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Heart and soul

An article about the history of my fathers heart published in a June 2004 publication of 'Profile'.

Jonathan Coulthard puts his heart and soul into his business - after a friend had a dream it was his destiny. Jo Davison reports.

Most people who set up their own business are following a dream. Jonathan Coulthard did - but the dream was someone else's. My Fathers Heart, the bespoke furniture making company he has poured much love and energy into over the last nine years, is exactly what a friend from church predicted for him.

A psychiatric nurse, Jonathan had a passion for furniture making in his spare hours, but had no plans for making it his livelihood.

"The friend had told me she had dream I would set up a successful company and I would call it 'My Fathers Heart'. She even told me I would put a wooden heart on every piece of furniture I made" says Jonathan. "I laughed at the dream, especially the name which I thought was silly, as I hardly knew my own father."

Jonathan is the son of the man who helped put Sheffield on the map in the Sixties - film maker Jimmy Coulthard - now legendary for his Steel City promotional movies, one of which was featured in the film The Full Monty. But his parents split when he was young, Jonathan and his now famous artist brother Peter being brought up by their mother.

It was only when the friend walked into Jonathan's home and another piece of the dream fell into place, that he was convinced he ought to take the premonition more seriously.

"She saw a dressing table I had made for my wife Ruth. I'd done it at college and it stopped her in her tracks. She told me it was the exact piece of furniture she had seen in the dream. It all sounds a bit strange now, but at the time it fired me with enthusiasm to follow that dream."

He quit the day job and set up in business working from council-run enterprise workshops in Sheffield's old Coroner's Court before moving to his present workshop in a quiet backwater off Fulwood Road at Nether Green.

He makes stunning hand-made kitchens and studies, plus heirloom-quality furniture to customers' individual - and exacting - requirements.

And a marketing specialist he consulted finally brought to life one other key element of the dream.

"Without any prompting from me, he told me I should carve a signature heart into every piece I made, to make it more collectable!"

Passion - and love - goes into everything the company produces. Classic lines, combined with contemporary colours and the ideology of the Arts and Crafts movement - one man for one job and intricate attention to detail - are his trademarks. Along with that little wooden heart hidden somewhere on every piece.

"I get pleasure from the excellence of things - making things that are beautiful," says the man who generously credits much of his skill to his Shirecliffe College joinery teacher, Harry Sampson.

"The quality of furniture makers that he turned out of the college was quite superb," says Jonathan. "Quite a few set up businesses in Derbyshire or went to work for big name firms."

Jonathan has seen to it that old traditions and standards of excellence have been adhered to, along with modern ecological ethics.

Every joint is dovetailed, every veneer is hand-laid. Every piece of wood has been grown from sustainable forests - much of if grown in South Yorkshire.

"We live in a throw-away culture. I'm making things that will last in a way I believe to be right and I get a sense of integrity from that," he says.

Consequently. My Fathers Heart commissions are not inexpensive - a handmade kitchen costs from £12,000 to £30,000 and a unique handmade bed could set you back around £2,000.

The company now employs a team of five highly-skilled furniture markers - including Gerry Saddington, 25 years in the trade and an utter perfectionist, and ex-Barnsley Main miner Steve Faxon, who retrained a joiner after being made redundant.

There is also Chris Stokes, a 17-year-old apprentice who, says Jonathan, shows great promise. Chris's patience and attention to detail are rare in one so young these days he says.

"Few lads want to learn this craft. They can earn money faster at McDonald's Chris is willing to delay the gratification. He does his City and Guilds training on site, with a training board mentor.'

"Originally, the idea was that I was going to grow a beard and set up a little workshop in the country," Jonathan laughs. "But the business has got too big. Now I'm doing the drawing, the designing and the selling - using talents I didn't know I had - while the lads do the real work.

"I miss the making - it's relaxing to stand at a bench all day, concentrating on turning the wood into what you want it to be."

Commissions come from word of mouth. Customers, who often come to the workshop to meet their furniture-maker and even the wood that is going to be used, recommend him to their friends and Jonathan says he could do with another couple of joiners to meet demand.

Most orders are local. "Derbyshire is as far afield as we go and I'm happy to keep it that way. I think there are enough beautiful homes and enough money in this area to keep us going. I wouldn't like us to get too big and lose touch with what we are supposed to be about."

Prosaically, his father, Jimmy, visited the Nether Green workshop just days before he died of cancer. "He came and looked round and told me how proud he was of me. And I never saw him again," says Jonathan.

In another romantic twist, the dressing table which featured in that dream nine years ago has just come back to prominence.

He was telling the story of the dream to a customer, and as he described the lovingly hand-carved item that his wife has cherished for so long, the customer asked if she could buy it.

Ruth agreed and a price of £1,500 was decided on.

"I was delighted. The piece I had made at college all those years ago has paid for our first ever holiday abroad together without our three children."

There's something quite heart-warming about that.
By Harriet Coulthard04/11/2020
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