“Some people actually send us their old seat, and some even post the pan itself — luckily not many,” says Andrew Whettem, undisputed king of bespoke lavatory seats.
Whettem is managing director of Goodwood Bathrooms in West Sussex, which sells products under its Bard & Blackwood brand. The group has been making these bare necessities since 1987 — at least half a million of the wooden creations to date. Given that a solid timber seat can last at least 30 years if looked after, that’s an impressive figure. Bard & Blackwood also makes seats for Thomas Crapper, Czech & Speake and Lefroy Brooks.
Whettem, 58, started out as a cabinet maker. But in 1982, when a friend said Harrods had asked for 80 loo seats and he needed help, Whettem lent a hand. “I rashly said yes,” he says. The young pair made the seats in an old boatshed. Flushed with success, they turned their ad hoc business into a company in 1987 in the pretty village of North Mundham, Chichester. “We made seats for the luxurious Orient Express, which were quite small,” adds Whettem.
Business pans out
The company’s order book is impressive. “We’ve made seats for royalty, pop stars, the Park Lane Hotel, the RAC, Jamie Oliver’s restaurants and the Palace of Westminster,” says Whettem.
He has also made junior-size ones in mahogany, while one nameless London hotel, which had a different-shape seat in every room, asked for one made like a violin.
Top-grade timber arrives at the factory as small planks sent from trader James Latham. A pattern is chosen and the drawing is made on the wood, using different thicknesses for the seat and cover.
First they are cut out roughly by hand, then the routing machine is set up for an exact shape. After that, the seat pieces are hand sanded, then varnished, with sandings in between, before the solid brass bar hinges are carefully attached.
What they cost
Almost all standard seats in any wood are online in any of the patterns and cost £314.40, including VAT and UK delivery. If your dream pan isn’t in the company’s collection, a bespoke seat made using your template costs the same, and takes a fortnight to supply.
Other thrones of choice
London-based Catchpole & Rye goes the whole hog with the impressive Thunderbox in solid oak or mahogany, which fits over most pans, for £2,000 excluding VAT, or the even more impressive Throne Seat, which even has armrests, in oak or mahogany, at £2,500 excluding VAT.
Thomas Crapper has several models such as the Throne seat for £705 including VAT, and the old-fashioned D-shape seat at £420 including VAT. They suit high or low lavatories and come in oak, walnut and mahogany.
London-based Czech & Speake’s smart Edwardian Mahogany seat with its special lifting handle costs £630 and has a 12-week lead-time. Fired Earth sells a nice mahogany seat on a bar hinge in chrome or antiqued gold for £325, excluding delivery.
Lefroy Brooks has the LB 7240 or the LB 7740 La Chapelle in mahogany for £362 including VAT, with a range of bar-hinge finishes.