Will Hibbert, co-founder of Forest to Home, talks about the inspiration behind the brand, and his passion for sustainably-sourced bespoke timber furniture.
When graduate Will Hibbert wanted to explore how he could transform his passion for the natural world into a business, he took a part-time building job on a sprawling country estate in Wiltshire. It was there that he met experienced craftsman Sam Baker, who had spent over a decade meticulously restoring the walled gardens and oak-framed cricket pavilion set within the vast 17th Century estate.
Working side-by-side, the pair soon bonded over their love of craft and nature, and it wasn’t long before they began to brainstorm business ideas. Inspired by the parkland’s bounty, which included impressive pieces of walnut, ash and oak, they then co-designed and made a series of tables. And it was those eye-catching creations that first sowed the seed for Forest to Home.
Now, five years later, the eco-minded business is thriving, with Will as Managing Director and Sam as Creative Director. Rapidly expanding and constantly evolving, Forest to Home handcrafts beautiful, sustainable, solid timber furniture that captures the spirit of the natural world.
Nature has always been my passion and I spent a happy childhood immersed in the Wiltshire countryside, playing in open fields. When I graduated from Bath University in 2015, I instinctively knew I wanted to create a business that harnessed everything the natural world has to offer, while protecting it too.
I was lucky enough to meet Sam through work, and over time we began talking about launching a business with a sustainable emphasis. He’s an exceptionally talented craftsman, with over a decade’s experience working with timber and stone, so it seemed the logical next step that we should join forces.
Timber is one of the most sustainable materials – it’s renewable, strong and of course it’s beautiful too. Trees also gobble up carbon, and well-made wood products last for generations. So sustainably-produced timber furniture effectively protects our environment, while also harnessing the beauty of the natural world. It connects people to nature, and celebrates it too.
Our initial step was to explore ideas, using logs of walnut, ash and oak that we found on the estate. They would normally have been chopped up for firewood, but over evenings and weekends we transformed them into five, one-of-a-kind tables. They were quirky, with pewter melted into the cracks, but they soon sold through word-of-mouth.
Sam made our furniture on the building site at first, but when regular orders began to trickle in, we moved production into a garden shed near Lacock. About the size of a double garage, it was a great starter workshop, but it wasn’t long before we’d outgrown the space. And when we were commissioned to make a vast banqueting table, we had to chop out the dividing wall in the centre, so we could fit it inside!
To cope with increasing demand, we then moved into an ex-chicken shed and rapidly expanded our collection to include desks, seating, shelving and storage. It wasn’t long before highly-respected interior designers and architects were specifying our furniture for their clients’ homes, and we began building up a team of talented craftsmen to fulfil all the orders.
By 2019, demand was so great we had to upscale again, and this time we tripled the size of our workshop. It was then that we finally swapped our handheld sanding machines for drum sanders, which totally transformed the way we work. Previously it had taken us five days to flatten and sand a big table, but suddenly it could be done in four hours.
Right from the outset, we have focused on making ourselves totally accountable when it comes to sustainability. In the embryonic stages, we collaborated with leading experts to develop our sustainability processes and, more recently, we’ve invested in attaining Grown in Britain certification. And when it comes to timber, we go far beyond buying it responsibly, from certified, sustainable sources. We ensure that every piece of wood we use is traceable, right from the forest, through the workshop and to its final destination. And we donate proceeds from every sale to Grown in Britain too, so new trees can be planted on responsibly managed land and continue the circular journey. Ultimately, we want to ensure that those people fighting for a better world are supported, their message shared and that they have the finances to achieve their goals.
In the early days we found some enormous, wide slabs of elm at the saw mill. They took 18 months to dry out, but they made fantastic tables, which were deep brown in colour. They were well over a metre wide, with stunning live edges.
More recently, we launched into our new space with a bang, by taking on a vast commission for Ennismore, the hospitality powerhouse behind Gleneagles. They loved that our furniture looks homely and oozes character, and specified it for their new art deco office space at The Hoxton, in London. Our team swelled to 20 to cope with the demand, and the project was a runaway success.
Over time, our designs have steadily evolved into several collections of handcrafted furniture that really tell the story of the tree. Unlike much of the furniture industry, we’ve never shied away from a slab of timber because it’s slightly curved or knotted. If you gave us ten oak trees, we’d use every single one, and we’ve developed a particular love for Pippy oak. With its unique knots, clusters and delicate grain, it’s peppered with wildly beautiful patterns.
Today, our designs really join the dots between the forest and people’s home, connecting our clients to nature in the process. And they reduce waste too – for example our live edge furniture makes a stunning feature of the outer edge of the tree, which might otherwise be discarded. Most importantly, our furniture is tactile and it has character – it positively shouts out that it was once a tree.