Husband and wife team Kate and Abi run Nafisi Studios in West Sussex, where together they create beautiful, sustainable one-off commissions for the home, garden, or work place. Their mission is to combine their knowledge of heritage woodworking crafts to create something contemporary, sustainable, and of uncompromising quality. We chat to Kate to find out how they make it all work!
It’s a brave move to give up city life and start a new sustainable business with your husband, even if it is in beautiful West Sussex. What do you miss most about your old life Kate?
I liked the speed of information and conversation. It was very exciting working with lots of people from all over the world and who spoke many languages. It was a diverse bunch of people working at an insane pace of speed and this made me constantly stimulated by something – never a dull moment! Though highly addictive, and definitely unsustainable, it was quite the buzz.
Apart from that, I don’t miss much else really as all the parts I love such as the theatres, music gigs and art galleries are only 50 min away – which doesn’t feel far at all. I visit my parents and friends and they love to come here.
What have you gained from the change of lifestyle?
Now, I have a calm and slow wake up routine in the morning where I don’t have to travel anywhere, or see anyone. Instead I have created a morning ritual. I make matcha tea, I put a vinyl on the record player, I walk in the garden and listen to the birds in the trees. Since I am my own boss again, I can read more and I can be outdoors in nature more.
My friends come to stay more often, so I am experiencing more quality time with them, in a peaceful space instead of in a squashed bar over a rushed cocktail on a work night.
You and Abi now spend a lot of time together – how do you make that work?
I love working with Abi because he is a very playful and positive person. It took a good 4 months to adjust to each other’s differing work habits. It was mostly lots of listening and exchanging, as we are each good at different things. I had to learn to be patient with the slower pace of progress in woodworking now I didn’t have my laptop, shortcut keys and software. Abdollah had to learn to delegate tasks to me now he wasn’t working alone which involves a lot of communication and explanation where he used to be able to just get on with it.
We talk about what’s working and what we can do better quite a lot to keep the conversation open. We like to focus on each others’ strengths and then play to them, it’s more constructive.
What is your favourite part of the working day?
I love it when we can eat our lunch together outside in the garden, there is green everywhere we look. I enjoy listening to the same podcast or music track together over bluetooth headphones in the workshop – it’s like a silent disco for two, great fun!
We also do lots of tasks separately – Abi might be making a joint in the room next door, while I am finishing something – spray painting or sanding. I find this tactile work very meditative and soothing. And when I’m done I come into his workshop for a cup of tea and watch him work peacefully. I cherish these moments being next to him.
Tell us about your farm.
Our little cottage is a hop and a skip away from our workshop so no more long train commutes to work! We often have horses or sheep in the fields which are beautiful to look at and a little forest at the back of the workshop to go for a walk in. There are flowers, a greenhouse and chickens running around – it’s very idyllic. I am so grateful for the tranquil scenery around our farm. We have a garden at the back where we run our courses and it has been such fun to develop it together adding a pond, hammocks and this summer we’ll start to grow vegetables.
We’d love to hear about the sustainability of your business and how you make that work. How easy has it been?
We are proud to say that our workshop heating & lighting is run by 100% renewable energy because we use solar panels for the electricity and a biomass boiler to heat the whole farm.
All our wood is FSC approved (The Forest Stewardship Council) which means that it comes from sustainability managed forests. Instead of ordering new pieces of tree to be cut we mostly purchase and store offcuts from local suppliers that come in irregular shapes and sizes. It’s like a chef re-using the left overs in a kitchen to make a new meal. It takes more time to design and re-engineer a project when the wood is not cut to the correct sizes but totally worth it. We love reject wood!
Wow that’s fantastic. Are there any easy switches that have reduced your carbon footprint on a personal or business level?
We have started to compost our sawdust instead of burning it. Very small offcuts are collected in a more orderly fashion in order to reuse them for small art projects. Using Able & Cole has reduced the food packaging we use – they deliver almost all of our groceries without packaging or in recyclable containers. It also saves us driving to the shops every day, instead we get one delivery a week. We eat a lot less meat now, going from daily servings to eating it once every 2 weeks due to the disproportionate amount of water and land needed to feed animals. Our local Repair Cafe in the town centre is amazing. You can fill up on your Ecover products and you can drop items off that need fixing instead of throwing them away.
What would you suggest as a really beautiful and unique wedding gift?
I love our latest table commission The Sussex Table – it’s simple and elegant. The table uses a golden American oak wood locally bought as offcuts to be reused. The dark brown walnut is British grown from English Woodland Timbers. The contrast of the dark walnut centre and the warm oak is lovely.
The joint in the tables legs, is one Abdollah invented. Deriving from a traditional Japanese dovetail – he placed a dovetail inside a dovetail – very clever chap! It looks stunning.
We make anything one off from wardrobes, to garden sculpture to whole kitchens. But we love making tables the most becomes this is where people come together to commune, whether over a mini breakfast bar, an afternoon tea table or a large dining banquet. It’s a very social, interactive object and would make the ideal wedding gift to fund via Patchwork.
Thinking about other occasions – what else have people gifted?
We run a 1 Day Steam Bending Woodworking Course on our farm. Steam Bending is heating up strips of wood in a steam box and then bending them into fantastic shapes to make art works or objects of use. The technique was traditionally used to make curved wooden objects like barrels and boats.
These are fun days out in nature, for you to relax and make something with your hands from scratch. We take you into the woods to learn about types of wood suitable for bending and a bit about trees.
It’s an ideal present for a couple to learn something together and have a giggle as they go. You get to keep and take home whatever you make and lunch is included!
We have to ask you about your wedding. Where did you get married and what was the best bit?
We had a tiny family only registration day at our local town hall followed by champagne tea and baklava at home on cushions on the floor, telling shared stories and memories. Very romantic.
Then for our party, Abi and I wanted more of a festival celebration than a traditional wedding, so we set up tents, music, picnics and fairy lights in our garden and covered our 30 or so guests, with glitter and gold tattoos. I upcycled my birth-mother’s wedding dress (who passed away when I was 4 years old) paired with my martin boots and a leather jacket. I don’t think we spent over 2K on the whole thing, super simple and super fun 🙂 My friend Aoife Baigent made us a mini video. Excellent.
Did you ask for wedding gifts?
We didn’t want wedding gifts because our cottage is so small we can’t fit anything else inside it! We live a simple life. But we did accept contributions to our honeymoon. Hell yeah!
Where did you go on your honeymoon?
We had an epic 2 week honeymoon in Nepal, which was the best holiday of my life! We stayed in the most beautiful farm called The Adam Tribe Organic Farm near Pokhara. The owners are two wonderful people with epic food and mountain views. Highly recommend this beautiful off-the-grid farm at the feet of the Himalayas, it feels more luxurious than our cottage in West Sussex! I was very impressed with what they have achieved at such altitudes. Heaven.
Thank you Kate for allowing us a glimpse in to your beautiful workshop and your West Sussex life! We’re so happy to hear about creative people working to inspire gift giving in ways that are thoughtful, sustainable yet still desirable and aspirational.
If you’d like to ask friends and family to help fund a beautiful and unique piece of furniture as an alternative wedding present simply customise this readymade template and send out to guests.
If you’d like to commission a piece from Nafisi get in touch with Kate and Abi here.
And if you’d like to read more about sustainability in business, check out this positive piece in It’s Nice That by our friend Naresh Ramchandani who sums it up perfectly: “Whether we’re improving our workplace culture or boycotting companies that put their profit before our planet, the plan is not neat or co-ordinated… But at its heart, it asks creative people to do what we do best: make problems vivid and make answers desirable. And it’s a reason not to despair, but to be hopeful.”