Member Profile – Chiselwood Ltd

Tell us a little about the history of Chiselwood and the driving force behind its unique place in bespoke kitchen design?

Chiselwood is 30 years old in February. Founders Martin and Mel started as a small company, Martin from an engineering background designing and manufacturing and Mel from a medical background, supporting with the organisation and finances. Chiselwood was design led from the very early days, Martin being inspired by Mark Wilkinson as he lived in Wiltshire and was aware of his designs in the early 80s. Chiselwood both designs and manufactures in Lincoln. Having control of the manufacture allows the company to remain unique creating beautiful projects the clients can enjoy for many years.

Why do you think Chiselwood is a market leader and survives in such a competitive market 30 years after its inception?

Chiselwood began in a recession in the late 80s. We were fortunate to benefit from Business Link and the bank with courses and support, both in how to manage a business and financial benchmark. Throughout the years, both highs and lows, we have recognised how to stay ahead. The key factors after finances are innovation and marketing. Sometimes this is the first area that gets marginalised when money is tight, however we have found quite the opposite. Clients feel reassured if they are seeing new designs. Keeping ahead of trends is important. Visits to trade shows such as Milan gives headspace and inspiration to create and weave into the new projects, knowing you are in tune with forthcoming colours and materials.

As a result of your investment in design, skill and craftsmanship, Chiselwood is a leader not a follower. Good design is often copied, and you have had more than your fair share of experiences. Could you tell us a little about how you discover and deal with infringements?

There are great companies in our industry who produce volume amounts of kitchens. We realised very early on that we could not compete with those companies. Our strength was in the design and ability to manufacture them in our workshops. We have noticed over the more recent years with the introduction of Pinterest, Instagram and Houzz that copies of our designs and others leading in the industry has hugely increased and is harder to monitor. We have had many times where we have found or been alerted to these infringements. It is a frustrating process to stop people, even when going to Court to prove and protect our designs. Trying to focus on being innovative and ahead design wise is a major part of why our clients come to us. Over the years sending a clear message that we will prosecute on our media, website and press has been important, hopefully to deter. However, we also realise we need to rely on the new technology too. Our new website coming out in the New Year will make it harder for people to copy and paste. Clear written messages reminding people we will prosecute if infringement is found and the member of ACID logo will all be incorporated in the new site, sending a strong, clear deterrent message.

What is your message about the “me-too” culture that pervades some of the kitchen sector and those who ride rough shod over the law?  Do you think that IP ethics, compliance and respect for intellectual property should be the cornerstone of the industry, in terms of declared Corporate Social Responsibility? And if so, how could the kitchen design sector achieve this?

Social media has huge power to send a message everywhere today. If used in a positive way, it gets people on board at great speed, quicker than any medium in the past. Using the “me too” hashtag both in press and media gave a clear message and support for the campaign very quickly.  Clever campaigns to protect the kitchen industry and design could send clear messages; how important it is to the UK’s innovation and economy to embrace creators, inventors and designers and protect their designs.

Do you think that IP ethics, compliance and respect for intellectual property should be the cornerstone of the industry, in terms of declared Corporate Social Responsibility? And if so, how could the kitchen design sector achieve this?

We have had many conversations with other designers, there is a feeling that the culture of the UK does not respect designers and inventors in the way other countries appear to. Sadly, IP, copyright and design rights are not widely discussed and many do not understand the impact or consequence of copying to a company and its staff. Whilst companies can be very protective of their designs, I believe that if we offer to support and respect each other’s designs we as an industry would have a louder voice against those who don’t. A clear consistent message on our websites and media that we all believe it is wrong to copy could mean less time chasing and protecting and more on creativity.

You invest in your people by helping them to develop skills and craftsmanship. How important do you think this is for the future of Chiselwood?

Our staff over the years have come to us as time served cabinet makers or as an apprentice, fortunately they stay a long time. It takes four years for our apprentices to train they are mentored and supported by the other staff members. By allowing our team to learn new skills and techniques, it allows us to create new designs keeping the unique focus on the company. Our staff are key to us keeping ahead in innovation and style.

Managing Director, Mel Holliday has recently been appointed as an ACID Advisory Council member what does this mean to her and to Chiselwood?

“Being asked to be part of the Advisory Council is a great honour and a chance to give something back to ACID as a thank you for all the support you have given Chiselwood over the years. The local press covered the appointment and I have found people coming to me asking what their companies can do to protect themselves and their designers. I would like to continue being an ambassador for ACID, I am aiming to try and spread the message on IP and also work with the design department in Lincoln University to help support and advise students at the early stages of their careers. It is very exciting to be part of such an enthusiastic and supportive team.”

We now have an IP Act which will mean not only criminal provisions for intentional Registered design infringement but also for individual directors. Do you believe that if this is extended to unregistered designs infringement, it will become more of a deterrent?

Chiselwood struggles in this area, each project is individually designed and therefore cannot be protected under registered design right. We place the unique elements on the ACID IP Databank to strengthen protection. There is no obvious penalty for unregistered design at the moment therefore some may copy knowing they will not be penalised. It would make a significant and compelling difference to companies like ourselves if the deterrent of criminal sanctions were in all areas of design.

What are your 3 recommendations to Government to stem the tide of blatant design theft to support the kitchen design and broader design sector?

  • We had the unfortunate experience of taking a company to Court. Although supposedly small claims, the process was costly, taking a few years and the outcome was not conclusive. SME’s find it hard and emotional to protect their designs and if this process is hard to act on, they are less likely to follow through to prosecution. Deterrence at the beginning would be better, streaming the process for quicker, less costly outcome would help.
  • Education: starting from young designers in colleges and universities giving awareness of what IP infringement is and how to protect designs.
  • Campaigns for general social awareness that the design sector contributes hugely to the UK economy and provides nearly 1.7 million jobs. Promoting “Proud of British Design” encouraging everyone to embrace inventors and designers alike and shouting loudly about the intellectual property which underpins it!
If you would like to read more about Chiselwood please click here.