You’re probably already familiar with Dragons of Walton Street‘s rush-seated chairs (pictured above) – I certainly was. Seen in many a nursery, they are true design classics. But you might not know that the company behind them was founded more than 30 years ago by perhaps one of the earliest entrepreneurial mothers. Specialising in hand-painted furniture created to last a lifetime, the brand is not only popular with royalty and celebrities in the UK, but across the world, from Moscow to the Middle East.
I took a trip to the new Dragons showroom on Elystan Street, London, to talk to managing director Lucinda Croft about the story behind, and the future of, this quintessentially British brand…
Can you tell us about the history of Dragons of Walton Street?
My grandfather and father were entrepreneurs – my grandfather, Sir Anthony Fisher, was actually knighted, for setting up The Institute of Economic Affairs. My mother had four children, but she was in that environment and had that entrepreneurial drive herself. Even though it wasn’t fashionable for women to work at that time, she persuaded my dad to let her open a shop in the local village and it did really well. It was an antiques shop, and eventually, she decided she wanted a shop in London and she chose Walton Street.
Alongside the antiques, she sold children’s chairs in the window. The chairs sold faster than the antiques, and so she decided to do a table, a chest of drawers…. She met this fantastic carpenter, who’s still our carpenter, and, even though she had no formal training, she would fax him sketches of her designs and he’d make them up for her. The children’s furniture did so well – we joked with her that one day there’d be no antiques left, and it would all be children’s things… And that’s part of our ethos – we’re always listening to our customers, and what they want.
I’d always loved the shop, and my mother had included me on many buying trips as I was growing up, so I picked up a lot from her even before I worked for the company. When she sadly passed away after a short illness, I joined Dragons as Artistic Director.
How did the name come about?
My mum used to be called The Dragon by her little sister! When she was thinking of a name for the first shop, my aunt said ‘Well, it has to be Dragons.’ So that’s how it came about. Even though our showroom has now moved from Walton Street, we’ve kept the ‘of Walton Street’ because that’s our name, our brand, and how people know us.
Whose idea was it to add the artwork to the pieces?
It was my mother’s idea. We’ve had Paddington Bear, Beatrix Potter and the Flower Fairies for so long. We find the most talented artists, and I love working with them. Only 1% of the furniture we sell isn’t hand-painted in some way, but we have our own artwork designs too, such as the Playful Elephants, which are hugely popular, and slightly more affordable, as you don’t have to pay the copyright on top for them.
How do you combine work with parenthood? What’s the most challenging aspect for you and how do you overcome it?
I always say I have to concentrate. Planning is really important. It’s much easier now than when the children were little. For example, school holidays when the children were little were such a huge deal, and that was really challenging. But we’re lucky as my husband, who joined the business five years ago, and I swap. So if one of us is working in London, the other is working from our head office in Sussex, where we live, and doing the school run. That means that if one of the children is ill, there’s always one of us nearby to scoop them up.
What’s your most popular piece?
The rush-seated chairs. They are handed down through generations – they are true heirloom pieces, and it’s just amazing, the love people have for them, because it’s all tied up with their children’s childhood, or their own childhood and so it’s very evocative – people have a really strong connection with them.
And what’s your personal favourite?
The dolls house wardrobe at the moment (above), because it’s so new. It’s got so much potential for doing something fun with it. I had to restrict myself with the artwork for the one in our showroom – I would have had the whole thing hand-painted but then no one would have been able to afford it! There’s something about a dolls house that clicks into someone’s imagination. But also, it’s a hugely practical piece, and people have a lot of stuff!
On that note, can you tell us a little bit about the background of the dolls houses?
When I joined Dragons, we didn’t have a dolls house in the collection. Our manager Sally, who had worked for my mum for fifteen years, said ‘You know, we really should have a dolls house’. Strangely as a child, I didn’t have a dolls house, but my little sister had a giant one on the landing, which my mum made for her. But I’ve more than made up for it now – I don’t know how many dolls houses I’ve done now!
The most fun one I did was for the daughter of a princess who loved animals, so she had a conservatory filled with animals – even a rabbit hutch with real hay in it. It really was so cute. When I’m designing a dolls house, I always like them to say something about the family it’s for – for example if they have a dog, I’ll try to find a mini dog that looks like theirs.
What’s coming up for Dragons?
We’re talking to people in China about the taking the brand out there, which is very exciting. I think they would love our pieces. We also have a fabric design in the pipeline, an addition to our Playful Elephants collection.
Which other kids’ brands do you admire?
I love US brand Restoration Hardware – I think they’re very clever with their photoshoots. The way they style their children’s rooms – it’s a very American style, but they do it so well. If we had the budget, I’d love to do something similar with our shoots.
When you’re not running the business, how do you like to spend your time?
I love being in the country with the family. I find it so relaxing to hang out at home with the children, away from London. And in the summer we love to go to the south of France, it’s just lovely.
Any recent customer anecdotes you can share?
We’ve just been commissioned to paint a customer’s dog on a chest of drawers – the chest is for her daughter, and she couldn’t believe it when I said if she sent me a picture of the dog, we would do a sketch for her, which we could then paint onto the piece. We also just completed an amazing interior design project in Abu Dhabi – four children’s rooms in the same home, each with a completely different theme, from a racing car, to a safari to a ship! It was huge project, and the team said it was so much fun, as they were there when the children arrived to see the rooms and they were so excited and appreciative.
Find out more about Dragons of Walton Street >