making everything here, it just means we don’t really have time to develop anything new. So we are looking at outsourcing production and seeing where that takes us really.”

Teresa:
“We want to retain the handmade element to some of our work, but they will be limited editions, or one-offs, or commissions. And then the smaller pieces within our collection we would like to have made elsewhere. We are also deeply aware of the fact that our price points are incredibly high because they are handmade. It makes it inaccessible to some people and we would like to democratise our price points a bit more.”

Grant:
“We definitely always want to be making, I just could never let go of it. Even if we are producing a lot more designs that we can make ourselves, I think we will always be prototyping and we will always be experimenting in the workshop.”

Teresa:
“Just being designers, that would not be as much fun.”

An piece of coffee table in the making.
Wilkinson & Rivera HQ.
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