MEET THE MAKERS | Sean and Ellie from Selwyn House
Behind the scenes with Sean and Ellie, founders of contemporary wooden tableware brand (and beloved Object Story partner), Selwyn House.
The first time I saw the beautiful tableware made by Selwyn House, I knew it would be a great match for Object Story. Founders Sean and Ellie hand-make their items from their studio in Northamptonshire, with huge love and attention to detail invested into each new piece.
Each item is slightly different too, owing to the natural character of the British timber that they use – usually sourced from a supply hidden in a stack deep in the English countryside . Like many Object Story customers, I love the rustic simplicity of a Selwyn House sycamore bowl or oak serving board; the way you can trace the movement of the grain within it; the sense of physical beauty, combined with utility.
In many ways, the journey of Selwyn House as a brand echoes that of Object Story – I set up my business around the same time as them, we both count among each others’ first stockists, and we both see the value of small and slow. So it was my pleasure to sit down with Sean and Ellie recently, and find out more about their making process. Here’s what they had to say:
Selwyn House is named after Ellie’s childhood home in Derbyshire.
The business came about after we had the opportunity to move there in 2017. Up until that point, we’d both been in nine to five jobs, not really doing anything creative and we weren’t that fulfilled. Life was divided between work and finding what few hours we could during the evenings or at the weekend for time together/ hobbies.
Selwyn House had a workshop attached to it, so we started making things for ourselves. The tableware theme came about pretty naturally, because we really enjoy having friends and family over for food. And so that’s what the core of our design concept became: gathering people around the table, and making things that will help do that.
We were inspired by the feel of Selwyn House as a home, too – the tableware we were creating was suitable for modern living, without being too modern. Our pieces started to develop this timeless, homely feel that fits with other everyday items, such as ceramics or vintage pieces.
We had minimal tools to begin with, so we taught ourselves.
We very quickly found we enjoyed this slow, traditional way of working; of handcrafting each piece from start to finish. We come to every piece from the standpoint of, “How does this piece need to function, how will it feel and fit into everyday life?”, followed by, “How do we make that?!”
I think that this handmade quality has become one of our USPs. We spend a lot of time shaping and fettling our pieces, making very fine adjustments to the final finish; and people really do notice the value of that. We hope there’s a soul to what we make: you can feel that it's gone through people's hands and because you’re working from natural material, what we make changes a little bit each time. The fact that we've really laboured over every piece is what makes our business even more special. We just enjoy the making process more because of it.
We got our first big wholesale order just as the UK went into lockdown in March 2020.
It came in from a company in Switzerland. There was a week or so when we were thinking, “Can we do this? Can we source the timber with everything so disrupted?” But once we did, we realised it was a turning point; we knew we could make Selwyn House into a full-time business.
We're not looking to be a huge production company, though. That's not the point. Mostly, we've got good relationships with very small suppliers; they’re often our friends. We don’t have any computer-controlled machinery in our workshop. Our pieces are cut, planed, shaped and sanded by hand, with a lot of invisible processes to get to the finished piece. Coming from a Fine Art background [Sean and Ellie met studying Fine Art at Leeds Arts University], we both want the function of our tableware pieces to be almost invisible, too. The design should be intuitive, easy and beautiful; fitting in with the landscape of how you live.
It has taken us a long time to find timber suppliers that we really trust.
You can almost instantly tell the passion of a supplier. We love to visit woodyards that greet us with, “Come and look at this. Isn't it good?” Often our suppliers know where the tree grew, why it was taken down, which board is going to be the best – and we hope to share some of that passion in our pieces.
With our emphasis on the best British-grown timbers, we really appreciate, rather than try to avoid, the variety of timber we come across. Even in the same species there’s huge differences in colour and grain, but this shows the life of the tree, so we want to celebrate that. Each piece will be a little bit different, and what we produce can be influenced by the timber we find.
One issue we want to explore more this year is utilising our timber wastage.
We’ve got better and better at minimising our leftover scraps. For example, we already make smaller things like our baubles out of waste that comes from creating other, larger products. It’s such a shame to burn scraps, so I think we’ll want to expand that approach further in the coming months.
There’s so much great British timber but many trees are simply taken down and chipped for firewood. We want to recognise the value of British timber, using it fully and in a way that’s sustainable to everyday living.
Thank you so much, Sean and Ellie! Find out more about the treasures made at Selwyn House right here or feel free to browse our collection, below.