There have always been talented craftsmen and women in Orkney - now the latest generation of makers are beginning to take centre stage. Our new Business Focus feature visits the workshop of Kerr Carpentry in Burray.
Creating hand-crafted, unique and beautiful furniture is in the blood for Leo Kerr from Kerr Carpentry.
He grew up in the Orkney island of Eday and served his apprenticeship under his father, master craftsman Colin Kerr, an experienced furniture maker, mixing the restoration of antique pieces and hand-carving with traditional carpentry and joinery work.
Leo soon wanted to broaden his skills so joined a local firm as a workshop joiner. After nearly a decade, Leo took the leap and set-up his own business, Kerr Carpentry, focusing on contemporary, bespoke creations, property renovations and specialist joinery. It’s safe to say he hasn’t looked back.
‘I always wanted to run my own business designing and building original furniture and interiors, so I decided the time was right in September 2014,’ said Leo. ‘I guess I was taking a chance but it was absolutely the right thing to do and I really enjoy it. Now I’ve got my own workshop next door to my home and I have been able to employ some staff too. It has been a really positive experience so far.’
His base in Burray is full of the tools of the trade. From work benches and huge machines; to shelves full of screws, wood stains and finishes, it’s a fascinating place to see. There are huge cuttings of wood stored neatly in racks, ready for the next project, and a small gallery of completed pieces, showing off the work of the talented team.
Creativity is key, and Leo works closely with his clients to design and make pieces that are tailored to them. He draws his inspiration from elements of their personalities to create something something completely unique, but still keeping a special connection to the customer themselves.
The possibilities are endless. ‘We produce a real mixture of items. I make a lot of my own designer pieces, including small stools, wine racks, mirrors, even small Orkney love spoons which are really popular as gifts,’ said Leo. ‘As well as that we do much bigger pieces – tables, bespoke kitchens, desks, bookcases, even property renovations. Basically anything that involves wood and good quality!’
Leo also aims to be innovative with his designs, incorporating different elements such as veneer stone, glass and even resins into many of his pieces of furniture. The business is now also the only place in Orkney to offer stretch ceilings, an innovative new product.
The services on offer showcase how quickly the business has grown. Being able to employ extra staff members, including a young apprentice, has given Leo the chance to explore larger projects and take on additional work. This, in turn, has given the company a bigger profile and a wider set of skills and experiences.
In 2016 he was awarded the Guild of Master Craftsmen, a prestigious award and a recognised symbol of quality and service. And even though Leo’s work now involves some larger projects, the business remains a committed member of Orkney Crafts Association, something close to Leo’s heart.
‘Being a member of the OCA is great; it really helps with exposure and provides a platform for our unique designs. I enjoy showing off what we can do and have taken part in a number of shows and events over the last few years.’
‘Every member of the Association is so talented and the products are of the highest quality too,’ said Leo. ‘It’s an honour to be part of that, and the Orkney name definitely brings something special to the table.’
His links extend into other sectors of Orkney’s economy too. All the wood shavings from the various creations put together in Leo’s workshop are collected and delivered to the Island Smokery in Stromness. These shavings then help with the process of smoking the delicious Orkney cheese on offer from the Smokery – all very much in keeping with the hand-crafted theme of Orkney’s creative and food and drink industries!
After almost three years of running his own business, Leo isn’t prepared to rest on his laurels. Sure, it’s a heavy workload and a lot of hours, but according to the man himself, he wouldn’t be doing it if he didn’t enjoy it.
‘It’s what I always wanted to do and, now that the business is here and established, I wouldn’t change anything,’ he said. ‘We want to continue progressing, developing our own staff members and, most importantly, keep creating.’
We can’t wait to see what happens next.
See Leo’s workshop for yourself at a special Open Day on Sunday 20th August 2017 between 10am and 4pm.
You can also follow the business on Facebook.
Inside Business Focus
The Deerness Distillery
Orkney now has three top quality gin producers, each making their mark on the national stage. Our new Business Focus feature takes a look at the newest kid on the block, the Deerness Distillery.More
Our latest Business Focus feature takes a look at Ortak, one of Orkney's most iconic jewellery brands. The company is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and is beginning to once again make its mark both in the islands and globally.More
The Orkney Roastery
The newest members of Orkney Food and Drink are the latest subject of our Business Focus feature. The Orkney Roastery is the first dedicated micro-roastery in the islands, sourcing quality coffee beans and, with care and attention, creating its own range of delicious coffee blends.More
Peedie Chocs and Desserts
Our next business focus feature takes a look at new Orkney Food and Drink member 'Peedie Chocs and Desserts'. Sarah-Louise Drever's enterprise offers high quality and delicious chocolates, truffles and fudges - and this is just the beginning.More
The Brig Larder
Our latest business focus feature takes a look at a unique shop in the centre of Kirkwall. Orkney Food and Drink member The Brig Larder offers a wide range of local products, showcasing the best Orkney has to offer.More
Michael Sinclair Woodturner
Our business focus feature for March takes us to Harray and the home of new company and Orkney Crafts Association member, Michael Sinclair Woodturner.More
Karrawa Guest House
Every month we’re going to take a look at the work of a successful Orkney based business - for February we're featuring Orkney Tourism Group member Karrawa Guest House in Kirkwall.More
The Island Smokery
Every month we’re going to take a look at the work of a successful Orkney based business - for January we're featuring Orkney Food and Drink member the Island Smokery, makers of smoked and flavoured cheeses and much more.More
Every month we're going to take a look at the work of a successful Orkney based business - from food and drink producers to tourism and renewable energy companies. The aim is to highlight the breadth of economic activity in the islands, and to showcase just some of our innovative entrepreneurs. This time the focus is on local designer Hilary Grant.More