01403 878 026
01903 892 899

Victorian Values at Nafisi Studio

Abdollah at Nafisi Studio

Published on 1st February 2019

From a workshop in tranquil Plummers Plain, Abdollah and Kate Nafisi use traditional tools to create unique pieces of furniture. Abdollah’s distinctive style already had many admirers, but his outlook has been greatly altered after his stint on BBC2 programme, The Victorian House of Arts and Crafts

AAH visited the Nafisi Studio to see the unorthodox crafters at work...


Abdollah was raised in Iran and as a boy was inspired by his mother’s work as an architect and by the creative mind of his father, a scientist and inventor. He visited England for the first time as a teenager, when his father completed a PhD at Cranfield University. But it was his own wild adventures in Iran that would inform Abdollah’s career path and working ethos.

“Being an entrepreneur and running a business seemed normal, because it was what my parents had done,” he says. “I always thought I would be an architect. I studied Architecture and Design, but it was my experiences of travelling that truly inspired me. I spent seven years with tribes and nomads, developing a passion for photography as I captured the people and buildings of the Iranian desert.”

“I was fascinated by the way these people lived spontaneously, moving from place to place, taking animals with them and using sheep wool to make beautiful carpets and rugs. What I most admired was that their inspiration came from the environment around them.”

“But carpenters were not designing furniture that suited these incredible rugs. Furniture designers create individual pieces which follow the style of the day, rather than looking at the environment all around us. So, I wanted to learn the techniques of western crafts and merge that knowledge with my Persian influences to produce furniture that perfectly suited these rugs.”


Abdollah’s style was striking, bold and distinctive, and yet at the same time ingeniously simplistic. He turned furniture inside out!

“I love handmade joinery which has been exposed, just like the craftsmanship of the rugs that I love is exposed,” he said.“The hinges that everyone makes inside the cabinets, I moved to the outside. The joints that were always hidden, either for aesthetic or practical reasons, I reversed. I want people to see them and create honest furniture that not only tells the story of the wood, but has a playful element. When it comes to exposed joinery work, I believe I am one of the pioneers of this style.”


Abdollah moved to the UK as a man with a big dream. Having developed his own style in Iran, he read woodworking magazines featuring incredible designs by people like Marc Fish, giving him further spark for his cabinets, kitchens, tables and chairs.

He studied joinery for two years and learned English at language school. In the evenings, he worked at The Holbrook. Then, his ambition of having his own workshop became reality when he moved into a renovated stable, next to his father’s innovative paper pulp business. Initially, he picked up occasional jobs for little money to build a portfolio, including the renovation of a two-floor sushi bar in Brighton, where his exposed style complemented the Japanese theme. A house refurbishment for a friend led to more commissions, as word spread of Abdollah’s traditional methods, unique ideas and infectious enthusiasm.

“A key focus for us is bringing back the excitement of buying furniture,” he said. “When you are child and buy a new pair of shoes, there is excitement. But modern life is so fast-paced that we have lost that. One of the joys of the past was that somebody would commission furniture and the excitement would grow as they waited for it to arrive. We want to recreate that; encourage people to slow down. That's where the happiness is!”


The Nafisi Studio took on added focus and enterprise when Abdollah’s wife, Kate, decided to trade her demanding city job for a more relaxed life as a designer and finisher. 

Kate said: “When I think about furniture, I consider the needs of the customer. Abdollah thinks about it from a joiner’s point of view, looking at design and putting it together. My expertise is in ergonomics and practicality. Gradually, I'm learning about finishing too!”
“It’s nice to be able to work together and share a passion for design. We have a similar ethos. We both see furniture as living sculpture. Just because something is functional, it doesn't mean it's not a work of art and just because it's useful, doesn't mean it can't be beautiful.”

“Furniture has always been on the sidelines of arts and crafts and there's a lot of room for appreciation to grow through fusion of new techniques and technology with traditional methods. That is why, with every piece we make, there is improvisation, as playfulness and freedom of expression can only enhance the furniture.” 


Nafisi Studio has been flooded with orders since Abdollah’s participation on four-part BBC programme, The Victorian House of Arts and Crafts. The show sees a group of 21st century crafters move into a late-1800s arts and crafts commune in the Welsh hills, to renovate four rooms in the house. Abdollah undertook a series of tests and interviews to gauge his suitability for the show, which attracted some 3,000 applications.

Filming was in September and October, and the show has been aired in recent weeks. In the first episode, Abdollah impressed judges as he made a Sussex Chair inspired by the work of William Morris. In the second episode, he joined forces with fellow crafter Rod Hughes to make a bed.

The experience not only helped Abdollah learn new skills, but altered his outlook on life and business. “The programme has benefitted my whole being,” he said. “I had lost focus and discipline, so it was an amazing chance to get it back. I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I had to grasp and commit to. I didn’t have my phone, as no devices were allowed, and I found I had so much energy. I felt like I was eight years old again!”

“My first task was crazy! I had to create a chair from a solid tree trunk, but I didn’t want to let Sussex down, so I worked  all the hours I could to get it done. I felt that William Morris wanted me to finish it! 
“When I came back to work, I made a commitment to enjoy the environment around me, take walks in the countryside, see the sunrise, enjoy life.”

“People have responded well to the show and we already have an order for a dozen Sussex chairs. So, the cabinets are on hold for now! What is  also nice is that I know, if the economy was to collapse, I can revert to green woodworking. I can walk into the woods with my axe, light a fire and create beautiful furniture!”


For more details on Nafisi Studio, as well as a blog on Abdollah’s TV experience, visit https://nafisi.design