Nick English is a fine furniture maker based in Bridgewater, Vermont. He completed the North Bennet Street School Cabinet & Furniture Making program in 2015. Following graduation, he began making furniture in the Charlestown Furniture Makers collaborative space. He and his wife, Erin, moved to Vermont’s Upper Valley in 2018. Together they run their small furniture business, Petite & English.
We spoke to Nick to learn more about his background, how he got into designing and making furniture, and what makes his tick!
What inspired you to get into furniture making? How did you come to develop your brand?
I was surrounded by carpentry and construction growing up, but never showed real interest in the discipline as a kid. It wasn’t until I went to school for architecture that I discovered the world of design. The model making, the technical drawing, the buzzing studio culture — it was right up my alley. After graduation, the model making stops and a majority of the work is done behind a computer. I didn’t want that. I wanted to work with my hands.
In school, we learned a German term that resonated with Erin (my wife and partner in business) and I called Gesamtkunstwerk, meaning “a total work of art.” It was a principle to strive for, to design all aspects of your life with intention and purpose. I realized that furniture plays a major role in people’s lives, and far too often it isn’t given the attention and detail that it deserves. I graduated from architecture school in 2013, then went on to North Bennet Street School to study traditional furniture making. Since then, it’s been my passion and obsession to design and build pieces for daily life.
We started to develop our brand years ago when Erin came into my first wood shop in Charlestown, MA, with the camera. Since college, Erin has had a side passion for shooting and editing short videos, and we realized it was a wonderful medium to show the beauty and detail of fine woodworking. We continue to rely heavily on her videos, and believe it’s our unique way of documenting the work.
What is the mission of Petite & English?
To practice and promote the art of a small, simple, handmade life — including the discipline of heirloom-quality woodworking and furniture making.
How would you describe your style of furniture?
My work so far has been influenced by a variety of furniture-making periods. I have always had an appreciation for the Shaker style. I’ve also drawn a lot of inspiration from the Federal period, as well as mid-century and Scandinavian works. Thin legs, clean lines, tiny knobs.
What have been some surprises in your business?
The biggest challenge is trying to get all the wood shavings and sawdust off my clothes before I return home. I’m always surprised when those wood shavings end up in my underwear.
What are the challenges of working together as husband and wife?
Erin has always been more productive in the morning, and I tend to be more productive in the afternoon and evenings. It can be a challenge trying to catch that same creative wave. But when we do, I love working with Erin on our small family business! There’s an unspoken connection that we’ve cultivated over the years which allows us to collaborate easily together.
Were you (the business) affected by the pandemic? If so, how so and how did you manage?
The pandemic was actually the genesis of Petite & English. At the start of Covid, I was laid off from my part-time restaurant job and Erin shifted to working from home. I realized the one thing I could still do was build furniture, and we took advantage of those first few months to get the business up and running. We haven’t stopped since.
What makes Vermont so special as a furniture maker?
Vermont has long been a place for creatives and craftspeople to set up shop. The locals care deeply about the products that are made here. When people think of Vermont-made furniture, they have high standards for craft and skill, thanks to the generations of makers that came before me.
What has been your favorite piece? And why?
Now I know how my mom feels when I ask her who her favorite child is! It’s usually the piece I’m currently working on, which right now is a kitchen Island I’m designing and building for a friend.
What would you recommend for anyone aspiring to become a furniture designer?
It’s a life-long discipline. You’re learning a language with your hands and your body, and it’ll take some time to become fluent.
Don’t get bogged down with buying lots of new tools at the start. The handplane I bought for $40 when I first started works just as well now as the brand new ones that cost $400.
I think it’s important at the beginning to focus on the classics of period furniture making. Look to the 17th and 18th century furniture makers and copy their work. Don’t worry, they’re dead so they won’t mind — and imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.