Plant and Moss

Plant and MossBy Ros Dodd

Things are not quite what they seem when it comes to James Plant and James Moss. Despite their respective surnames and the fact they run their design partnership from a garden shed in Birmingham, their products have nothing to do with horticulture.

What’s more, functional tools they used as university students to make furniture have been cleverly incorporated into quirky, contemporary designs that are being snapped up by the likes of Selfridges and Liberty in London.

The two Jameses have been in business together for only nine months, but already are making a name for themselves as Plant&Moss.

Among their eye-catching creations is the Clamp Lamp, a funky desk light so called because its base is none other than a metal clamp. There is also the Arco-Rod, an adjustable pendant lamp made from a fishing rod, winch and breeze block!

“We want to make things that are fun and enjoyable – things that people want to have in their homes,” explains James Moss. “We think of our designs as quirky, yet functional.”

The pair met when both were studying for a degree in contemporary furniture and related product design at Buckinghamshire New University in High Wycombe. After graduating in 2008, they both tried to forge ahead with their careers on their own.

“We started off doing design work for companies, mostly in London, to get experience and understand how the design world works,” says 24-year-old James Plant from Birmingham. “We then looked at the possibility of going freelance, but there wasn’t much around for new graduates in a difficult economic climate. The jobs available invariably asked for several years’ experience, which we didn’t have.”

Because they’d “bounced ideas off each other” on projects at university and had a similar vision in terms of design, they decided to join forces.

But without the finances to invest in a workshop and design studio they would have been stumped had it not been for a shed at the bottom of James Plant’s parents’ garden in Kings Norton.

“It’s basically my Dad’s garden shed,” he laughs. “Now, his tools have been pushed aside and it’s become our workshop and studio space.”

To ensure a presence in the capital, 25-year-old James Moss turned two bedrooms of his London flat into an additional work space.

Understanding that to run a successful business requires more than an eye for a good design, the pair joined a scheme run by the University of Birmingham called B-SEEN (Birmingham Skills for Enterprise and Employability Network).

“We’re learning about things such as marketing and company structure,” explains James Moss. “We also have a business adviser we meet up with to discuss our progress. We’re looking to form a limited company before the end of the year.”

Their first trial order came in shortly after they set up Plant&Moss in January – from none other than Liberty.

“We exhibited at the London Design Festival last year and on the back of that, Liberty bought our Clamp Lamp, which sells for £150. We’ve had several orders from them since and we’ve also sold some of our products to Pedlars, which sells in Selfridges and its Notting Hill store, as well as to a shop in Hong Kong,” says James Moss.

The Clamp Lamp – which has also attracted interest from a national restaurant chain – evolved out of the work the duo did on their university course – using clamps to secure wood and other materials.

“Part of my degree was studying the use of existing objects and how they could be appropriated to perform as it was designed to perform but in a different context,” explains James Plant, who scooped a “new designer” award soon after graduating. “So that’s how we came up with the Clamp Lamp.”

Another innovative creation is the Tube Chair, a £135 wooden seat made from parts that slot neatly into a poster tube.

“It’s a self-assembly chair that comes in slats of wood with pre-drilled holes for the screws – a bit like a giant Meccano set for adults,” says James Moss. “The beauty of it is that it can be sent through the post.”

There is also the Odd Couples Bench, a sleek piece of furniture made out of ash that features two Ercol-style contrasting backs.

“This relates to couples who sit next to each other in restaurants rather than opposite – the different backs represent the different characters of the people who will sit on the bench.”

Where possible, production is kept local. The spun metal shades for the Clamp Lamp, for example, are made in Birmingham. The Tube Chair is made entirely by the two Jameses in the Kings Norton shed.

With business starting to take off, they are now looking to expand into bigger premises. “We are still new and still learning, but we’ve made good connections, both in this country and it Italy, where I did a three-month internship on the Leonardo da Vinci programme,” says James Plant. “We love designing but we are also taking seriously the process of setting up a business that will last.”