Pastime to full time: swapping finance for furniture making

Meet the financial service workers who gave up their high-flying careers to become furniture makers.

Giving up the day job to do what we love is something most of us only dream about. But some people are lucky – and brave – enough to jump off the hamster wheel and into their passion.

The pandemic, and the shift it brought in the way we work, propelled many of us to take the leap and escape the grind to pursue the things we always talked about.

For Mark Hoskyns-Abrahall and Christophe Blunt, who both spent more than 30 years working in the financial sector, that meant giving up the corporate world for a creative one.

The pair are students at the Chippendale International School of Furniture in Haddington, East Lothian, and both are unanimous in the sense of achievement and fulfilment they get from their new creative fields.

Mark, 56, from East Lothian, spent 32 years working for PwC in London and then Edinburgh before deciding to retire in 2021.

Mark Hoskyns-Abrahall

Mark Hoskyns-Abrahall

A keen DIY’er, Mark had daydreamed about the furniture course when driving past the school and attended a few graduate shows.

Tired of board meetings and eager to fill his days with something other than golf, Mark decided to take the plunge and join the school.

‘My wife and I have been to a few graduate shows in recent years. So there was a seed sown in my mind – or at least a dream,’ Mark said.

‘On retirement I was determined not to just fill my days playing golf, lunching, and travelling (although I am happy to do some of all three).

‘I had also had enough of board meetings and audit, so was determined to avoid the obvious choice of taking on a portfolio of audit committee non-exec roles.

‘I was looking for something different and maybe something creative.

‘I wouldn’t say I was burnt out – but I was certainly ready to step off the wheel after so long.

‘I think that it has only really dawned on me since retirement, just how much pressure I had been under for many years and the relentless nature of the work.

‘I loved working for PwC – loved the people – loved the challenge but I was ready to get a different balance in my life and to be able to focus on myself.

‘I am also loving the opportunity to discover my creative side.

‘One of the things I have loved about being at the school is that I now worry about making a particular joint or cut perfect – rather than losing sleep over a particularly tough client conversation. It’s great.’

The pandemic was tough for Mark who began to miss the collegiate working of the office and being able to bump into a colleague at the coffee machine to work through a problem.

Since making the drastic career move Mark has loved working alongside his classmates and getting to explore his creative side.

‘I have thrived on being in such a dynamic environment working with creative people who all approach things totally differently. It has been brilliant to be part of,’ said Mark.

‘I have also loved exploring my artistic side. The words “creative” and “accountant” don’t necessarily go together – so I’ve been very excited to be exploring design.

‘On the course when it comes to our main projects – we literally start with a blank sheet of paper.

‘That has been one of the biggest challenges for me – but hugely rewarding.

‘To see something start from a sketch in my notebook through to a finished hall table is fantastic.’

Despite some reservations about whether a chartered accountant could really become a fine furniture maker, Mark’s wife and children have been hugely supportive of his move.

‘Things seem to be going ok – and we have a new elm hall table that I made just inside our front door as my first piece. I am now working on a drink’s cabinet,’ said Mark.

‘Given the stage that I am at in life, I am in a fortunate position.

‘I have a long list of other items which my current client, my wife, would like me to do, along with my two children.

‘So I think it will be some time before I will be taking on paying clients.

‘But ultimately, I plan to have my own workshop at home – and hopefully have a hobby that I love which will also pay for itself. That’s the hope.’

And what’s Mark’s advice for others looking to escape the rat race?

‘Go for it. If you are thinking about it – it probably means that you are ready for a change.

‘So, if you are in a rut – and fancy challenging yourself with something new and creative – do it.’

Christophe Blunt, 55, had been experimenting with amateur woodworking at his home in Kelso, Scottish Borders for years.

Christophe Blunt

Christophe Blunt

Desperate to scratch his creative itch after more than 30 years in financial services, latterly as head of Deloitte’s Government & Infrastructure advisory business in Scotland, he decided furniture making was the perfect fit.

‘I was very lucky that my school had a wood workshop,’ Christophe said.

‘I didn’t realise at the time, but the simple bowl and bellows that I made then would leave a lingering interest that I am now re-kindling.

‘Today the world is so based around screens and virtual interactions but I find woodworking is completely different and gives me a creative release.

‘For me, the workshop is a happy place where I can enjoy making things every day.’

The pandemic offered Christophe the flexibility to continue with his career alongside furniture making – but ultimately he knew he wanted to commit to his passion full time.

‘I started planning for a life beyond financial services about five years ago,’ Christophe said.

‘For me the pandemic was perhaps something that made me wonder whether now was the time to start a new direction.

‘I really enjoyed my career in professional services but my life as a furniture maker will be completely different.

‘I will be working for myself, in my own space.

‘It will have less of a broad impact but I will take immense pride in the pieces I create and I hope these will bring joy in years to come.’

Friends and family are already asking Christophe to make pieces for them and he has now started his own business By.Christophe.

‘My family has been incredibly supportive,’ he said.

‘I know not many friends expected me to make the change, but they have been really supportive and some have even asked me to make pieces for them already.’

The Chippendale International School of Furniture’s Graduate Exhibition & Fine Furniture Sale takes place between 14-17 June.

Read more news and reviews on Scottish Field’s culture pages.

Plus, don’t miss the June issue of Scottish Field magazine.