In 2018, Alex Wilcock and his son Felix Conran – grandson of the late Sir Terence Conran – launched Maker&Son. Based in the UK but available in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland, the innovative natural and sustainable furniture and homewares brand is totally dedicated to comfort. Their direct-to-consumer business model combines proprietary technological innovations through AI and an extensive, hands-on experience—for example, their mobile showrooms allow you to experience the brand without leaving your house.
We’re taking a peek at the West Sussex property, which was built in the 1600s and now serves as the family’s home base, a showroom, office, and everything in between. This month, over email, Alex told us more.
Tell us a bit about your career. What made you want to be an entrepreneur? Was there a lightbulb moment?
I don’t think that there is anything that makes you want to be an entrepreneur; I think it seems to me you either are or you are not.
Right from leaving college I never imagined I’d work for anyone other than myself. As it turns out, I did, and I never really enjoyed the experience. I started running my own business the moment I left college when I was 20 years old, which was designing and building furniture and interiors for all sorts of people (one of my first big commissions was for John Cleese). I worked on kitchen building projects all the way through to amazing one-off pieces of furniture.
There wasn’t really a lightbulb moment. For me, it was more that I knew that I wanted to do my own thing; to run my own businesses.
I did not aspire at all – as a young man – to work for anyone else. I wanted to make my own way in the world and do my own thing. My first proper job when I was 25 was with Country Road. They were a clothing business, and they wanted a homewares business. So, I created a business within a business. I needed to have the skills of someone that was capable of being highly innovative, risk-taking but also very sensitive to the existing brand.
Maker & Son was afforded the recognition of “most comfortable sofa in the world.” Tell us about some of the features that make the Song range so special.
We believe that comfort is both physical and emotional and that to be truly comfortable, you therefore must experience both together. As a family business, we design products with the purpose of bringing families together; to celebrate the milestones of growing up and growing old whilst encouraging reflection, sharing, and learning from each other.
Our pieces are crafted as future heirlooms for generations to come. They are built using solid hardwood frames, which are guaranteed for 30 years. The Song range which you reference is named after my daughter. The base of each piece is the equivalent of a high-quality mattress with many individually coiled springs and natural materials. The cushions are filled with down, feather and natural latex memory foam which allows them to hold their shape. We also don’t want our customers to be too precious about our pieces. The removable covers can easily be put in the washing machine – it doesn’t matter if the dog jumps on the couch with muddy paws or someone accidentally spills a drink on it.
For us, comfort is the absolute key.
Where do you see yourself + the brand in five years?
From the very beginning, we set out with a vision to create a global brand that would become synonymous with beautiful things that are beautifully made in a sustainable way from natural materials.
Within the next five years, I would like to see Maker&Son operating in somewhere between 20-25 markets / territories across the world. We are currently in five markets. We will still be recognizable in terms of our core product range, but there will be many new categories of product and potentially an experiential element to the brand as well. So, lots more places and lots more things but I think services too. Maker&Son will be more than a place you buy stuff, it will be a sort of a resource for customers to learn, including places that people will be able to visit and feel a part of what we do and why we do it.
On a personal note, your home in West Sussex is beautiful! How did you find the property? What condition was it in, and what are some of the main changes you made?
Thank you. It was quite literally a decision to move out of London and doing that classic exercise of drawing a compass around central London and seeing what was commutable. We searched in the West Sussex area and found Kemps which is about an hour by train back into town. The listing was just a photo of the outside of the house, and it actually looked very grey. We turned up to view the property and the previous owner – Marnie’s (the wonderful woman who you see in our adverts) grandad – had not long died, and the home was filled with builders as they were having central heating installed. Quite amazingly, he had lived there without heating for all those years.
The whole place was a lot darker, and it was very, very old-fashioned with wallpaper in most of the rooms. It was like you would have imagined a house in the 1940’s or 1950’s – a little like going back in time actually.
Truthfully, we just modernized it, painted a few walls, got rid of some of the dark colors and made it our own. The house has so many incredible features such as the staircase and the windows that we didn’t want to change anything too drastically.
What do you love most about your space? Is there a room that is particularly meaningful, or where you spend the most time?
If I had to choose a favorite room, it would definitely be the kitchen. It is where we all come together as a family. Felix, my son, is an incredible cook so we often sit and try his recipes and inventions. Just yesterday, he molded a block of butter into the shape of a chair. In the kitchen, there is an amazing cabinet that I made from recycled antique doors and a bit of an old kitchen counter. It looks like it has been there forever but really in the grand scheme of the house, it is very new.
It serves as a showroom, an office, and everything in between. How do you find that work/life balance?
A part of that balance certainly comes from having five children. There is an element that you simply have to break. Then, my best work life balance comes from going to my other home which is in North Wales. I’ve been there five times since lockdown was eased. There, I find the space and the silence that I need – it is the greatest luxury. Physically going away is the thing that gives me the balance.
What is your “dream day” at home?
Home is where I work too, so it is an interesting one to talk about… For me, it would be a beautiful summer’s day here at Kemps House. Waking up and cooking a lovely breakfast with the kids being around and friends being around. This would merge into a BBQ lunch outside, hanging out and lying in the sun. It’s just a complete chill in the house with family and friends.
Really the perfect moment to go along with that would be my friend Paul coming over from Spain, and us playing music together in the evening. That obviously has not happened for quite a while.
We would end with some delicious dinner.