The quintessentially British label has been creating bespoke children’s furniture for almost 40 years. Danielle Wilkins takes a peek behind the scenes
As a brand known for its handcrafted children’s furnishings, it’s impressive that Dragons of Walton Street has more than 200 products to its name. The wooden furniture – everything from cots to chairs, toy boxes to rocking horses – is all hand-painted, with the company holding exclusive licences for the likes of Beatrix Potter and Paddington Bear. It even counts a number of high-profile faces as customers, including Madonna, Samantha Cameron and Gwyneth Paltrow.
So it comes as rather a surprise that behind the façade of luxury that has always been synonymous with the brand, the designs are created in a humble studio on a sleepy business park in the West Sussex village of Billingshurst. With just a small plaque on the door as a giveaway, local skilled artists and carpenters ply their trade side by side, creating the most breathtakingly beautiful nursery furniture for clients from as far as Russia and the Middle East, as well as London.
Dragons’ designs have long been a firm favourite with the Royals, too. Founder Rosie Fisher worked with Princess Diana to kit out the nurseries of Prince William and Harry, and cousins Beatrice and Eugenie, while daughter and managing director, Lucinda Croft, collaborated with Grosvenor House to create a bespoke nursery suite when Prince George was born. Not bad for a business that began life as a small antiques shop in Sussex, with just a few hand-painted pieces in the window.
“I remember my mother taking us to see the new shop in Walton Street in 1979, which was very run down at the time, I thought she was mad!” recalls Lucinda. “Her hand-painted chairs began to sell faster than her antiques, so she added a table. She was wonderful at listening to what her clients wanted – creating all they required until she had a full inventory.”
Lucinda goes on to say how finding the right artists at that time was key – two of which still work their magic in the Dragons studio today. “Terry and Barbara really are the pillars of the business,” she smiles. “I remember the first time Terry turned up to be interviewed – with a leather jacket and long hair – I thought my mother wouldn’t like him,” she laughs. “How wrong I was. They are an intrinsic part of the family and a walking archive of our artwork.”
As Lucinda sweeps me through the workshop and warehouse floor, it’s obvious that family really is at the heart of the brand. She took over the business 10 years ago, when her mother was diagnosed and later died of leukaemia. Today she runs the business with her husband, Simon, splitting her time between the studio in Billingshurst and their concession in Harrods. She warmly introduces me to every employee by name – some 12 in total. To watch the artists, including the talented Terry and Barbara, at work is fascinating and strangely hypnotic.
As well as individual furnishings, Dragons also offers a full interior design service – everything from the lighting to fabric sourcing – creating bespoke nurseries for families across the globe from Moscow to Abu Dhabi.
“I love that other cultures appreciate our work, it’s a testament to British design,” says Lucinda. “These pieces become heirlooms – they are tied to people’s childhoods. We’ve worked with some families for more than 30 years. That high degree of trust leads to a lot of repeat business within the wider family. It makes me proud to know our pieces are being shipped around the world,” she adds.
There is no question that the company has benefitted from the kudos of being a British brand – Dragons’ classic style and trusted reputation is indeed what makes families return again and again. Lucinda even reveals that many clients bring back pieces to be restored for the next generation of children in their family, which is surely testament to the quality of its creations.
Dragons is, without doubt, the last word in children’s furnishings, having created everything from an ‘Aston Martin’ bed to a £22,500 dolls-house replica of Walton Park, in collaboration with interior designer Nina Campbell. With laid parquet flooring, remote control lighting and a real marble entrance hall, it even comes with its own set of particulars from Savills. The house, which was until recently on display in Harrods, now stands pride of place in the – rather humble by comparison – studio entrance.
I ask Lucinda is she has any advice for mothers creating a nursery: “Create a space you will all love to spend time in. One that is peaceful, for feeding, storytelling, playing, dressing and bathing,” she says. “Create a space where the ‘world’ can’t barge in.”
Far from resting on the laurels of Dragons long-standing success, Lucinda is continuously pushing forward, and has been searching for a new showroom in London. “We finally found it, in the heart of Chelsea Green; a place where we will be able to serve our original clients in the personal way we love to,” she smiles.