With Anthony Parkes
Additional words by Mark Dawson
It should surprise no-one that The Bespoke Gun Cabinet Company makes gun cabinets to order. Pioneers in this field and its leading practitioners, they have created entire gun rooms and individual cabinets for a wide range of private and corporate clients, and also offer a standalone range with enough variety to suit the interior of any home.
All gun owners understand the legal requirement for firearms to be securely stored at all times. The purely functional way of meeting this eminently sensible demand is to bolt an unattractive metal safe to a private wall inside the house or garage.
While practical, anyone with any aesthetic sensibility will find this deeply unsatisfactory. A fine shotgun or rifle is a thing of beauty in itself, the product of heritage, superb craftsmanship, precision engineering, and more often than not considerable capital outlay. However necessary, to hide such objects away offends the sense of what’s right. It’s like concealing the Bentley in the garage. The solution is a secure gun cabinet, tested to exceed the legal security standard for gun cabinets, that is also a stylish and beautiful piece of furniture. Which is where BGC come in.
Anthony Parkes, the company’s managing director, has been designing and working in wood from his schooldays, continuing to do so through college and a four year stint with the TA before setting up The
Bespoke Furniture Company to make and sell – yes, there’s a refreshing no-nonsense quality to his companies’ names.
Now employing five craftsmen, the business is based in a 6,000 square foot workshop on a working farm in quiet countryside, much enjoyed by visiting clients. Moving into gun cabinets was a direct result of Anthony’s own changing interests. “I started shooting twenty years ago and I needed a gun cabinet.
So naturally I made it myself, treating it just like the design of any other piece of furniture. The need to combine performing its specific job – which in this case included the all-important security requirement – with appearance. I looked at the standard gun cabinet, its shape and size, and at various different pieces of furniture, and finally landed on the grandfather clock as the ideal housing. The middle section is perfect. “So the first one I designed and made was for my own use, and the business took off from there. Over the years we’ve continually developed different models. We adapt our ‘standard’ models based on what customers want, and one of the benefits of bespoke furniture of any type is that this flexibility will push you to think in new ways, and at the same time you respond by pushing the boundaries of what the client thinks is possible. Any designer will tell you that working with an intelligent and receptive client creates an incredibly positive feedback loop. »
“ … the ideal meeting of form with function
“This two-way process has had a critical impact in developing our range. For example, our Lancaster model started as a Marlborough, but the customer was concerned that the styling and finish didn’t suit his house and wanted something plainer. Just one of the ways different models have evolved over time.
“Another client wanted to enclose the cabinet behind a bookcase. Achieving this, while making the guns easily accessible, presented massive engineering challenges on top of the spatial ones. It called for a 250mm shelf to accommodate books and ornaments, designed in such a way that it’s not obvious there’s a further space behind the shelving. But now that we’ve solved the problem, that will form the basis for another of our standard designs.”
Working on problems of this type, finding ways to balance different functions and forms, is what makes a designer’s heart beat faster. Over the past couple of years BGC have been working with some of the country’s biggest names in shooting – gunmakers, estates, shooting grounds – to come up with innovative, attractive, and effective gun and ammunition storage. Having the time and setting to properly think through a problem is critical. “Apart from responding to individual clients who come to us with a specific commission, most of our R&D happens at fairs where you’ve got a few days together to really think about it. In 2010 at the CLA Game Fair we sat down with them, on and off over three or four days, to develop the glass fronted cabinet.”
A cabinet that displays the guns it houses is the ideal meeting of form with function. However, the concept immediately presented two distinct challenges in the requirements for security and discretion. Similar to the material used by banks and in other high security settings, the ‘glass’ used to front Anthony’s cabinets more than satisfies the stringent strength specifications laid down by law. And to protect the contents from unwelcome view,
the material can be made opaque at the touch of a button. Another challenge met. “We’ve been making them for ten years, and just about every bespoke design now starts with a glass fronted piece, because people love to display what are, after all, beautiful, prized and sometimes extremely valuable possessions. And after putting in the hard work at the outset, we’ve never had any issue with the police about security.”
In a premium artefact, every part needs to perform to the highest standard, and the workmanship on the installations BGC create is uncompromisingly exact. Very much in the finest tradition of British craftsmanship and engineering, Anthony accordingly sources his materials, fixtures and fittings from the proven best of the country’s suppliers. A mile or so down the road from his Warwickshire workshop is Sykes, established in 1862, now one of the oldest and most respected wood merchants in the UK, from whom he buys the solid timbers used in construction. Locks are from Bramah, the prestigious London maker who have been exemplifying precision security since 1784. Handles and other fittings are from Armac Martin, set up in 1929 out of the business established by the founder’s Birmingham workshop and still turning out exquisitely beautiful and robust work.
And the work continues. “One thing we’re developing at the moment is a vehicle security cabinet. Typically people take their guns out of the steel box in the house into a wooden box in their car, and then just leave it in the car. That’s a pretty basic loss of security that has never been properly addressed. So we’ve created a cabinet that bolts to the chassis of the vehicle, making the guns as secure in the car as they are inside the house.”
All worthwhile design is driven by a need to solve a problem. As long as challenges exist, good designers will rise to solve them, and makers to realise them. //