How the beauty of birch and a big night out was the catalyst for this Calderdale business

A mutual friend introduced Jim Leach to Tim Shillitoe on a big night out in Hebden Bridge. It was so “big” neither of them can remember much about it but they do recall bonding over a shared love of birch plywood.

Their passion for ply and their complementary skills have since combined to build a sustainable business with an impressive reputation for designing and making modern kitchens and contemporary furniture.

Tim Shillitoe, left, and Jim Leach, right, founded Wood and Wire after meeting on a "big night out". (Picture by Sarah Mason)

Tim Shillitoe, left, and Jim Leach, right, founded Wood and Wire after meeting on a "big night out". (Picture by Sarah Mason)

Their company, Wood & Wire, relies on Jim and Tim’s symbiotic relationship.

Jim has a degree in furniture and product design and has worked on everything from properties in Knightsbridge to homeware for Argos. He is a fan of Modernism and his design hero is Robin Day.

He was working for an architectural practice when the recession and redundancy hit.

“I could have gone to London for work but I wanted to stay in Yorkshire so I rented a cheap workshop and started designing and making plywood furniture and cabinets,” says Jim.

“I designed, made and fitted a kitchen and that eventually became the signature Wood & Wire kitchen.”

Fanatical about accuracy, Tim is a cabinetmaker and joiner and has worked on a wide variety of domestic and commercial projects.

He lived and worked in New Zealand and travelled around Japan before settling in Hebden Bridge, where he too began using plywood to make furniture and to fit out camper vans with.

“We both loved birch ply for the same reasons. It’s a very honest material, it’s beautiful and it’s sturdy,” says Jim. “I got in touch with Tim after that night out in Hebden because I needed help on a kitchen project that was too big to take on by myself.

“I’d sent the client some sketches and a photo of a kitchen I had made for another customer and that persuaded him to invest. He was confident Tim and I could deliver and we did. Wood & Wire started from there.”

The “Wire” in their title came from their first shop, which they initially shared with an electrician friend.

Ten years on and they now have a workshop, a showroom and 12 members of staff, all based in Hebden Bridge.

Among their fans are architects who often recommend them to their clients.

The birch ply doors feature veneers in a wide range of colours and the selling point isn’t just the contemporary good looks

“It is about investing in quality. Our kitchens are designed to last a lifetime,” says Jim. “That’s the sustainable aspect of what we do.”

While the products look strikingly modern, most customers are not dedicated followers of fashion.

“Most of our clients are in their 50s or 60s and they are in homes they intend to stay in long term so they please themselves when it comes to choosing the colours,” says Jim.

“They like the aesthetic of the Wood & Wire design because they grew up with mid-century brands like Ercol, which also builds everything to last.”

Furniture was a natural progression for the business and its range includes the Crop Circle nest of tables and the Bob dining table.

“We’ve grown organically and we have had a few ups and downs along the way,” says Jim, who cites the Boxing Day floods in 2015, which wrecked their first showroom in Hebden Bridge.

“Like many others in town, our shop was ruined and business came to a halt. We were devastated but even the biggest, blackest Pennine clouds have a silver lining.

“We moved to new premises on Market Street and the way our community pulled together was amazing, with friends, neighbours and total strangers helping each other.

“We’re also lucky that Hebden Bridge is the sort of place where a different kind of business like ours can really thrive.

“There’s a strong ethical and environmental undercurrent here and the community really cares about supporting local businesses and buying sustainable, long-lasting products.”

Much of Wood & Wire’s custom comes via its shop window in the centre of a town that attracts tourists.

While that has brought commissions from all over the country, it has also attracted the attention of those who can’t think up their own original ideas so Jim and Tim have had to contend with plagiarism.

“It’s annoying when someone tries to copy what you do, but they aren’t in our area and they can’t replicate our reputation for quality and the service we give,” says Jim, who adds that Wood & Wire’s ambition is to “stay small and keep control – we want to develop new products and carry on creating kitchens and furniture that are so stunning, timeless and long-lasting that they never get replaced.”

Original story Sharon Dale reports. Pictures by Sarah Mason.