Driving through the Yorkshire countryside in a big, silver, Galvin Brothers van, it’s clear as the country air that this is a company that’s resolutely tied to its roots in the small town of Beverley, near Hull. Co-founder Matthew Galvin, who’s behind the wheel, seems to know everyone: he waves at a man walking his dog, who it turns out has worked with the brothers on a few bits and bobs, he points out his mum’s old house on a gorgeous chocolate box street, and we spend an hour or so in the beautiful Galvin Brothers shop, manned by the lovely lady herself. Perhaps it’s a northern thing, this sense of everyone mucking in, community and friendliness; perhaps it’s because Matt’s just a really nice bloke. Either way, it’s surely these qualities that have helped see the company take its place as one of the most sought after and respected UK furniture brands in only two years.
“Tell you the truth, I was getting a bit tired of long branding meetings,” says Matthew Galvin. He’s talking about his switch from a career as a successful graphic designer to returning to Yorkshire to set up shop with his joiner brother Andrew, in a workshop in his mum and dad’s back garden. It’s a move that he doesn’t regret: Galvin Brothers, the pair’s furniture brand, has been a huge success in its short life.
This success is down to “a good story, decent collections, and a good product that’s authentically made,” but also his background in running a successful graphic design agency that saw him work with clients including Paul Smith, The Guardian, the V&A and The Royal College of Art. As such, every Galvin Brothers touchpoint, from swing tags to the website to the burnt on logotypes on each piece are slick, considered and instantly recognisably “Galvin Brothers.” Matthew was responsible for it all, when it came to establishing the Galvin Brothers as a brand: “We started talking about it in March 2012 and by November 2012 we’d done the lot: the whole site, collateral, branding, identity, photography, styling…
“It’s an organic business set up from a Victorian standpoint. What I mean by that is that the world has got so bogged down in the idea of the brand and how people buy into that. You can’t come up with a really trendy name and not be able to defend it. We’re doing what they did in Victorian times, or what the immigrants did in New York – just using our name.”
This sense of tradition and an “honest to goodness” ethos is what made the brothers not hesitate when they were approached by Jameson to be part of The Jameson Works; a community for makers which sees the whiskey brand work with creatives on different projects, each one focusing on the process of how they make what they make. Galvin Brothers are just at the beginning of a project in which they are setting out to create a range of furniture, working to the brief “Form & Function”. Through The Jameson Works, we’ll be able to follow them as they figure things out and crack on with the making. At the moment, though they’re palpably excited about the prospect, they’re not too sure what the collection will entail.
"“A clever designer knows that function might mean feeling or spontaneity – it’s about understanding the broader idea. I’m a big believer in not knowing what we’re going to make"Matthew Galvin
“We’re going to look at how you drink whiskey, who drinks whiskey. We’re just going to have conversations about it really, we won’t do market research or any of that stuff. It’s about intelligence, it’s about feeling and instinct. It’s simple really, we’ll just have a conversation.
“A clever designer knows that function might mean feeling or spontaneity – it’s about understanding the broader idea. I’m a big believer in not knowing what we’re going to make, sometimes we just make a stool and then that defines the collection. There’s all that stuff about ‘form follows function,’ but I think the reverse is true – I think form follows feeling.”
As may have become obvious, Matthew is the more talkative of the pair: Andrew is happy just beavering away with the timber, showing us how the hand-made joints work, and stoking the wood fire that heats the charming, but very rudimentary workshop. What’s truly wonderful about the space is a total lack of screens. Matthew, as the designer, simply draws very, very basic sketches in a little red sketchbook, and talks them through with Andrew before he quickly makes a physical piece. It’s a beautifully simple process. “The funny thing is that all of my ideas are hand-drawn, and that’s how I present them to the client, even if it’s someone like Heal’s. I do the technical CAD drawings afterwards if someone wants them.
“We don’t even make models, but I’m sure that’s how you’re supposed to do it. In the time it takes someone else to make a model we can make a whole joint, or the leg for a stool. That connection we have between craft and design means we can rapid prototype something really quickly.”
This affinity with a very rough and ready, physical approach to design is literally in the brothers’ blood: their dad worked for 61 years as a joiner, teaching Andrew his craft, and the brothers’ childhoods included a lot of time “making and breaking things, well breaking things mostly” in their dad’s workshop.
Galvin Brothers are a breath of fresh air. Not just in the pieces, but the craft, transparency and honesty of the brand. Like Matthew, we’re a bit tired of marketing bullshit, and being fed a load of old guff in jargon that means next to nothing. Matthew’s graphic design background means he’s savvy to this and how to work it.
“There’s no brandspeak,” he says, in his thick Yorkshire accent that would all but negate any, even if there was. “The funny thing is, we sort of backed ourselves into a corner to make this happen. The shop was a shithole when we got it. I had to learn retail design from nothing. But necessity is the mother of invention, and all that.”
We’ll be keeping you posted on The Jameson Works collaboration with Galvin Brothers over the coming weeks, so check back in to see exactly how their design nous can make drinking whiskey even more pleasurable. In the meantime, Jameson is also giving you the opportunity to receive funding to support your own work, through The Jameson Works Bursaries. To hear more on this, visit this site.
About the Author
Emily joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in the summer of 2014 after four years at Design Week. She is particularly interested in graphic design, branding and music. After working It's Nice That as both Online Editor and Deputy Editor, Emily left the company in 2016.