Furniture to dream on

Want a cupboard like a castle ? Or build a bed for a dog? Rosalind Russell knows how
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The Independent Online
As dogs' beds go, it offers the last word in canine chic and is priced accordingly. But as the owner of the dogs is the impresario millionaire Robert Stigwood, the cost was hardly likely to be a bone of contention. Stigwood, who made his money with productions such as Grease and Evita, commissioned the furniture maker Tim Wood to design and build the dogs' cupboard and bed in a flower room, along with a colonial-style golden oak kitchen and four marble bathrooms, in his Isle of Man Victorian mansion, a converted nunnery.

Wood, one of the new breed of bespoke furniture makers, graduated from the John Makepeace School for Craftsman (now called Parnham House) in Dorset, where Viscount Linley learned his trade.

If you wonder how these upmarket chippies can justify charging several thousand pounds to design and build a cupboard, it's worth considering the cost of the fees for the two-year residential course: they are currently pounds 13,200 a year. Having a rich daddy (or mummy) isn't enough. They accept only 11 students each year and each is interviewed rigorously to ensure he or she will stay the distance.

The school was the making of Tim Wood, who is dyslexic and had been very unhappy at his public school in Berkshire. "You have to really like the John Makepeace School to go there," he says.

"Tutorials begin at 8am and used to end at 9pm. It's not like university, where you might go off and play football in the afternoon. It is intensive."

It also appears to have become something of a crucible for the Conran shops, which have recruited several graduates. Wood worked there for a time, having decided he couldn't stand the cold any longer in his Devon barn workshop, where the wind whistled snow in through the cracks. Doing carpentry in gloves made the job prohibitively fiddly.

Similarly upmarket is De La Espada, which describes itself as being to Spain what Conran is to Britain. Pablo De La Espada was a mathematician by training, until he failed to find the kind of furniture he wanted for the family home in Madrid. He began to design his own, and ended up opening a shop. The London store, by Brompton Cross, sells solid wooden cabinets, chests and tables; a cherry-wood chest costs pounds 1,399. They also sell by mail order, and carry out special commissions.

For Tim Wood, the main part of his work is building kitchens, either fitted or free-range. As they start at pounds 10,000, but usually cost between pounds 20,000 and pounds 30,000, it's not the kind of investment to make if you're planning to move on in a couple of years' time. More frugal customers may insist on free-standing furniture which can be whisked off by a removal van, along with the sofas and the rugs.

In a survey by the estate agents Knight Frank, female buyers put a designer kitchen at the top of the must-have list, above a landscaped garden, a conservatory, a swimming-pool and a conservatory. It did feature in the men's list, but much farther down (after a study, a double garage and a billiard room).

In a choice between two properties, the designer kitchen can clinch the deal - though it won't necessarily add to the price.

"It's often the extras a property has to offer that make the difference," says Knight Frank's Rupert Sweeting. "Many people like to think they're buying a trophy property."

Tim Wood has tried to buy back some of his pieces which he wishes he hadn't sold, but the new owners have refused to part with them. He does, however, still have a cupboard designed like a castle, which he admits is "over the top". It was built for a designer exhibition. "Every one of the windows - which light up - has a 45-degree chamfer which had to be hand-cut. It took a long time. If I had to make an identical one, it would cost around pounds 7,000, but I could do it in MDF for pounds 2,000. My wife keeps her clothes in it at present, but it will be a drinks cupboard."

He is, says his wife, extremely pernickety, even over the smaller items he is commissioned to design, such as picture frames or jewellery boxes. Or a bed, which at pounds 2,000 was cheaper than the Swedish-built, custom-made pounds 3,500 bed bought by Tony and Cherie Blair for number 11 Downing Street - and considerably bigger than the one occupied by the Stigwood dogs.

Tim Wood Furniture (0171-924 1511); De La Espada (0171-581 4474); Parnham House (01308 862204)

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