Jamie and Rhiannon are owners, designers and makers at Atelier Cabinet Makers (formerly known as J Smith Woodwork). Working out of an idyllic workshop on the outskirts of Sherborne, Dorset, they’re a company who have embraced social media, from how to’s on their YouTube channel to generating work through Instagram. This hardworking, innovative team are blazing a trail in the industry and doing so with a lot of machinery and tools from Axminster. Here we meet them at their workshop.
How did Atelier Cabinet Makers begin?
Jamie: I trained as a cabinet maker for 5 years working for another local cabinet making company. After this time I felt I’d reached my limit within that job and wanted to progress further. I’d always wanted to run my own business one day and felt this was a good time to start. We changed our name from J Smith Woodwork to Atelier Cabinet Makers at the end of 2017.
How did you get started in working with wood?
Jamie: From a young age, I’d always been interested in woodwork. My dad is a landscape gardener, and when I was younger he always used to give me off cuts of wood to make things from. It started off with ramps for me and my brothers to ride our bikes on, then when I got older and while studying design technology in school, I progressed to making wood lamp bases and my very first solid oak desk.
Rhiannon: For me, it started when I met Jamie. I really love interior design and would constantly be asking Jamie to make me things, whether it was a floating shelf or a side table. One day I went to see him at work and watched what he was doing. It was amazing to see him take the raw material and by the end of the day see it transform to a practical, yet beautiful piece.
What do you both bring to the business?
Rhiannon: Creativity and design.
Jamie: Nine years experience of cabinet making and a passion for working with wood.
You have quite a rural workshop set amongst beautiful countryside, how did you come to being there?
Jamie: Luck. I joined a local network group where on my first visit I sat next to a chap who lives in a cottage just up the road from our workshop. He said he knew a farmer who was looking to rent out some old stone buildings. After the meeting, we popped down to our now workshop and fell in love with the building and its character. Complete with an old lucky horseshoe above the door, it was exactly what we had in mind.
How long have you been there?
Rhiannon: We moved in October 2015. About a month later we had all the big Axminster machinery delivered.
What do you specialise in making?
Jamie: We specialise in designing and making bespoke handmade kitchens, cabinets and furniture. Everything from the initial design to the final installation.
What are you working on at the moment?
Jamie: We are currently working on a traditional shaker style utility room for an old farm house.
Do you prefer using machines or hand tools? Which ones are your favourite?
Jamie: I prefer hand tools; you get a real understanding of the wood you’re working with. I’ve got some lovely old hand tools that have been in my family for many years, including hand planes and chisels that belonged to my granddad. For my day to day business, I couldn’t appreciate more having the Axminster panel saw. Yes, it takes up space in the workshop, but it massively speeds up different processes and the accuracy is incredible.
What part of the making process do you most enjoy and why?
Jamie: I love the finishing process, from assembling components to applying oils and finishes. You very quickly see what you have been working on come together. It’s so nice to complete a project, whether it’s a piece of furniture or a whole bespoke kitchen. I get a huge amount of satisfaction and sense of achievement when I stand back and look at the finished work.
Rhiannon: I love the designing process the most. I enjoy making a piece, but I enjoy viewing my designs being built and brought together by Jamie more. I’m just self taught on programs like SketchUp and there’s nothing I enjoy more than having a one to one with someone. I get to understand what they really want from a piece and design it – Jamie then brings it to life.
What was the first thing you made?
Jamie: For me, it was a bedside cabinet. This was back during school when I first found that I liked woodworking and decided it would be something I would like to do as a career. I always loved working on projects as a kid and would use my dad’s tools and timber to build ramps for bikes.
Rhiannon: The first thing I made was an oak chopping board, but the first thing I designed was our bespoke Ash stool, which we are now selling plans for on our online shop.
Who or what inspires you?
Jamie: I love to take inspiration from other makers. We’re lucky as with the technology nowadays we can discover, follow and interact with other makers through social media such as one of our favourites, Instagram.
Rhiannon: I also really enjoy Instagram and Pinterest, but also watching TV programs such as Grand Designs and Amazing Spaces. One day, I hope to design my own home and workshop.
What is the best advice you have ever been given and by who?
Rhiannon: I wouldn’t say it was advice as such, but my grandad played a huge part in my adult life. His strength and courage and general ‘get on with it’ mantra was contagious. Whenever things get too much and full on I always think of him. There’s nothing more satisfying than building something yourself and working for yourself. Create a life that you’re proud of and don’t be too caught up in materialistic things.