Shopping: And it all ended happily ever after

The success of brothers Alex and Ollie Moss and their iron bed business makes for good bedtime reading
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Alex Moss has heard all the jokes about making your bed and lying in it: he met his girlfriend Alison when delivering the wrought-iron bed that he and his brother Ollie had made for her, and that is exactly what he and Alison do now. "She liked her bed so much, she asked me to move in," he jokes.

Most people don't go quite that far, handsome chap that he is, but instead send the brothers pictures of their beds in situ, complete with contendedly curled up cat on top. "So much of our work comes from word of mouth," they say proudly. "That is a really nice compliment." Indeed, I've been boring all and sundry about the bed the brothers made for me, though I haven't got quite as far as showing round a photograph of it.

I long for weekends so I can pile up the pillows and jump into bed. So elegant are the hand-forged curli-ques on both head and base (copied from an old French design and none of your factory-produced blunt ends), that I would never dream of dressing the bed in anything but the best linen.

Poly-cotton is an insult, best kept to the old divan in the spare room.

Judging from the ads in the weekend supplements, iron beds are undergoing a renaissance, moving away from the Victorian brass maid's bedstead look, to something rather more modern. Less cumbersome that a wooden bed, and infinitely more elegant that a divan, wrought ironwork in the house has moved from candlesticks, finials, and the ubiquitous French bakers' shelves, to the bedroom. What amazes me about my Moss Brothers (it was too confusing for them to call themselves Moss Bros) is that although I assembled it myself, dropping a large section on my toe in the process, it is still incredibly sturdy. A herd of elephants could give a trampoline display on it, and it still wouldn't wobble.

"People come to our showroom expecting us to be at the lower end of the market because we are cheaper than most," says Ollie. "But then they realise our beds aren't cheaply designed. They come and wiggle the end of the bed on display, but it doesn't move." Another advantage over similarly priced models is that the Mosses' beds have proper bases and mattresses, rather than wooden slats which give far less comfortable support.

One of the reasons the brothers can keep their prices so low is that they do all the welding and marketing themselves. A female schoolfriend of Alex's has recently joined them, but she was away on a deep-sea diving course when I visited the workshop in east London. They have about 10 basic designs, some of which have come about through one-off commissions for customers that have proved popular.

The brothers are happy to make adjustments for no extra charge. There is something very self-aggrandising about making fussy little modifications to make your bed unique, and if a customer wants something very different, then Alex and Ollie are happy to produce a new design for an agreed extra charge.

Their workshop is surrounded by other studios, and a certain amount of cross-pollination goes on: for example, a bed based on a stained glass window by Charles Rennie Mackintosh has glass detailing provided by the studio two doors down. "People are surprised by how flexible a material iron is," says Alex. "Wood is much more linear, so has less scope for design."

Rather less aggrandising must be the fact that your own little modifications, such as built-in handcuffs (not mine, I hasten to add) are a frequent request and far from original. One couple wanted a bed that could be wired up, so that glass balls on the end of the bedposts lit up when the vibrations hit a certain intensity, though as far as I could gather, this was not because the house was near a Tube station. Another couple were buying a beach house in Whistable, Kent, and wanted glass bubbles coming through wavy bars on the headboards, and another man wanted increasingly large iron Zs to represent sleep.

Although beds are their main line, with a recent commission for 32 for a development of furnished flats in Old Street, the brothers make other pieces of furniture. Being their own delivery men, as well as designers, has it advantages. "We go to people's houses," says Ollie. "And when we leave, we've designed the kitchen for them."

It's a far cry from sports pitches and classrooms, which is where Alex spent much of his twenties as a PE and maths teacher before deciding to join Ollie in business three years ago. Ollie had been to the London College of Furniture, and worked for another designer, but wanted to strike out on his own, to exercise his own ideas.

The maths training has proved useful in working out the structural possibilities of furniture design: "We'd waste an awful lot of time messing about if we couldn't do the maths," says Ollie. "It started out with Alex looking after the business side and investing the money, and me doing the welding. But then, last year, we tried to teach others what we were doing. So now, Alex is good at welding and I am still useless on the business side!" Nevertheless, they cover for each other when they are away. In their first year of business together, they made 90 beds - last year it was 300 and it looks like even more for this year.

Pictures by Andrew Buurman

Moss Brothers Metal Designs are at 26 Sunbury Workshops, Swanfield Street, London (0171-739 2361)

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