The man who risked it all for a life making beautiful garden furniture

Simon Burvill threw caution to the wind when he gave up a career in engineering in order to make outdoor furniture. 25 years on, that gamble has paid off handsomely.

Simon Burvill photographed by Richard Cannon / Country Life

Simon Burvill photographed by Richard Cannon / Country Life

It was during a skiing holiday in the early 1990s that Simon Burvill of outdoor furniture makers Gaze Burvill decided a career change was required. Having always harboured an interest in woodworking, he turned his back on his job in engineering and applied for an intensive one-year furniture and forestry course at Hooke Park in Dorset, a college founded by John Makepeace.

The course proved to be life-changing, and even now – a quarter of a century on – one of Simon’s most treasured possessions still comes from those days. It’s a chopping board he made from a section of alder tree that he cut down himself, something he says that he’d ‘never sell’.

While learning everything from woodland management through to product development, he studied under Christian Graze and, together, they found a shared interest in creating outdoor furniture that would not only use environmentally sound timber, but also, in its design, marry both function and form.

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‘One of the things we did when we launched our first piece – the court seat – in 1993 was to use steam bending to get solid wood curves; in those days, and even today, most manufacturers use glue,’ explains Simon.

‘We also use oak because it’s durable, environmentally sustainable and you can bend it, which isn’t an option with a lot of tropical wood. That’s how we get details such as flared curves on corners and achieve a clean, linear design.’

Almost all the company’s raw oak is sourced in a sawmill near the Pyrenees, an area that has long provided barrels for nearby wine regions. The wood – all of which is at least 120 years old – is then shipped to the company’s workshop near Alton in Hampshire, where pieces are constructed using both traditional techniques and the latest technology.

Simon is fastidious about the quality: ‘When the wood arrives in the form of planks, we always take the centre plank, which is the best and most stable – something like the fillet steak of an oak tree.’

In more than 25 years in business, Simon has watched the evolution of the role of the garden. ‘When we first started, people used to view their gardens as separate places, but, in the past 20 years, they’ve become integrated with the house.’

Simon Burvill by Richard Cannon / Country Life

Simon Burvill photographed by Richard Cannon / Country Life

To reflect this, the company launched a new collection at Chelsea called Levity. Designed by Katie Walker, and combining both dovetail joints and machine twists, the pieces are lighter in weight and can be used both outdoors and indoors on rooftops and on terraces.