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Spotlight on the maker:
Dead Mary's
Dead Mary's

Dead Mary’s is an independent furniture company based in London, owned and run by fine furniture maker, Emma Chesterman. Emma’s furniture designs focus on problem solving, to create an elegant yet functional piece that solves a problem for the user. Emma kindly answered some questions about her work and business.

'Within Arm's Reach' Table
Emma in her workshop

Where did your passion for making your pieces come from?

For me, there is something life affirming about working with wood. Creating beautiful furniture with this living material to making something that lives beyond your life and beyond the many lives of others is a privilege. A beautifully made piece of furniture can exist across generations and live many lives.

Were you always interested in creating things from childhood?

I used to help my dad to make things at home. Wonky picnic tables for the garden for example. I’d hold the timber and fetch tools whilst dad cut it to size with his saw. I was beguiled by how you could transform a chunk of a tree into a functional piece of furniture. Plus, I loved all of the tools that were involved. Dad was a draughtsman and had all of the neat precision instruments. There’s a beautiful duality between the now old school tools for designing and the physical hand tools for making.


How did your business start? What led you into it?

I took some short courses with Helen at the London School of Furniture. Helen is a massive enthusiast and font of knowledge. She is inspiring and great fun to be around, I was hooked! I I decided to do a two year Fine Furniture making course at The Building Crafts College in Stratford and qualified as a bench joiner and fine furniture maker. I absolutely love it. It was one of my best decisions. Over the last year, I’ve worked for and alongside some of the most talented furniture makers in the country. At this same time I began to establish my own business, Dead Mary’s.

How did you decide on the name Dead Mary’s?

It reflects my curiosity with the way in which made-things endure through the lives of people. Great furniture doesn’t just live one life it exists and gets passed on through many.

Dead Mary was a real person. She was such a spirited woman who travelled the world collecting furniture, clothes and experiences along the way. I met her in France. By then an old and tenacious woman, I looked after her, listened to her stories and recounted them to my friends. Her house told the story of her life. The furniture and clothes gathered from her travels, uniquely familiar and timeless were like old friends. Her style had a simple playful elegance, it spoke of quality and character. When Mary died she left me some of her things. I wore her clothes and walked in her shoes. Everyone asked me“where did you get that? It’s beautiful”. My reply, “It’s dead Mary’s”.

Concrete base of 'Within Arm's Reach' Table

Where do you draw your inspiration from for your pieces?

I design furniture that solves a problem. I’m good at looking for answers to problems through functional design and bringing that to life by weaving in the story of how it came to being. I love things that are elegant but do not take themselves too seriously. My creations reflect my curiosity with the way in which made things endure through the lives of people. Great furniture doesn’t just live one life it exists and gets passed on through many.

What is your favourite part of the making process?

I love creative problem solving. Coming up with ideas that are not immediately obvious. Exploring connections and patterns that evolve into practical answers. I love a good brief too!


Do you have any particular design heroes or other makers your work has been influenced by?

The late George Nakashima. He respects the ‘soul’ of the tree by working with the natural grain and bumps within wood. Tom Kealy and Rob Wales who are original graduates from the renowned Parnham College furniture school. They tutored me at The BCC. They are not only experts, but kind and supportive humans. They give deeply reflective feedback and critique which is essential to the process.

Any upcoming projects/pieces you’re working on that you’d like to tell us about?

As part of a team, I’ve been working on a very unusual and utterly unique project to create a massive 13 metre long table out of 5000 year oak tree which was dug out of the ground in the fens. The next stage is to finish the table top and raise money for the cast broke base.Once its complete it will be housed in Ely Cathedral. You can click here to see more on that.

I’m designing and prototyping new Dead Mary’s pieces which you will be able to see soon. I’m also working collaboratively on a pilot for a maker’s festival. It’s a sort of maker’s boot camp aimed at people who wouldn’t ordinarily have access to learning skilled ways of making. It’s going to take place out in a woodland where master craft people will teach things like greenwood chair making, basket weaving, stone carving, ceramics and blacksmithing.


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About the Author


Written by Jane Adams, founder of Author Interiors. LinkedIn:

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