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Gloucestershire-based Thomas Messel exchanged stockbroking for designing bespoke furniture.

Thomas Messel designs glamorous, bespoke furniture from a studio in his picturesque, sixteenth-century house in Gloucestershire. His clients include top London and American designers such as Interior Designer Alidad, Colefax and Fowler, Amanda Murray and Michael Priest.

‘I was destined for an artistic career’ says Thomas, who was hugely influenced by his uncle, famous theatrical designer Oliver Messel. ‘When I was a boy, I could draw beautifully, but I didn’t envisage that it would be useful to my career,’ he explains. As a consequence, Thomas joined the Household Cavalry, and then worked in the city as a stockbroker at L Messel & Co, before – with Oliver’s help and encouragement – getting a job as design assistant at Charles Hammond, then based in Sloane Street. One of his duties was sourcing furniture. ‘I couldn’t find the sort of pieces I wanted anywhere, so I decided to design them myself’, he says. In this way, Thomas discovered his niche, and in 1980 he set up his own studio.

His first orders came from both interior designers and private clients, including Tom and Miriam Stoppard. ‘I was very lucky’ admits Thomas. ‘Soon I had built up a reputation for creating pieces that were imaginative and of meticulous craftsmanship.’ Thomas moved to his current house and premises 25 years ago, when he married Pepe, a painter.

Originally Thomas decorated the furniture himself, having learnt the necessary skills through research and experimentation. But once the business had grown to a certain size, he decided to concentrate primarily on design.

‘I imagine myself as being similar to a composer and a conductor’ explains Thomas, who produces detailed drawings for each of the craftsmen involved in making a particular piece of furniture. Usually the various components are made separately, then assembled under Thomas’s instruction in the cabinet-maker’s workshop.

Thomas recently completed a table commissioned by the Countess of Derby for her husband, to commemorate their tenth wedding anniversary. Above a walnut, amboyna, satinwood and ormolu base raised on bronze feet, the scagliola top is inlaid with Derbyshire blue john. The top – made by Thomas Kennedy using Thomas’s full-size ink-and-watercolour pictures – depicts four of Lord Derby’s significant achievements, including the restoration of Knowsley Hall (his family seat), and the introduction of endangered species to Knowsley’s safari park. ‘Every inch of it means something,’ says Thomas, adding ‘it was a hugely enjoyable commission that took eight months to complete’.

Author: Jennifer Goulding