“A typical day for me starts with a quick dip in the sea,” says Devon-based woodworker Nina Varnham. “I then take the coastal road into Dartmouth, where our studio is based. I check my emails, work on some marketing and brand development, and then head straight to the workbench.”
There, Nina creates one-of-a-kind homeware pieces crafted from beautiful wood offcuts. “Fryth is the sister company to Shawstephens, a bespoke furnituremaker, so we use offcuts from their big projects to make unique items that help reduce timber waste,” Nina says.
“Each piece has been designed to fit perfectly into a contemporary or traditional home. The name ‘Fryth’ comes from the old English word ‘Frith’ for woodland, but it also means peace, which is really lovely.”
Nina likes to start the day with a refreshing sea swim off the Devonshire coast.
This month, we’re celebrating our exclusive Fryth x Piglet in Bed kitchen collection, comprising rustic chopping boards and rolling pins, and characterful spoons and spatulas. We spoke to Nina about how the company has evolved, the inspiration for her designs, and the sleep hack she swears by.
Tell us about the Fryth journey so far. Where did the idea for the company come from?
We started Fryth about 18 months ago, but Shawstephens had the initial idea for the company almost a decade before. When working on large projects making bespoke cabinets and furniture, you naturally end up with offcuts. There was a shipping container outside the workshop that was just filling up with beautiful bits and pieces, and the team at Shawstephens wanted to turn them into useful items for the home.
Wood offcuts are collected in a large shipping container outside the Fryth workshop for Nina to choose from.
They had the idea for the sister company and had come up with the name Fryth, but they didn’t have anyone they felt was right to build the business. I joined Shawstephens in 2018, and after a few years working as a cabinet maker, the team thought I was a perfect fit for the Fryth brand. So, I stepped out of the workshop and started developing the company.
There’s been a lot of trial and error, and we’ve learned so much over the past 18 months, but I feel like we’re really finding our feet with it now.
How would you describe your creative process?
Since the designs are based on the offcuts we receive, the process is ever-changing. I’m constantly adapting, which keeps me on my toes! At one point, we might have a glut of thinner pieces of timber that are perfect for making our much-loved spatulas, while at another time, the offcuts might lend themselves to making bowls.
The Fryth workshop boasts rural countryside views overlooking the River Dart.
It also depends on how I’m feeling and what I fancy making at that moment. I get a lot of inspiration from nature, especially the coast, since I enjoy sea swimming. The last big collection of bowls I made were worn up with a wave all the way around. I only intended to make 10 of them, but people loved them so much that I ended up making 50!
Other times, the inspiration is right in front of me. I got an idea for the Piglet in Bed rolling pin from one of my woodworking tools. I just looked down at the roughing gouge I was holding and noticed the beautiful traditional handle. I adapted the style slightly, and I love its curved finish.
Tell us more about your designs for the Piglet in Bed products.
When designing the Piglet in Bed collection, I’d just moved into a 300-year-old cottage. The building doesn’t have a single straight line in it. That kind of property has a certain charm, and I drew inspiration from that. I wanted to give the collection some of that character alongside a traditional feel.
Nina shapes one of Piglet’s rustic chopping boards from an oak offcut.
These days, there’s so much perfection in everything. It was really lovely designing a perfectly imperfect collection, something that had real personality. The products are all items that can become a part of your kitchen and home, which you can have for years and years and pass down to your children.
What are your favourite types of wood to work with?
I love working with oak because it’s so versatile. You can scorch it, ebonise it, add texture to it, and create some beautiful finishes. Oak is a popular wood for British furniture because it’s timeless and hardwearing, so we have lots of offcuts. The spare pieces always have different characteristics, so each product we create is completely unique.
After I’ve been working with oak a lot, I enjoy switching to walnut. It’s like turning butter!
Every item Nina makes is slightly unique, thanks to the different oak offcuts she uses.
And let’s finish with our quick-fire round...
Coffee or tea to start the day?
Black coffee, always.
Describe your perfect Sunday morning.
A slow start with coffee and nice food. No plan is usually the best plan.
What’s your favourite way to wind down before bedtime?
An Epsom salt bath. I have one every night, which helps send me off to sleep.
What’s a sleep hack you swear by?
Bath, book, bed – the three Bs.
Thanks so much for chatting with us, Nina! The Fryth x Piglet in Bed collection is available online now - shop our exclusive range just here.
Photography by Leia Morrison ©