The shop building started life near the end of the 19th century, about 1880s, with the first owners being a family firm of painters and decorators merchants. Paints and varnishes were formulated and made here for local Bristol customers often delivered around Bristol by pony and trap. Evidently the pony lived in what is now the back of the workshop under what was then a hay loft and now kitchen. The family lived above. I’ve actually discovered and used some of the clear varnish they made on restoring a customers bamboo walking stick.

Shop from about 1900
The shop when it was a painters and decorators about 1900

This family sold the building in mid 1930’s to another with one of two sons trained as an upholsterer. As trade changed he left heavy old upholstered arm chairs with fabric stripped off filling much of the building floor to ceiling. He eventually ended up selling antiques from the shop, but by the 1970’s seemed seldom open due to advancing age.

Bristol Design started in 1980 when I bought the then near derelict building at auction. I spent the first year plus rebuilding the roof, wiring, plumbing, rebuilding walls and floors. The following many years usually have had further building work to do on it. One of the wonderful things about buildings, old or new, they can keep you busy.

As a business I initially undertook general building work, often smaller jobs requiring multiple skills. The jobs too small for larger builders and more diverse then most small builders wanted. This evolved into designing and making custom furniture, but the workshop space is severely limited so larger jobs just couldn’t be accepted.

The shop area was initially used to discuss furniture designs with customers then to store and display furniture jobs as they were finished. For some reason customers wanted to collect their finished furniture soon after it was done leaving the shop rather empty.

Selling tools also gives the options of using them. In the shop we endeavour to honestly advise about potential purchases at least as far as we are able. Sometimes talking people out of buying anything as the tools they already have could do the job, or other times suggesting a range of options. Most of the time there is more than one way to do something so try using our experience to help a customer make a decision.

About us

My background was science and university scientific research, but with a flat in Bristol, then house, then this building I did a lot of DIY. The Perry Rd building was inexpensive as were many back in the 1980s, it was derelict, it needed major work and I learned a lot doing most of the work myself.

Philosophically I’ve always disliked waste even as a 6 year old, but no idea where this came from. This attitude has carried on to both my and now staffs attitude about tools and things in general. We do get caught doing very uneconomic things like repairing tools, spending a couple of hours on something to sell at 1 or 2 pounds. Cleaning rusty ones which are salvaged as good tools or sometimes as just usable, again not always economic. Of course we can’t always do this, but probably too often we do. To justify it to ourselves all we can say is “well it saves waste and landfill”.

With our wide selection of tools in the shop we have the chance to use them on personal projects so learn about quality, what does and doesn’t work and we have numerous chats with customers who give us their experiences as well.

Most of our customers are buying tools for use. If the tool doesn’t do the intended job its wrong, maybe its operator isn’t using it in the best way, maybe the tool itself isn’t capable. It may just need sharpening, or setting up correctly, or it may be a different tools would do the job much easier. These are all things we try and help with. One of the problems we often see is a cutting tool which is not sharp. (see repair)

Local newspaper article about us

We’ve had an article about us in the local paper Bristol Post (OK, maybe too much me instead of just the business) but it gives a perspective from their writer Mark Taylor.

He gives a bit more detail of our history, what we do in the local area, about what we stock all along with more photos.


Back in 2018 we also had an online article “Shop of the week: Bristol Design” by Rose McPhilemy in the news and community interest magazine Bristol 24/7. Write-up about the shop with photos of some of the tools in at the time.