TJ Brown, 73, is a mastermattress maker for Savoir Beds in London.
What background do you have in this craft?
Growing up on the island of Jamaica, I taught myself to sew. I made my own distinctive clothes using my mother’s sewing machine.
I am gifted with my hands; I have particularly long and sensitive fingers, which also have come in handy since I have played the piano and organ professionally from an early age. TJ is actually my stage name; no one uses my birth name, Vernal.
How did that skill turn into this job?
I moved to London at age 16 to join my mother, who’d moved before me. Later I worked in a textile cutting room in London, where I honed my skills in both sewing and construction.
After touring with a band in 2000, I was broke and answered an ad for a job at Savoir. In the interview, the owner, Alistair Hughes, asked if I knew how to sew.
I was a bit cocky in my answer and added I would be an asset to his company. “We’ll see,” he said, and asked me to stitch some materials as a trial. When I was called with the job offer, I was shocked: I’d never had a full-time job before.
What goes into making one of your beds?
We use only natural materials, such as curled horsetail, cashmere, lamb’s and yak wool, and cotton. The mattress is finished using a hand-slipped closure and hand side stitching. The topper is made of hand-teased horsetail with a lamb’s-wool outer layer and a natural case that uses our trademarked Trellis ticking. The bed is completed with bespoke upholstery and a headboard selected to match the preference of each client.
Is that why they are so expensive, with prices ranging from $13,000 up to $250,000?
We do use the best materials, but when I am asked that question, I reply that your health is your wealth. You don’t need all the research that’s out there to prove that if you sleep well, your health is better.
Do you add anypersonal touches to the process?
I put so much heart and soul into the ones I make that I call them “my children.” I like things neat and looking good. I’m all about precision. My personality is unique — I have my own sartorial styles — and this complements the company ethos. Each bed is made to order and unique. I was honored to be selected to create our Royal State Bed, which retails for more than $175,000.
How is the mattress company tied up with a bit of London history?
The theatrical impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte, who built the Savoy Theater in London’s West End in 1881 to showcase the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, then built the Savoy Hotel next door in 1889. Aside from being where the chef Auguste Escoffier ran the kitchen, the hotel also was noted for its Savoy bed.
The owner bought the bed company that made it, and allowed guests to purchase it. Today Savoir beds are in 30 of the hotel’s suites and also for sale to the public.
How has playing piano influenced your work as a mattress maker?
I see the beds as keyboards: My fingers move through the horsetail with the same sensitivity and precision as when I play the piano keys. When I hit the right adjustments of the weave, it’s like when I hit the right notes. It’s creative magic to me.
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