Sean Sutcliffe on wood

07.10.20. Benchmark’s wokshop. Berkshire

Sean Sutcliffe co-founded high-end furniture maker, Benchmark, with the late Sir Terence Conran in the early ’80s, when he was fresh out of Parnham College. Initially, he produced work for The Conran Shop, Heals and Habitat, before helping Terence change the face of the London restaurant scene by creating furniture and fittings for Bibendum and Quaglino’s.

Subsequently, Benchmark has gone on to do commissions for the likes of the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, the Eden Project, Vodafone’s world headquarters, and The Gherkin (or 30 St Mary Axe) to name just a few. Sutcliffe has also collaborated with the likes of Foster + Partners and David Rockwell and has just launched a new chair collection with the up-and-coming designer, Mac Collins.

Most recently, the company made all the pieces for the Connected project – organised by the American Hardwood Export Council and on show at the Design Museum until 14 October 2020 – which featured furniture made from designers such as, Thomas Heatherwick (pictured above), Jaime Hayon, Maria Bruun and Ini Archibong, among others.

Starting with a team of three, the firm now employs 70 people. In other words, Sean has built a hugely successful business around skill, craft and, of course, wood.

In this episode we talk about: his relationship with Sir Terence; how his love of timber began; studying at the legendary Parnham College under John Makepeace; finding the heart of a craftsman; the future of work; and the importance of apprenticeships.

It’s searingly honest and really quite emotional.  

Find out more about Sean and Benchmark

The  Leicester cathedra and cross was designed by  Draisci Studio and made by Benchmark.

The Sage collection, designed by David Rockwell, focusses on health and wellbeing at work.

The Ovo collection was specified for the Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion on the Health Education Campus at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic, designed by Foster + Partners. Image: Nigel Young for Foster + Partners.

The Clifton table and bench was designed by Sir Terence Conran. All images courtesy of Benchmark.