16 July 2024, 06:18
By Furniture News Aug 23, 2022

Meet Indesign Furniture's Neil Buckley-Jensen

Neil Buckley-Jensen is the founder and director of Indesign Furniture, a business which incorporates Little Tree Furniture, Zephyr Furniture and Northshore Furniture, and offers a one-stop-shop service combining design, manufacture, quality control and global export. As if that didn’t keep him busy enough, in 2020 Neil also founded Chilli Pepper Designs, a CGI studio that specialises in creating realistic furniture and interiors imagery for wholesalers, manufacturers and retailers across the globe. 

How did you enter the trade?

By chance! I have always had an interest in woodwork – my grandad was a cabinetmaker and I used to help out (get in the way) in his workshop as a boy. 

After university I became an air steward and started to travel to places like India, and saw workshops where handmade furniture was being made ‘the old school way’. It resonated with memories of my grandad – but in a far hotter place than in a workshop under the railway arches in Bermondsey, South-east London!

I actually ended up getting the sack by the airlines as I was not particularly patient with the passengers – however, I met my wife-to-be in that job, we bought a house together and renovated it throughout. 

We needed furniture, so I suggested we have a go at designing some ourselves (not that I’d designed anything in my life before that!), and that I’d go get it made in India.  

So that’s what I did – I found a carpentry yard, got my designs across, learned how to ship a container back, got the container on a lorry outside our home, managed to block the road, police turned up … but we’d manage to design and get our furniture made. Our friends and family liked it, so we took a punt, built a website and got another container load of furniture – and so began Little Tree Furniture (and the rest is his history!).  

Who was your inspiration?

My grandad as a skilled craftsman, and Aimee (my wife) and my mum, with all the moral support they gave to me to start a furniture business during a recession.  

What was your career high point?

There’s two, actually. Firstly, going from starting a company and having no idea what I was doing – having to be the web developer, the furniture designer, the QC guy, the warehouse man and delivery man, and the salesman in between. No loans were available, so I had to self-fund everything – and then, within a few years, sitting in Pottery Barn’s head office in San Francisco about to pitch to the directors to start supplying them.

It worked. We became an official vendor to Williams-Sonoma – one of the biggest, most reputable furniture companies in the world.

Another high point was setting up another company, Chilli Pepper Designs, in the first lockdown in March 2020. It’s a furniture CGI company, and was set up to create hyper-realistic visualisations of interiors and furniture for our furniture company brands (under Indesign Furniture). I did it as we had so much new, innovative, creative furniture product coming through and no possibility of getting photography done during lockdown. 

It worked so well that it’s now a standalone company. The furniture orders placed on the back of our imagery have given us the biggest order book we’ve ever had, and we’re already making images for some of the biggest brands in the world.

I’m very proud. If you’ve never tried or considered CGI, I highly recommend it (seriously).

… and low point?

After the highs of starting out and having to get a full-time job in the pharmaceutical industry to fund the company, then having to leave to give time to the business, and the realisation of having to put in 18-hour days every day for what seemed forever, minimum cash flow, spending our savings on furniture stock, freezing cold in a shed trying to QC furniture after emptying containers on my own and then load vans to deliver furniture alone … I just remember being so cold and tired. It just goes to show that perseverance pays off!

… and the turning point?

Having started from scratch, the realisation that if you want it hard enough and try hard enough, you can make an impact and achieve your goals. 

Describe a typical working day

Wake up around 5.30am to catch up with the CGI and furniture teams in India on WhatsApp. Get ready for the day, help get the kids ready for school. At 7am, get to the office to answer emails from our distributors/wholesalers Down Under, as they are up to 12 hours ahead of the UK. Then review the CGI work schedule for the day, catch up with the UK team, Zoom, Zoom and more Zoom with CGI clients.

Then, in the afternoon, it’s all about furniture – completing designs and liaising with UK customers up to about 4.30pm, when my attention goes west, to dealing/liaising with our distributors/wholesalers in the US and Canada, who are eight hours behind us. 

I try to be all done by 6.30pm, to see the kids before bed. 

If you had to start over, which career would you pursue? 

Trendy sports shoe/trainer designer.

What date on the business calendar do you most look forward to?

Las Vegas Market. I like to visit the show and drop in on our distributors/wholesalers in Canada and the US on the way to the show, and then stop off to see our distributors/wholesalers in New Zealand on the way back (yes, the long way round). 

After getting back home, we always take family holidays (even though the kids already think I’ve just been on a holiday!). 

Which company do you look up to?

Barker and Stonehouse.

What would you most like to change about yourself?

Caring too much, and taking things personally.

What do you enjoy most about working in the trade?

Being able to be creative, and knowing that something I’ve designed is in homes all over the world. I also love being innovative with new ideas, styles and concepts (like CGI), and being able to add value to customers’ businesses. 

I l being able to travel as well – Middlesbrough all the way through to Melbourne! 

Can you leave us with an anecdote or phrase that sums up your approach to business?

“He who dares, wins.”

This interview was published in the June 2021 issue of Furntiure News magazine.

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