Based at picturesque Cockington Court Craft Centre, the husband and wife team behind the resident wood craft business, Takahashi McGil, meet us at their studio. As humble as they are talented, Mark and Kaori exude calm and warmth as we chat about their young family and past craft acquaintances made via Pop up the High Street, TDA’s pilot retail project which introduced Takahashi Mcgil to a customer facing environment in 2015.
They’ve come a long way since then; growing from unassuming hobbyists with full time jobs, to prestigious Full Members of the Devon Guild of Craftsman in just over three years. Takahashi McGil create functional yet beautiful homeware and furniture made from a mix of local or sustainable hardwoods, crafted by combining time-honoured Japanese traditions honed in Tokyo, with western techniques.
Together they plane, chisel, turn, wax and lacquer with great precision and attention to detail. Each considered piece celebrates the natural beauty of the material – knots and air-dried cracks included. In addition to the practical aspects of their work, the couple also take all their own (excellent) photography via their smartphones, manage all their communication and social media channels and run all aspects of the business themselves.
Having met well over a decade ago, South African born Mark McGilvray and Kaori Takahashi from Japan, both graduated in Fine Art at the Wimbledon School of Art. Though they started making simple pieces for themselves, through a desire for bespoke furniture on a budget, their craft has now happily become their livelihood.
TDA first met Mark and Kaori when they participated in the Coastal Communities funded, Route to Retail project, Pop up the High Street. TDA approached Mark and Kaori directly, after seeing their products advertised on Etsy, a worldwide ecommerce platform predominantly hosting unique sellers and crafters; they looked perfect and we were delighted when they agreed to participate.
At the time, the couple were only crafting as a side project from a shed at home, and both worked in retail. During our initial meeting, it was instantly obvious that Mark and Kaori were truly gifted at their craft, but the couple lacked confidence and were overly modest about the potential of their hobby-turned-business.
Pop up the High Street offered independent retailers the chance to experience life on a local High Street for up to 6 weeks for just £30 a week. The project provided online or home based retailers with the opportunity to have a ‘real world’ physical retail space without the overheads or risk. The project ran successfully for 16 months, and provided over 50 home retailers a unique opportunity to trial retail.
Although the sales may not have been groundbreaking for the couple, what they did receive was feedback and assurance, which at that point, was arguably more valuable.
Following their time at the shop, Mark and Kaori worked closely with a TDA Business Advisor to create a business plan, a financial forecast and a sound application for a studio at Cockington Court Craft Centre, the last of which was successful, and the newly established ‘Craft Business’ moved in to their first premises on Good Friday, 2016.
Mark said: “Pop up the High Street was the stepping stone we needed to help get our products out there. Knowing what the public thought of the products gave me the confidence to apply for a studio space at Cockington Court.”
Takahashi McGil quickly outgrew the unit, and in 2017 upgraded their studio for a larger one, in which they still remain today.
Marissa Wakefield, Cockington Craft Centre Director, said: “We feel privileged to have so many talented makers here at Cockington Court and Takahashi McGil are no exception. We are really proud of everything that Mark and Kaori have achieved and their work is everything Cockington Court stands for; handcrafted, unique and absolutely beautiful.”
Takahashi McGil have enjoyed a steady accumulation of success and their notoriety has, in their own words, snowballed.
National press coverage includes the Evening Standard in their Design News feature, Sunday Times Style Magazine, The Daily Telegraph Saturday magazine, Devon Home, Elle Decoration Magazine, Country Living and the list goes on. The couple’s studio is littered with articles and magazines of which they have featured. The couple were also selected to be a part of the Shorely’s video feature (which you can watch here) and Kaori was interviewed on BBC Spotlight as part of the Contemporary Craft Festival.
Just some of their accolades include the Devon Guild of Craftsmen’s President’s Prize 2019, Contemporary Craft Fair’s Best Stand Award and being chosen for the prestigious TOAST: New Makers Initiative. The TOAST ‘New Makers programme’ supports, and mentors makers of all disciplines at the beginning of their journey. Only five makers are selected annually for this esteemed initiative, and the chosen five are offered business and marketing advice, as well as a platform to sell their pieces until the end of the calendar year, with full profits being returned to them.
Despite their achievement, Mark and Kaori remain utterly cool and even surprised at the success they have had.
Mark said: “Although the business has been up and running for over four years now, it’s not often we take stock of everything that’s happened. We feel very lucky that this is our job and we get to do this all day, every day. We do of course work hard, but we feel we’ve been infinitely lucky in the opportunities that have come our way.”
Kaori and Mark have spent time in Japan, learning the art of urushi lacquering. Urushi is lacquer made from the sap of a tree and makes the wood waterproof as well as adding strength. They both work on the same pieces but Mark is more likely to have done the turning and Kaori will have used the chisels. Regardless of the distribution of labour, the work is beautiful to look at and a delight to handle, with each piece satisfying almost all five senses. Takahashi McGil’s furniture is now only made to commission with the smaller pieces having taken over as the larger part of their output.
So what now for the pair? Undoubtedly, they will continue to make massive waves within the craft world both nationally and beyond, whilst juggling day to day life and raising their two young children. Mark and Kaori tell me that with various large commissions and a major craft festival in Wales coming up, there is plenty going on!
For TDA, Takahashi McGil are an eloquent success story and example of how a business’s raw talent can be harnessed and fulfilled with the right support and opportunity. We are so pleased to have been a small part in their large success and will continue to take pride in hosting and supporting them at Cockington Court Craft Centre.
For more information on business support visit https://tda-business.com/