Meet Ben: Turning reclaimed timber into unique home furniture
27th May 2018
Homes are special places, each containing a unique story within. One of the ways we shape that story is by filling our homes with items that mean something to us, from family photos to living plants to designer furniture.
Recently we’ve been thinking about the people that craft those items - who are they, and why do they dedicate their lives to helping make our homes unique and special? In this short series, we speak with some of those people about their passion and why they do it.
Inspired by reclaimed timber and minimalist design, Ben Cramp’s work does not go unnoticed.
After 15 years working as a product designer for a number of high profile UK and Australian design powerhouses, he decided to combine his passion for furniture with sustainability and break away on his own.
And so, in 2013, Jam Furniture Design was conceived. Its distinctive design language is, Ben says, “A simple result of my selfish desire to create objects that I love.” And true to his Twitter mantra, he’s always looking to create something better.
At the time Jam was founded, he was living down under in Brisbane with his Australian-born wife. But shortly after the business had got off the ground, his desire to return to his Welsh roots brought them back to his hometown of Cardigan, in the heart of Wales.
There must be something in the sea air, as business is booming; he’s collaborated with several large commercial companies, customising furniture to their requirements, such as Etsy UK, Borough Markets, and Giddy Up Coffee in St Paul’s.
Coupled with his unfaltering dedication, is the pride he takes in his craft. “It means the world to me to work with wood that tells a story and timber that’s had a life, long before I carry it through the workshop doors. I do all I can to preserve that story. I carefully consider each piece, retaining the character that just can’t be recreated without time.”
Keen to learn more about Ben’s story, I venture south west and visit him hard at work in his workshop, a converted hay barn on an old working farm.
It’s a brave decision to set up on your own. What motivated you to take the leap and turn your passion into a thriving business?
I started to tire of endless injection mouldings and designing products that my heart wasn’t really into. As a hobby, I began making furniture for myself and it blossomed from there.
The name Jam is different. Does it resonate with you in any way?
A friend used to call me Jammin, taken from Benjamin. I wanted a short punchy brand - something that wouldn’t tie me to a particular style or trend - so it evolved from that.
Setting up a new business is hard graft and can be challenging. What’s been your biggest hurdle?
Balancing work commitments with helping to care for my two young children. Weekends were starting to have little relevance and that’s something I’m addressing.
Your passion lies in an over-saturated industry - what, do you believe, sets you apart from other established and emerging market players?
My experience in industrial design gives me a structured, yet orginative approach. Much of my work is bespoke for large businesses and a lot of that’s down to the development process. I prepare professional proposals using 3D CAD, which allows me to generate photorealistic renderings, before I even take a saw to the timber.
The combination of metal and timber are your staple ingredients, resulting in a refreshing mix of furniture and accessories. Do you have a typical customer in mind when you’re in design mode?
Folded and powder coated metal is my complementary material of choice - the geometry of its clean metal surface contrasts with the mottled appearance of the reclaimed timbers, giving the end result a sleek, sharp finish.
This look appeals to a diverse range of customers, all of whom are design-aware which is how I can best describe them. And they’re based all over the world. The bigger items tend to sell only in the UK due to shipping costs, but the smaller items, like clocks, often sell abroad.
It sounds like large businesses are queueing for your talented touch. What’s the most extensive project you’ve managed?
I was the design-build contractor for Etsy’s London headquarters - a beautifully arranged space. All the desks, meeting tables and planters have my stamp on. It was an honour to work for such a savvy client.
It’s evident there’s been a positive reaction to your products - why do think this is?
Often I’ll personally deliver large items, not only to ensure they arrive in the best possible condition but also to meet the customers. They’re always so enthusiastic about my work.
And of course, I’m the creator as well as the inventor - there are a few components that I outsource, but the bulk of them are handmade in-house. Some projects demand weeks of preparation before anything can be made and others I can conceptualise and build in a short space of time.
How do you approach promoting your work?
Social media marketing is an invaluable platform for me. And, from time to time, something gets picked up by design blogs and magazines, such as my milk carton inspired nestbox. Having a visually appealing website also helps.
Your must get attached to many of your creations. Is it hard letting go?
It can be agonising, especially items such as the nest box, the Ffrâm glass top table, and the Jam Cross Range side table which I’m very fond of. However, making furniture so regularly means that my taste changes just as regularly.
Over the years, you must have constructed thousands of different items. Is there anything left on your wishlist?
A house… just give me a little more time.
Inspiration is the driving force behind your success. Does it come easily to you?
Inspiration is everywhere and anywhere. I’m currently working on a brief which has the potential for a large height adjustable piece and my vision is coming from some left-field utilitarian industrial machinery. It’s important to keep up-to-date with trends and ideas.
Along with inspiration is my belief in quality and what Jam stands for. I’m proud of the business and everything I make. I am where I am because of my background - it’s allowed me to go from a fledgling business to making furniture for one of the world’s biggest brands, in a short time.
You strike me as ambitious, so what’s next for Jam?
I’m keen to keep the business at a manageable size so I can focus on introducing new products. I’d love to own a shop one day, but with so many customers located in the South East, it’s not practical at the moment. I’d rather expand to suit demand.
What key quality makes a good product designer and who, in your eyes is the epitome of this?
Often, the fundamental challenge is to avoid creating hundreds of concepts, but rather to understand the brief well enough to present well-thought-out ones. Tom Dixon has all the qualities of a prolific designer - it’s hard not to be inspired by him.
I imagine your home is full of quirky interesting objects.
It tends to be a test bed for all of my prototypes, and sometimes rejects. The dining room table currently sits on sawhorses, as I procrastinate over which style of legs to build.
One of my treasured items is a wicker life-size stag head, woven from wicker by Michelle Cain who also lives in Cardigan.
You’ve swapped the bayside beaches of Brisbane for a Welsh coastal town - that’s quite a move!
Wales is where I was brought up. It’s actually a ridiculously good lifestyle here - if you can survive the winters. Cardigan is a cultural and charming town, and it’s home to young innovative companies.
If a crystal ball could show you what you’ll be doing in 10 years’ time, what would you like to see?
To still be generating unique furniture which people appreciate and to still be living in Wales.
This article was written by Philippa Hennessy, an award-winning lifestyle and travel writer and blogger.