The Jeffay family has been making furniture in Manchester for nearly one hundred years and is part of a rich community of makers inhabiting our railway arches.
Jeffay Furniture was founded by Jack Jeffay, the son of a Latvian immigrant who settled in Manchester in the early years of the 20th century. Originally a small DIY shop, the family business became a furniture maker when Jack’s son, Bob, joined the firm. At the age of 81, Bob still works alongside his son Andrew, now the main business owner, creating bespoke furniture from a railway arch on North Western Street, at the heart of Manchester’s thriving Northern Quarter.
The business moved into the arch in 2015 from a site that was formerly an abattoir in the centre of Manchester. Andrew said: “We were there for 20 years, but the area was being redeveloped and we were being encircled by new multi-million-pound buildings. There’s now a 16-storey block of flats on our old site and a 200-year-old pub was found underneath when the old building was demolished.”
“When we moved, I was looking for a space that was close by, in a reasonable area and in good condition. While there were a lot of places available in Manchester’s old mills, they were usually not on the ground floor, which made access difficult. The railway arch was perfect and has made a real difference for us. It’s only a ten-minute walk from Piccadilly station and the space is a remarkable by-product of the railway line – it’s amazing to think that when they built the rail lines someone looked under the track, put in doors and said ‘there’s a new building’.”
Their central Manchester location has also been key to building strong relationships with the Northern Quarter’s flourishing community of artists. Jeffay Furniture supplies frames, plinths, woodwork and more to a host of creative artists in the area, including the renowned Mark Kennedy of Manchester Mosaics. He is best known for works that adorn the side of the Afflecks Building and for providing the inspiration for the pattern featured on Manchester City’s current home kit.
The past year has been one of the most challenging in the firm’s hundred-year history and Andrew has worked hard to navigate the company through the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. He said: “We know a lot of people suffered massively, but we had a moderate amount of work to keep us going. All the normal rush and bluster of life stopped, and we found that we moved back to a slower way of making, without the usual pressure of time. It meant we remembered what it is to be a craftsman, which was a nice thing to take away from the whole thing.”
The restrictions meant that many people were unable to take holidays and were isolating or working at home for most of the year, creating a new interest in homewares and furnishings. Andrew said: “In some ways, there was a bounce. We ended up inundated with DIYers. With time on their hands at home, people were deciding rooms needed renovating and they needed our help. Then, when businesses were able to open up again, we had another wave of work. Cafes and other businesses had to make screens, rearrange tables and buy in new furniture.
“We’re a very flexible furniture maker with a wide range of products. If fitted furniture for homes slows down, we also offer office furniture. People have been working from home, so instead of balancing on the kitchen table, they’re ordering desks, and we can offer bespoke items to perfectly fit their needs. Our flexibility has been a huge benefit to us throughout our long history and it means we can be confident about the future and that we’ll be ok, even in the midst of a pandemic.”
78, The Arches, N Western St, Manchester, M12 6DY