Big Interview with Hydeline’s Jonathan Burrage

Jonathan Burrage, Managing Director at Hydeline Furniture, talks about the biophilic design movement, what he would change and why it’s important to keep bringing fresh ideas to the industry.

Let’s start with you. Can you share a bit about yourself?

Married, five children and a three-year-old golden retriever. We also have two cats, but I don’t talk about them! I started out with the John Lewis graduate training programme in the late 90s moving into various buying and global sourcing roles within Kingfisher. I jumped the fence to manufacturing in the mid noughties and have enjoyed several leadership roles in consumer goods since (Roberts and Magimix to name two.) I’m passionate about rugby and I enjoy swimming (typically 10-12km each week).

What is your current job role and key responsibilities?

I joined Hydeline in January 2022 as their managing director. We have spent the last year setting out a strategic vision for the business whilst focusing on the day-to-day disciplines of our operations.

What do you love about your job?

Primarily our people, though we do also make the most beautiful, upholstered furniture. I spent a great deal of time with the senior leadership team before joining the business. It was important that the culture of the business was either aligned with my own open and collegiate approach or, at the very least, was open to moving in that direction. I am extremely lucky to work with a team that are passionate about what they do. We may be a small fish in a big pond, but we definitely punch above our weight.

What time is your alarm clock set for?

6am every day of the week. I have always been an early riser. I am in the office at 7am and once I have checked on the sales figures from the previous day, I will walk the floor to ensure we are maintaining our standards of housekeeping in all areas of the building. I have always treated an office and warehouse space in the same way I did the shop floor back in the 90s. Some retail habits don’t go away. Beyond that, my days are extremely varied and are often dictated by the operational opportunities and challenges that the team are managing.

Why did you choose to work in the furnishing industry?

I have been in and out of the furniture industry for a good part of my working life, but the Hydeline team are the reason I have returned. I was really impressed by their appetite to succeed, and their commitment to both the Hydeline and At The Helm stories. We have the most incredible products and a great deal more surprises in the pipeline for 2023. 

Who do you most admire in the industry and why?

I couldn’t single out one individual. I admire those who have been in the industry for many years yet are still evolving their business, developing their people, and putting the customer first. Any industry needs fresh ideas to create opportunity and growth. One of my first bosses once told me “if you only do what you did, you will only get what you got!” Too many businesses fail because they stop doing the things that made them a success in the first place. Imagination, creativity, drive, ambition, and risk.

Have there been any special moments during your career?

I have been extremely fortunate to have travelled across much of the world in my career. Though you often miss the splendour of the places you visit, the opportunity to meet people of different cultures has always fascinated me. People do business with people and spending time face to face with colleagues from around the world has certainly enriched my life and most definitely benefitted the businesses I have been fortunate to represent. 

What is your favourite item of furniture you own?

I have always worked hard and played hard, determined to maintain a true work/life balance. My super king size bed and memory foam mattress is sanctuary at the end of each fulfilling day, and it’s the only place where I’m offline.

What do you think is trending?

We are talking a lot about biophilic design. The consumer need and desire to remain connected to the natural environment is evident across the fabric styles and designs we are seeing. This is moving hand in hand with the increasing need and demand for environmentally kind product and production methods. The next generation of consumers are even more unforgiving, and they have clear ideas on what they require from manufacturers and retailers alike. Our industry remains very traditional in its production methods but there are some great stories emerging of where new entrants are disrupting the market. At Hydeline, we are working hard to incorporate recycled materials into our products and manufacture our At the Helm frames from FSC certified wood. Furthermore, with lifetime guarantees on all our frames, we are focussed on manufacturing incredible products that are built to last for generations.

What would you change in the industry?

I love this industry. We make the most beautiful products for people to enjoy for generations. If there was one thing I would change, it would be the amount of short-life furniture that ends up in landfill.

Can you share an insight into your future plans?

At Hydeline, we believe that everyone deserves to relax in comfort whilst remaining connected to loved ones and the wider world. This is at the heart of everything we do. We have an exciting NPD program in place to leverage this ambition, putting the end-consumer front and centre in the look, feel and comfort of the products we design.

What do you enjoy most outside of work / free time?

Spending time with my family. A birthday or seasonal gathering is typically 20+ adults so it can get quite rowdy.

What might someone not know about you?

I can hold my breath for four minutes!

If you had a different career, what would it be?

An RAF pilot. My grandfather was a Spitfire engineer, and I was always fascinated with flying. I recently flew a Spitfire simulator which has further whetted my appetite to learn to fly. My next hobby.

Finally, if you were an item of furniture, what would it be and why?

Well, it would have to be one of our Chesterfield sofas. Reliable, supportive, room for everyone and built to last!

Five Fun qs:

If you could hack into any one computer, whose computer would you choose and why?

The Euromillions algorithm.

What fact amazes you every time you think of it?

I recently read about the link between the size of the booster rockets on the side of the NASA space shuttle and a horse’s backside! Google it! It will blow your mind.

What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?

I was in Norway in 2010 when the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland erupted. Within a matter of hours, air traffic had been grounded and the hotels were full. Queuing to try to book a hotel room it became clear that it was not a 24-hour delay and I would likely be stuck in Norway for weeks. Sharing my frustrations with two strangers in the queue, I suggested we hire a car and drive back to England. I had a rugby club dinner to attend, and I was determined to be there. We shared the driving through Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, and France before catching a ferry to Dover. One train ride later, I was reunited with my car at Heathrow airport and heading back home. I missed the rugby club dinner by two hours but made two friends for life.

What is the most important object you own and why?

Until recently it was probably my wine fridge. Sadly, it’s become my reading glasses! 

What did you think was cool when you were young but isn’t cool now?

Probably me! My children constantly remind me that I am no longer 18 years of age, my hairline has ‘changed’ and I really shouldn’t be on the dance floor in their presence.

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