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Upholstering philanthropy

Pete Murtha is a pioneer for ethical furniture production and a charitable approach to profit. He spoke to Inex about what design and sustainability mean to his furniture company Mr McQueen.

Those that religiously separate their rubbish, are careful to buy fairtrade food, cosmetics and even clothing, might be unaware that the furniture they sit on is also a part of the environmental impact. There are a growing number of luxury furniture specialists that are turning to producing ethically sourced products, reducing environmental impact and also giving something back to the community.

Inex’s Emily Smith spoke to Pete about what design means to him and his new furniture company, Mr McQueen, which takes a more humane approach to furniture production.

“I moved to Birmingham having sold all my worldly possessions and was looking for a new sofa when I was introduced to a workshop in the Black Country where Richard Jones was creating luxury handmade furniture. I was blown away with the quality of his craftsmanship. I was disheartened when he spoke of the temptation to ‘throw in the towel’ because of the struggle to compete with Chinese imports and the likes of Ikea. I persuaded him that with investment, rebranding and the right marketing we could turn his struggling business into a thriving luxury brand. And so Mr McQueen was born. The name conjured up to me British craftsmanship and was sentimental for me as the last film I watched with my Mum, Patricia, before she died was Disney’s Cars, so the name Lightning McQueen stayed with me!”

How would you define the company’s signature style?
“Think Louboutins… as furniture! All our pieces carry the unique red velvet underneath and our hand-stamped silver logo reveals the name of the master craftsman who made that piece. We are also able to add unique contemporary twists to individual pieces, such as illuminating a sofa by incorporating LED lighting into the design.”

What do you believe to be the most important aspect of creating a luxury interior environment?
“Comfort! We are a luxury brand but are also affordable for the hospitality market. Too often furniture designs are all about look rather than comfort and practicality.”

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How does Mr McQueen approach sustainability?
“Our ethos is to reuse and recycle wherever we can. We have developed the concept of ‘McQueening’ where we reupholster a client’s existing furniture in our unique style. This is proving very popular in hotels and bars where the client chooses to simply revamp the décor rather than throw away good furniture. It also widens our client-base as one can own a piece of Mr McQueen without buying a brand new piece. We can recycle up to 70 per cent of furniture, which is great for reducing environmental impact as we avoid the use of new wood.”

How does Mr McQueen support charity and what inspired this?
“The whole concept of Mr McQueen is the charity work we do. I have always been a massive supporter of charity through my other business; a hair replacement company called Optima. It was through creating wigs for children that had lost their hair that I learned about the palliative care unit at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. This was the foundation for the focus for our fundraising.

“Five per cent of all our profits go directly to the end of life care ward for life-limited children at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, which is a major driving force for our brand and our dreams of success. Our aim is to raise £1 million in five years to build a house on the grounds of the hospital for the families of terminally ill children to spend their last precious weeks together. We are currently working to create a Rainbow Room for the parents of terminally ill children to seek some comfortable solace and privacy when preparing for the traumatic circumstances facing them. Nothing can take away the pain but at least we can provide them with a comfortable environment to have some time alone.”

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What are your biggest design influences?
“I love the classic look, such as deep buttoned sofas, but with a hip and trendy twist with unusual fabrics and colours. I love purples and silver but also the use of bright colours, such as orange or pink.

“We work with some of the finest interior designers in the country who keep us abreast of the latest trends and influences. I have always adored the arts and love to view furniture as art. We aim to make statement pieces and see furniture not just as a useable object but also something to be admired in its own right, just like a piece of art.”

What can we look forward to from Mr McQueen?
“We are currently working with Marco Pierre White restaurants to showcase our furniture for his new look eateries. We are also working with the Hotel Indigo chain and have been given a great new display space in the trendy Cube complex in Birmingham. Mr McQueen are currently working on a couple of nightclubs in the North East and creating some really luxurious pieces for several multi-million pound apartments in Kensington – not bad for a new company! The hotel industry is really embracing us.”

Finally, which piece of career advice have you benefitted most from?
“I have met some really inspiring business people over the years and they have all given me the same advice – follow your dreams, believe in what you do and through this you can achieve success. No matter what obstacles get in your way, if you believe you can succeed and you keep going, then you will!”

Photography by Cat Bradley.
mrmcqueen.co.uk

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