Marie Carlisle and Leslie Feeney share the mission of this multifaceted social enterprise.
Golborne Road wears its heart on its sleeve. A neighbourhood of committed localists, this enclave in W10 is keenly focused on culture, community and craftsmanship. Nowhere is its spirit more greatly captured than at Goldfinger, located at the top end of the street near the Grand Union Canal.
This social enterprise ticks a number of worthy boxes, from creating bespoke furniture out of reclaimed materials to tackling social exclusion with woodworking programmes. At its helm are Marie Carlisle (CEO and Co-Founder) and Leslie Feeney (Head of Impact & Partnerships), businesspeople impassioned by quality design and empowering uplifting North Kensington – and beyond – with hands-on creativity.
The pair have remarkable parallels, both being half-French and spending their childhoods between Hong Kong and America. “Our fathers were also both in luxury businesses, which we ended up having careers in too,” Marie says. “In a way, our similar upbringings resulted in shared values and outlook on life.”
“The seeds of my passion for sustainability started in Hong Kong,” she adds. “I saw a lot of incredibly graphic things like fridges and furniture thrown in the ocean. It was a clear demonstration of a linear economy. While I didn’t have the language for it as a child, I felt this was something profoundly wrong with the world.” After a career in luxury marketing, she decided to launch Goldfinger, “a luxury furniture company that’s synonymous with helping people and the planet.”
“Hong Kong is a dynamic but very natural city, being by the sea with lots of greenery,” Leslie notes. “My family and I have always been passionate about trees and the natural world.” After studying architecture and forging a career in fashion design and merchandising, Leslie felt motivation for change. “I felt disillusioned by the waste and chemicals involved in mass production, even in the ‘luxury’ sector,” she adds. “I wanted to be part of a brand that was design-focused with a meaningful mission.”
Leslie came across Goldfinger while searching for antiques and reclaimed furniture along Golborne Road. “I loved the concept. At first, I was a client, commissioning pieces with the team. I then volunteered and finally joined Marie as a full-time member of staff four years ago.” It seems fated that the duo would end up partnering on this social organisation.
“We are a design-led business but also a social enterprise. Our mission is to help people, the planet and our local neighbourhood.”
- Leslie Feeney, Head of Impact & Partnerships
The showroom and workshop is located at the bottom of Trellick Tower, a Grade II* listed mid-century Brutalist tower by Ernö Goldfinger. With a bold monolithic exterior that soars high above Notting Hill, it typifies the divisive character of modernist design which won enthusiasts and detractors alike. “The building is a real metaphor of the perception of beauty and how that evolves over time,” adds Marie.
Goldfinger’s architectural stamp can be seen throughout London, including his home in Hampstead, 2 Willow Road. As the story goes, the red-brick terrace was strongly opposed by local residents including novelist Ian Fleming who subsequently named his James Bond villain after the architect. “Goldfinger. The man with the Midas touch, turning things into gold, the power of alchemy,” Marie says. “It’s a rich message for us and the ultimate inspiration for our name. We see value and potential in materials and people.”
The Hungarian architect was a champion of local community. “There were shops, outdoor spaces, a doctor’s surgery and preschool incorporated into the scheme,” says Leslie. “This is an amazing piece of social housing and architecture.” Goldfinger’s “streets in the sky” are a symbolic linchpin for the eponymous 21st-century enterprise: a place where locals and volunteers can interact and learn the art of sustainable craftsmanship. “I feel very privileged that we’re part of this Trellick Tower community,” adds Marie. “So many people know each other by their first name. It’s not the kind of anonymous London that a lot of people are familiar with.”
It’s the unfortunate case in 2023 that the term “sustainable design” has more of a green sheen than a guarantee to be environmentally responsible. Integral to Goldfinger’s manifesto, however, is their long-term commitment to the planet. “By sustainable we mean ensuring our wood has the lowest embedded carbon possible, such as how it was cut down and how far it’s travelled,” says Marie.
Where possible, Goldfinger uses reclaimed timber donated by partners across London. “We welcome companies’ surplus materials in their supply chain,” says Leslie. “We’ve used everything from Harvey Nicholls’ cedar window displays to teak lab benches from Imperial College and maple flooring from the Science Museum.”
While reclamation is a core part of their design ethos, it can also be unpredictable. “The woods come in different sizes and can be scarce. We can’t solely rely on it,” Leslie notes. “So we source timber from responsibly managed British woodlands that encourage sustainable forestry.” In particular, the team value their materials’ provenance. “‘Sustainable’ timber could be coming from the US but their carbon miles are not factored in,” adds Marie. “Goldfinger ensures the traceability and legality of our wood.”
“We discovered a sweet spot of wood sourcing,” says Leslie. “Trees that have felled in London for natural reasons: disease, urban development or weather-related incidents.” Treecycling, as she puts it, is the perfect way to reduce their carbon footprint while knowing the definite origin of the timber. To ensure their customers are also informed, each piece of furniture is neatly stamped with the coordinates of where the original tree once stood.
“Timelessness drives our design aesthetic,” says Marie. “We’re not about chasing trends. It’s about showcasing the hand of the craftsmen and building for longevity.” Detailed aspects of the furniture, such as the exposed joinery and contrasting woods, illustrate the human touch behind their creation. “Our team are in-tune with the colour and grades of these materials and can showcase the infinite possibilities of timber,” Leslie adds. From coffee tables to oversized stools, drop-pendant lights and chopping boards, their showroom is replete with outstanding, soul-fuelled woodwork.
“Timelessness drives our design aesthetic. We’re not about chasing trends.”
- Marie Carlisle, CEO and Co-Founder
Goldfinger is a highly affecting and inspiring initiative, reinvesting more than half their profits back into the North Kensington community through two support programmes: Goldfinger Academy and People’s Kitchen. “We are a design-led business but also a social enterprise. Our mission is to help people, the planet and our local neighbourhood,” says Leslie.
The Academy is split into three core programmes. Manufacto brings woodworking courses into schools. “It’s been amazing to see school kids’ confidence grow and see them experience the joy of making,” says Leslie. “The second programme is called Future Makers, which offers traineeship opportunities and career guidance to young people out of work,” she adds. The third pillar, Soulcraft, is designed for the west London community. “It’s about connecting with the emotion of architecture,” Marie notes. “It’s a much more diverse age group and has helped isolated residents feel creative and connected to each other.”
Armed with a passion for food, a team of People’s Kitchen volunteers serves the community home-cooked meals from surplus ingredients. During the lockdowns, Goldfinger privately fundraised to deliver food to people’s front doors: “Now we’re back to our original model which Marie started in 2015, hosting meals at our on-site café Panella,” says Leslie.
This benevolent scheme reflects the neighbourliness of its postcode. “Golborne Road is such a unique combination of cultures,” Marie says. “One minute you could be in Marrakech and in Lisbon the next, and there are so many phenomenal businesses.” “When I first came to the area 25 years ago, I said, ‘I’m home’,” Leslie adds. “I haven’t left since. I love the diversity, the entrepreneurs and eclectic characters here.”
The future looks bright for Goldfinger. Not only are they in the final stages of being certified by sustainable forestry group Grown in Britain, but the team are hosting more workshops and welcoming an ever-increasing number of volunteers to the initiative. London is undoubtedly a better place for their creative, charitable and low-carbon endeavours.
"We see value and potential in materials and people.”
- Marie Carlisle
Domus Nova is delighted to support Goldfinger, having sponsored the company since its foundation in 2015. To explore their furniture collection or sign up for volunteering opportunities, visit their website.