We’re in Brighton to meet with leading product designer Sean Dare. It’s only as we sit in the town’s tiny yet perfectly formed 64 Degrees restaurant (owner and chef Michael Bremner recently worked his way to the banquet on TV’s Great British Menu) that we realise that, over the years, we’ve seen plenty of Sean’s work, we’ve sat in a number of his chairs, we’ve walked through factories and watched his designs being manufactured – and yet this is the very first time we’ve formally met the man.
Sean established his award winning studio in 2009. Dare Studio has gone on to produce contemporary furniture and lighting products for luxury domestic interiors and high specification contract environments. The family-run company champions the skills of the finest British craftsmen, setting a benchmark for the very best in contemporary design and manufacture.
‘All of our pieces are hand made to order with an acute attention to detail,’ Sean says. ‘We use a combination of sophisticated techniques and the finest, carefully selected materials, making each and every piece special – something we are very proud of.
‘We can offer bespoke flexibility throughout our range allowing all of our pieces to be tailored to the exact requirements of our customer.
‘As a studio, we also offer design and production services to the industry as well as the individual.’
From one off bespoke commissions to mass-produced commercial solutions, Dare Studio has collated an enviable client list, which includes the likes of BBC, Sofitel, Hilton Hotels, Langham Chicago, Diesel, Microsoft, Facebook, Magdalen Chapter, Waterfront Auckland, Pullman Hotels, Royal Obidos, Scandic Hotels, Knightsbridge Furniture, Herman Miller, The Conran Shop, Liberty, Soho House, Selfridges, London Edition, Hard Graft, CB2, The Lakes, M&S and Ercol, to name a few!
We feel it’s important to say, before we go any further, that Sean is also a really good guy. He’s clearly as excited as ourselves to be here at 64 Degrees. ‘I was asked back in the studio whether I was being schmoozed,’ Sean reveals with a big grin. ‘I said that I didn’t know what I was being – but I’m going to 64 Degrees!’
Between the many amazing courses, Sean is happy to answer our questions and tell us about himself and his work. ‘We’re chiefly a design office,’ he begins. ‘We have small batch production facilities in the UK – we run three small workshops locally in Sussex, which cater mainly for the bespoke pieces, then we have manufacturing partners across Europe – and we now have manufacturing partners in the States as well.
‘One of the most crucial things has been to find the right partners. If you look at the link up with Knightsbridge, for example, that relationship actually started years and years ago through our need to partner with the right manufacturers.
‘I started Dare Studio by accident, to be honest. I’d been designing freelance for about five years – for the likes of M&S, John Lewis, Conran Shop, Knightsbridge and a number of other manufacturers – and it was an exciting time in my career. I was designing lots of products, with virtually no stress. Then I decided that I would get a few of my own designs together, take them to 100% Design with a view to getting a lot of freelance work off the back of that! I came away with about £150,000 worth of orders – and that’s how the studio started really. The freelance work started slowing down because I no longer had the time to focus on it – because I was busy building up this whole new operation.’
Sean tells us that, today, Dare Studio’s business is approximately 80% contract and 20% retail. ‘Freelance work is now once in a blue moon!’ he smiles. ‘Even my work with Knightsbridge, for example, has come off the back of that long-standing relationship.
‘They’ve always been really good to me. The first design I did for Knightsbridge was the Affinity range. They were producing it in their manufacturing works in Bradford. One of their clients was Herman Miller – and they came into the factory one day, saw Affinity and said, ‘We like that, can we have it!’ So they (introduced) me to Herman Miller! As you can imagine, for a young designer, to suddenly be affiliated with a brand such as Herman Miller was amazing!
‘That’s why I didn’t hesitate when Knightsbridge asked me to work with them again.’
The results of that collaboration include the brilliant Alfie range of upholstered seating, which was recognised at last year’s Mixology North and is still a firm favourite amongst the Mix team. ‘It is a very comfortable chair,’ Sean admits with a smile. ‘We completely smashed it with Alfie. It went from one design, it then easily translated into a sofa – and I think there are now about 12 different models in the range! The wingback version has gone down really well. It’s huge – it’s a statement. I’m very happy with how everything has progressed. The range has come out really nicely.
We give Sean a couple of minutes to actually enjoy his lunch, before asking him about his own background. ‘I’m originally from Somerset,’ he tells us. ‘I grew up in the country – and then moved to Brighton about 20 years ago. My formal education was at the esteemed Bournemouth University. The course I took was Furniture Design and Business. My mum persuaded me to take the course. She said, ‘Darling, if you’re no good at furniture designing you can always fall back on the business thing!’ The course only ran for a few years but the beauty of it was that there were only about 15 of us on it. It was really small and really effective. It was run by a guy called Peter Miles, who was the Miles in Miles & Carter, who were quite a prolific company back then. I really found my feet when we had to go out and do a year in industry. I went to work for a company in Somerset who mainly did bedframes and occasional furniture – they supplied a lot of pieces to M&S. I designed a few ranges for M&S which went on to be very successful. It was mainly metalwork. It was great. I then went and did a post-graduate degree in management – and all of this came into play when I started Dare Studio.
‘I now have two children here in Brighton and feel as much a part of the place as I guess anyone can. It’s a very creative place – it’s about 80% students and the main industry here is tourism, media and software. There’s also a nice little design community here. I remember, a few years ago, deciding that I should try to connect with some of the design firms down here. I went to see Platform, with a couple of chairs under my arms, looking pretty scruffy as I had come straight out of the workshop – but that’s ok because everyone looks pretty scruffy in Brighton – and I showed them our collection. A couple of days later they came back to me with a fantastic order for the VIP area in the O2! I thought, ‘Wow, is this what happens when you actually go out and try to sell your stuff!’
‘It has taken quite long time to build up our own product portfolio, to be honest, but we’re now at the stage where we’re producing pretty good volumes across the board.
‘We have been attending almost every UK show for the past eight years. Then, last year, we started heading abroad – to ICFF and Maison et Objet – and the response from those shows has been incredible. That in turn has made me stop and reconsider focusing purely on the UK shows.
‘The US market is phenomenal. In the UK if you pick up an enquiry for a restaurant project, on average you’ll get asked for 100-200 units. In the States, the average is far greater – because you’re no longer talking about a single project, you’re talking about large chains of restaurants. They’re not looking to just replace one restaurant – if they’re going to do it, they’re going to roll it out. I came away thinking, ‘I need to gear up big time for this!’
‘We can cope with those kind of numbers – when you have good manufacturing partners and you tell them that you need something in the region of 2,000 bar stools, they’ll make sure they gear up for you!’
Well, judging by Sean’s recent product introductions, he’d better ready himself for some of those lovely big orders. It’s been a real pleasure chatting with Sean – and we’d also heartily recommend 64 Degrees!