Made in Britain: Soane Britain

Soane Britain make furniture, lighting and fabric.

Lulu Lyle of Soane Britain.

Lulu Lyle of Soane Britain.

For anyone like me, brought up in the Far East prior to whole-house air conditioning, rattan was the material of choice for furniture. From coffee tables to nightstands via mirrors and chests of drawers, rattan would reliably withstand the excessive heat and humidity of the Tropics. Although it first came to Europe via the Dutch East Indies, this versatile material—which can be stained, painted and steam-bent into almost any configuration— gained widespread popularity within Edwardian Society years after Harry Peach founded the first cane-furniture company in Leicester in 1907.

Fast-forward 100 years, and Britain’s last rattan workshop faced closure, following myriad changes in furniture fashion and competition from cheap imports. Enter Lulu Lytle of Soane Britain, a self-confessed evangelist of British-made craftsmanship. ‘It was 2011 and we’d been working with the workshop for about six years, when I received the news it was going into administration,’ explains Lulu. ‘We stepped in and I’m delighted to say that rattan sales are growing and we now have six employees, apprenticeships and a new collection launching next week.’

Soane Britain began in 1997 after Lulu spent a summer travelling around England meeting craftsmen. ‘Back then, the “Made in Britain” label didn’t mean much, but it didn’t cross my mind not to make things here. I found lots of brilliant craftsmen who weren’t very busy, but they taught me everything and, together, we’re producing designs that are either copies of antiques or made from scratch.’ What started off with an interest in food provenance has spread and an interest in things produced locally has caught on, believes Lulu. ‘People do care now. From free-range eggs to diamonds, they want to understand the value of their investment.’

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