Robert Walsh, the owner and founder of Ted Todd was recently asked for his thoughts about wood floors, building a company and his approach to design.
Here are some of his answers:
What is your conceptual approach to wood floors?
My formative years in wood flooring continue to be my main influence. When I started in 1993 I was reclaiming old timbers and floors from across the northwest of England, from 19th century textile mills, schools and hospitals and was genuinely surprised by how well many of these old floors had worn. Many were still as good as new after 100 years of use, with very little wear. I was struck by how confident and forward thinking they were in the 19th century as buildings really were built to last.
This experience has influenced my belief that a good wood floor should last for a long time. They should continue to work many years after anyone can recollect who bought them or even how much they cost. This is the single biggest reason why I work with wood floors. Most consumer goods have built in obsolesce – our wood floors have built in longevity.
What are your main influences?
I am influenced by philosophy, art, architecture and history. I am an avid bibliophile and collect books on everything from textiles, fashion, architecture, interior design, philosophy, photography, art and design. Many of these books are in our library at Ted Todd’s Cheshire Design centre. The books on my desk at the moment are by Robert Kime, Axel Vervoordt and Alain de Botton.
How would you define your style?
I have a very fluid and eclectic style. I veer towards the old versus the new as I like the stories that the old can tell. However, I do also like the clean, fresh look that new timbers can provide. The most important part of an interior is the structure and not the decoration and a good wood floor defines the structure.
What impact did your education have on your career?
I studied Philosophy at University. I think that it is unlike any other subject in that it teaches you how to think. It also teaches you how to get to the centre of the issue, which has an impact on everything I do.
How did your career path take you to wood flooring?
I started working with wood floors when I left university. It was 1993, we were in a recession and finding a job was really difficult. My Dad was a builder who always re-used everything that he could; when I was a teenager he would get me to de-nail old floorboards. When I couldn’t find a job I started buying small parcels of old floorboards that I would de-nail in my parents garden and then sell in Loot or Exchange & Mart.
It was something that I grew into so naturally that even now I don’t feel like I’ve had a career. In fact, I don’t really feel like I’ve ever had a job in the traditional sense.
When working with clients, what is your process like?
The spatial plan for the floor is always the starting point. The first questions that always need to be asked are ‘which areas will the floor run through?’ and ‘What is the size and shape of the space?’. This will help you to get the structure right.
It can also help to counter negatives: for example, running a herringbone through an L shape space can make a difficult space into a feature. Narrow boards in a small space make them feel bigger. Longer boards in a long room extenuate the space. Patterns can bring together many small rooms into a single space. Mixing wide and narrow boards together can highlight the lovely wide boards, without swamping the space. Using different formats in different rooms, but in the same finish, can create intimacy. Mixing different woods in different formats can create the feeling that the interior has evolved overtime.
Once you have got the structure right you can look at the aesthetic of the floor. We have a huge amount of choice: from over 25 different woods, creative textures and many unique finishes. Many of the floors only have very subtle differences which means you shouldn’t have to compromise to get the look you want.
What was your first project?
My first project was for 30 square yards of reclaimed Pine floorboards. It was for a barn conversion in Ormskirk. The client, John, was really pleased with his floor. He picked it up in a Ford Escort van and he left with it precariously strapped to his roof rack. I went over to look at it once it was installed and it looked great.
What have collaborations taught you?
That every project is different. You need to listen and you need to make the effort to explain your ideas properly. You also need to be open to new ideas, even when you are not sure as to how you are going to get there. Good collaborations will test you and this is when you learn the most.
What makes you satisfied with a floor?
I am always satisfied when the floor is right for the project.
How do you measure its success?
The team at Ted Todd are the true measure. The financial or material measurements are easy to quantify, but it is the human success that is the most important.
What are you most proud of?
Our environmental history is something to be proud of. We have always acted as a responsible buyer of wood even when this is not a priority to our customers, and we still craft a lot of our floors from reclaimed timbers.
How have your professional relationships helped you in your career?
I have a client who notices people. He notices everybody and in our busy world you should see the people around you. Everybody is important, regardless of their seniority.
What do you think about alternatives to a wood floor?
It’s ironic that so many man made products from Laminate, Vinyl and Ceramic floors now go to great lengths to copy a wood look.
However all of these floors totally miss the point of a wood floor which is that they last for generations and you do not send them to landfill when they look tired. There are very few recycling options for the plastics that are used in these products and they cannot be refurbished. We need to address the recycling credentials of man-made floor coverings – even carpets are now made out of plastics that are impossible to recycle and will take hundreds of years to breakdown.
I think that wood is the best material for a floor and I have yet to find an alternative that could stand in its place.
What is your vision for Ted Todd?
To just keep on making great wood floors. We aim to do one thing and to do it really well.
What is the thought behind Woodworks by Ted Todd?
I am a big fan of the simple. We acquired Victorian Woodworks in 2012 and this year (2016), it made sense to bring this together with the handmade wood floors we had spent many years developing at Ted Todd.
Bringing it together makes everything simpler. This is a world class wood flooring company with almost 30 years of combined experience and it has a great adventure ahead of it.
How do you find satisfaction from what you do?
It’s great when I read a newspaper or magazine, walk into a shop, hotel or restaurant and see our floors, but the greatest satisfaction is when young people join us and grow into capable and confident individuals.