Updated: Apr 9
Former Aardman Animations set builder, Oli Lee has always had a love for design and a need to create. The Cheddar-based carpenter and designer set up With Bear Hands three-years ago and the small, independent company has been growing ever since – it now boasts a large and loyal customer base. Not bad for a passion-led brand that simply wants to make things that make you smile.
Oli:"With Bear Hands started in 2015 in Cheddar. I had finished working as a set builder at Aardman Animation a few years before and was looking to what I could do as a career. I had made bunk beds for my kids and people kept saying they were cool and I should make more so I took the leap and put myself out there. With Bear Hands has grown and grown from there. Working out of a small workshop in Cheddar I now make bespoke furniture, using new and reclaimed wood. Working closely with clients I aim to create well designed products – everything is a one off, no repeats. Bespoke happiness!"
After taking the leap and starting up his own company, Oli then had the tough task of trying to find a suitable business name. And with With Bear Hands he has found one that creates a real talking point.
Oli: "The name With Bear Hands is shrouded in mystery and has long been debated by folk far and wide… errr… not really, well to be honest I can’t remember. I think it just popped into my head when I started out wanting to make things. With Bare Hands is ok but when someone asks you what your business is called and you say 'With Bear Hands… bear like the animal… GRRR' it always gets a smile so it stuck!"
Oli has long had a passion for making and creating, and relishes being his own boss. And it’s the bespoke aspect to his brand that really captures his imagination.
Oli: "I've always drawn, having been an illustrator and set designer for many years, so designing has always been something I love doing. With Bear Hands has become the next stage of that creative process, and I am loving it. The fact that nearly every week I am making something new is awesome. I am quite a fluid designer so I like to draw out a design as a guide, but as you go along new ideas come to you so I am always tweaking. Sometimes something that looks great on paper might not work in the actual space. I recently had a customer say mid-build 'can we have a trap door that leads into a den under the bed' – sounded good to me so I obliged!"
Oli’s product repertoire ranges from chopping boards and shelves, to epic roundhouses and a guitar case for Jack Bessant, the bass player of Glastonbury-based band Reef.
Oli: "Having known Jack for years, when he got the dirtbox guitar made by Jeff at Dirtbox Guitars I knew it would be a great opportunity to make something cool and unique to match the guitar. It was great fun mixing woodwork with upholstery. It’s great to see something I have made touring around the world! As for a favourite piece, I love them all. I would even say that I have a bit of separation anxiety when I finish up a project, knowing that it’s done and I am not going to see it again. I am inspired by things around me on a day-to-day basis. I am always spotting nice design features everywhere that I take note of in a handy little sketchbook that I carry. My passion for design drives every project. I want to make things that make you smile, objects and rooms that bring joy."
So why does Oli love Somerset? It’s simple really.
Oli: "Why do I love Somerset? The people are awesome, the countryside is amazing and the cider is lush."