We’re meeting the locals that make Leeds tick. First up, it’s makers and designers Andy and Jonny
If you’ve visited a Leeds independent of late, chances are you may have made acquaintance with some pretty impressive pieces of furniture. From Bundobust to Brunswick, Village to Welcome Skate Store, Andy Keir of Curiosity Allotment has been designing the pieces that make our favourite hangouts so Instagrammable, riding the crest of the industrial interiors wave.
Whether it’s the tables you eat at, the shelves you peruse or a full shop fit, Andy’s work as a carpenter and bespoke joiner is something he pretty much fell into. Originally from North Wales, he moved to the city in 2009 to study contemporary art practices at Leeds Metropolitan University, finding his feet through a particular coursework assignment.
you do need to let go sometimes and create something that reflects where you’re at now...
“I was in my second year of Contemporary Art Practices, exploring all different mediums, when there was a project set on a designer called Enzo Mari. Trying to recreate his work, taking advantage of all the uni wood workshops, it’s what basically led to all of this,” he explains, looking around his Mabgate-located workshop, chock-full of materials and paperwork. “I guess I never really thought of anything as a job, so it’s worked out quite lucky really –I graduated, and within six months, I had a job in the industry”.
That job was as a visual designer for Urban Outfitters, which allowed Andy to build and create bespoke interiors that incorporated everything from the till points and window displays right through to lighting and stockroom storage. Travelling the country for three years, the job eventually became too bureaucratic, and he found himself revisiting his desire to take things back to basics.
“I just wasn’t getting to make as much as I would have liked, so I took all the money I had and got a space in Byron Street Mills, just 100 square feet with my bench and power tools, and it was like that for two years. It’s only fairly recently that I could afford this space, and then I met Johnny”.
Originally working for creative direction company Lord Whitney, Johnny Esgate met Andy through a collaborative project, something that they say happens a lot amongst the ‘thriving hub’ of creatives in Leeds. Impressed by what he saw, Andy brought Johnny on board and together, the duo created something of a signature style – exposed woods and steelwork, very much in keeping with the minimal, Scandinavian feel that is proving popular right across the country.
“People are becoming a lot more interested in materials – your average person knows what birchwood ply is now, which definitely wasn’t the case a couple of years ago,” explains Andy. “I think Pinterest has a huge influence, and people are very interested in the idea of cutting out middlemen and going for something self-build, or at least something that looks like a self build – there’s a huge DIY boom. Anyone can do it and it is easy, people like us are just here to add that better finish which is something we constantly strive for, ensuring that we are offering something different and of the highest quality possible.”
Johnny concurs. “We love what we do, but we do want to get away from raw steel and reclaimed timber. It doesn’t have to be expensive for good quality materials, which I think a lot of people get wary of. Just giving people that advice can be really valuable and get the whole product looking a hundred times better. We work with a lot of restaurants and coffee shops. Recently, we’ve done a refit at Mrs Atha’s with a quartz top, just trying to work with clients and provide them the best materials for their budget, maybe making a few suggestions they hadn’t previously thought of.”
With longevity firmly at the top of their business plan, the future is looking bright for the duo. They speak of a dream to one day create a commercial range of furniture, and also reveal plans for an impending rebrand. Andy hints that Curiosity Allotment as we know it will soon be phased out completely.
“We’re going to be starting a new company; a bespoke joinery and fabrication business, taking on smaller projects but completely from start to finish,” he says. “We’re going to completely rebrand so it represents exactly what we do. We’re still deciding on fonts and names and all that stuff, but it’s likely just going to be our names – not decided on which way around.
“Curiosity Allotment has definitely run it’s course for me now – I’m so attached to it, but you do need to let go sometimes and create something that reflects where you’re at now. Curiosity was all me, but with Johnny on board now I want something that reflects us both equally.”
With this focus on commercial work, you can expect to see plenty more of Keir & Esgate’s craftsmanship right across the city, expanding into new developments in Kirkstall and Horsforth. “It’s amazing what word of mouth can do; the more we do the more we end up meeting the people involved in the big decisions or on boards, and they can put you in the know with plans for different areas of the city and bits where work might be incoming. It’s all looking really promising.”
“It’s so funny, we don’t really advertise or do much social media,” says Andy. “I’ve never been much good at spiel, I find it quite painful when people feel as if they have to stick to an Instagram posting schedule to stay relevant. I’m a big believer that if you’re doing something and it’s good, people will come to you.” He smiles. “And if they’re not, maybe it’s time to assess the actual business.”
Follow Curiosity Allotment on Instagram.