Mr Willett, first name Mark, is busy. By day, he helps run a furniture workshop called Goldfinch whilst also working for London Reclaimed, a Bermondsey based employment charity of which Goldfinch is a part. ‘We take on young people and train them in carpentry in a working environment giving them the skills for future employment,’ he says. In his spare time, he runs Mr Willett, turning wooden pieces for sale and commission for the likes of Heckfield Place, a new boutique hotel in the countryside. Here’s what makes this inspirational British craftsman tick.
First memory of wanting to make with your hands?
My uncle worked in a scrap yard and I remember fishing out an old bike with my dad. We didn’t have the right tools, but he taught me to improvise and be creative. We fixed the bike.
What was the first piece you ever made?
A spoon in 2014. I’d just received a carving set for Christmas from my wife. I found an old piece of timber, not the greatest piece for carving a wooden spoon, but I finally got there with lots of YouTube videos and figuring it out as I went along. My wife still uses it for cooking.
What was your lightbulb moment?
It started from making that first piece, I wanted to get better at it. At that point I was helping reconstruct a very old barn using traditional joinery methods, so was very much at the beginning of my passion for woodworking. I think the idea of Mr Willett was to have the freedom to make whatever I wanted to make.
Advice for the fledgling whittler?
Sharp tools. You are able to connect more with the wood and go with that process of carving. The bluntest tools cut the deepest because you have to use more force, and you’re more likely to injure yourself. Woodcutting knives from the Swedish range, Mora are inexpensive and brilliant for the money.
Your design inspiration?
I am a visual learner, so I’m inspired by objects. I look at other crafts like ceramics. My friend, the ceramicist Sky Corewijn has a small shop in Netil Market off London Fields. I recently made some items for Carve London, an event that took place in November and the inspiration for the handles were 1920s Art Deco cocktail glasses.
What is a Mr Willett signature piece?
At the minute it is my serving boards – they still get me excited.
What commission are you most proud of?
I was commissioned to make wooden covers for jewellery, cotton bud and tissue boxes for Heckfield Place, a new boutique hotel in Hampshire. I made 212 in total. They used a lot of great makers both locally and from afar.
Where would you most like to see a Mr Willett’s piece displayed?
I’m getting more into sculptural turned pieces. There are a couple of Instagram accounts, Steinbeisser and Jouwstore, which show creative dining experiences. I would love to see a beautiful experimental dining menu on one of my serving boards.
Tip for preserving the life of a wooden object?
When you wash wood over time it becomes fury. Sand it down and remoisturise it with food grade oil. Choose one that won’t go rancid – I use coconut or walnut oil but not olive oil. The idea or ethos of what Heath was set up for, to take care of your skin and moisturise it, that is what wood is about. You need to take care of and moisturise it.
British artisan tailor you admire?
Ashley Watson, he is a motorcycle clothing designer and makes modern, contemporary wear. His studio is in Dalston and he travels around visiting and working with different tailors and fabric makers directly. I love his Eversholt jacket – everyone needs a motorcycle jacket.
What is your style?
It’s hard to distinguish when I’m working and not. I wear Dickies and Carhartt, both were originally intended for workwear but are now available on the high street.
What do you wear for work?
Things wear through quickly, so I buy from charity shops. They have those old, better made items. I go for denim or a drill trouser.
Last inspirational shop you visited?
A ceramic store in Copenhagen called Yonobi. I bought a Hasami Porcelain piece from there – I love the very simple Japanese style.
Shoe of choice?
For work I wear a pair of Australian made boots called Redbacks. They’re the most comfortable work shoes I’ve ever had.
Watches are crafted timepieces too – what’s your watch story?
My grandad gave me a watch when I was young. It’s Timex with a classic metal stretch strap, probably 1950s. He is American and had it when he was in the air force. It lived in a drawer for ages then I found it one day in my 20s and have worn it ever since.
Are you a soap-and-water or a face wash and moisturiser man?
It depends. I ride home from work seven to eight miles a day, so in winter my skin gets chapped, so moisturiser is key.
Favourite Heath product?
The Hand Salve, it couldn’t be more needed with what I do. It rejuvenates and moisturises my hands – they are quite calloused and have lots of cuts, so it feels nice and refreshing at the end of the day. Love its fresh, crisp smell.
Barber of choice?
Dave at Royal Crown Barbers in Melbourne Australia is the best barber I have been to.
I like variety. I’m currently listening to the 60s top 2000 songs on Spotify. I’ll listen to that on shuffle for two months, then change to old school hip hop.
How do you relax?
It is a conscious effort to switch off at the end of the day. I ride home from work most days, so I use that time to unwind.
Best country hideaway?
I found a very special place a couple of years ago with a friend, who lives outside Glasgow. I went on a camping trip with him, last minute organisation, he does stuff on the fly. He managed to borrow a boat and we used it on Loch Lomond where there was a small island that we ended up camping on. There were wallabies on this tiny island. We took camping stove, pans, fresh food and had a blast for the weekend secluded in the middle of this loch. Early morning swims too.
What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?
Don’t worry too much about what other people think. I was too concerned about making people happy. Just be kinder to yourself and give yourself a bit of space.
MR WILLETT’S GREEN BOOK
App – YouTube, can’t live without it
Gadget – A good camera: Canon 6D
Latest read – Finding Ultra, Rich Roll
Heath favourite – Hand Salve
Best eatery – Pacific Social Club, Hackney Central
Beverage – Scotch – Ardbeg Corryvreckan
Interview Emma Hill
Mr Willett – mrwillett.com