x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Living in Wonderland

Interview Mark Wilkinson, a leading furniture designer and self-confessed dreamer, picked up some sandpaper at the age of 10 and has never looked back.

Mark Wilkinson in the garden house he designed for his home. The twist candlestick (far left) is his signature design.
Mark Wilkinson in the garden house he designed for his home. The twist candlestick (far left) is his signature design.

Mark Wilkinson, a leading furniture designer and self-confessed dreamer, picked up some sandpaper at the age of 10 and has never looked back. He rebuilt his own home in Wiltshire almost from scratch.

The garden is superb. I have a stainless steel tree there, complete with crystal fruit and two lakes with a conjoining waterfall, which is crossable via a 'broken' bridge. It's only a gap of about 18 inches but it makes you stop and think. You have to take a leap of faith and cross that gap. There's also an island with a cave, which my Feng-Shui expert tells me, has a dragon living in it.

My home is a total reflection of my inventiveness as a creative product designer. I believe in designing classical styles that have a life, which can be translated into all kinds of products. I've been told that the house should never be changed, and donated to the National Trust as a museum. It's even been nicknamed Wonderland. Although that's other people's name for it - not mine. I just consider it my home.

We've been working on it for over 10 years. From what was once a two-bedroom farmworker's house, we've built a seven-bedroom home, along with a cottage. At its heart is a huge, vaulted dining hall with a staircase leading to a mezzanine landing. When we first bought the house our plan was to pull it down. But when we looked closer, we discovered a 14th-century cottage beneath a mass of 20th-century work. The house revealed itself as the foundation of a really beautiful home."

I have fixed oak floors in all the rooms - sometimes leaving them bare, sometimes using loose carpets and rugs. Skirting, architraves, windows and sills are oak in every room, and all the doors are of my own design, for which I have a patent. They have wooden hinges - something previously considered impossible. I love a challenge, so I worked on it and came up with the solution.

My bedroom. It has one of my sleigh-beds, a beautiful dresser made up of seven circles and a private writing area. It also overlooks the valley and still has the home of one of its past residents up in the rafters - a swallow's nest.

I think it stems from the fact that I'm profoundly dyslexic. I have an almost neurotic compulsion to make things beautiful. Despite the fact that I'm in Mensa, I was in the D stream at school and people would say, 'Wilkinson, you idiot!' Then I made something beautiful and suddenly, someone said, 'Oh, well done Wilkinson - that's really lovely'. As a child, you want to be praised, so from there on, I just continued to nurture the urge.

From everyday life. Take the Cinderella coach bed. A friend and I were talking about how, when you have daughters, they become your special princess. It's a dad thing. Well, that got me thinking - what do princesses have? Coaches, of course. My friend asked me to make one for his daughter. It was only meant to be a one-off, but it's proved very popular. It even comes complete with six white horses.

The furniture we make has a very small carbon footprint because it's built to last. As long as drawer runners and hinges are changed every 30 years or so, there's no reason why our pieces shouldn't last centuries. It's important to me that none of my pieces ever 'jar'. That way, while you might get bored with them, they'll still be as relevant in 50 years time, as they are today.

I actually despise the idea of minimalist interiors, which insist that their owners remain tidy. I want rooms that welcome me home, that allow me to leave a drink or a newspaper or a jacket lying around if I want to. I am a compulsive tidier, but that's my choice - not the choice of an interior designer.

Oh, hundreds of things. I never run out of ideas. But I'd need several lifetimes in order to do it. There's just never enough time. I'd love to design a car or a motorbike or a railway. Steam trains, now they are wonderful. Woo, woo!