When a teacher told Liv Cornall her plans to make a coffee table were overly ambitious she wasn’t discouraged. The teenager was already the only girl in her school to study a GCSE in Design and Technology and was similarly unfazed at tackling a traditionally male subject.

‘I have three older brothers so I was used to being with boys,’ laughs Liv as she settles down in her bright workshop space in Lewes, surrounded by tools, assorted pieces of wood and her cavapoo, Lola, nestling in a warm makeshift bed of wood shavings.

Liv, 32, has one of her siblings to thank for sparking the interest which led to an award-winning career that began in the family garage.

Great British Life: Liv always wanted to strike out alone Liv always wanted to strike out alone

‘My brother was studying architecture while I was choosing my subjects for GCSE and I went to see his degree show,’ explains Liv. ‘I knew I wanted to do something creative, maybe graphic design, but when I stepped into the room for furniture design, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do. It was so exciting seeing things the students had made and thinking I could also do something like that.’

Liv honed her skills at school, at first making a bowl and some toys. She then set her sights on creating a two-tier coffee table with a shaped pedestal and foot rest.

‘I was proud that my main project, which I was warned was too ambitious, inspired more girls over the next years to take the course working with resistant materials’ she says. ‘Making that first coffee table made me fall in love with woodworking. I loved how I could turn a rough piece of wood into something beautiful and useful.’

After continuing her studies at college Liv, who grew up in Hampshire, completed a Furniture and Product Design degree at Nottingham Trent before working at small design studios in London, Somerset and outside Rome.

‘I never liked being told what to do, or working to some other person’s timetable,’ she admits. ‘I always wanted my own business. My parents were nervous when I got a start-up loan but they were always supportive as they believed in my creativity and determination. I had big goals and they could see the things I could create in the back of their garage just with a band saw and sander.

Great British Life: The low tide coffee tableThe low tide coffee table

‘Before selling my work I made things for friends and family. My best-selling product, the Flow floor lamp, was something I first made in the garage after looking at a piece of wood I had and thinking how I could use it to make a wedding present for a friend.’

The loan enabled Liv to buy more equipment and wood and in 2016 she took on a workshop in Chichester and sold her work, mostly clocks, jewellery and side tables, through small craft fairs. Moving to larger events, including Craft in Focus at RHS Garden Wisley, she began getting orders for larger pieces.

In 2019 she moved to Brighton and now runs Liv Cornall Design out of Fenture, a shared studio space in Lewes.

‘I like Sussex because of how beautiful it is,’ she says. ‘Even when I was living in other places I used to drive down to Sussex beaches all the time. Aside from the beach and hilly countryside I love Brighton as it is so friendly and creative.’

Great British Life: Liv is inspired by the surrounding countrysideLiv is inspired by the surrounding countryside

Liv is inspired by the Sussex coast and countryside and gets many ideas for her designs when she is out walking with Lola.

‘My work is usually flowing and full of curves that come from organic forms in nature,’ she explains. ‘I’ve always been connected to nature, being drawn to trees, hills, water and the sky, but I didn’t realise that all my work was inspired by nature until after I became self-employed. I looked at my pieces and recognised that they were all curvy, wavy, shaped like droplets or just had very organic lines. Even the things I made at school and my art work were natural things like trees, flowers and sunsets, and my first coffee table was a droplet shape. A few years ago I arranged my pieces into collections, including Flow, Wavy and Droplet, and each new thing I make tends to fit into one of them.

‘My best design ideas are when I am relaxed and out in nature, watching the natural world. I like to sit up a tree or by a stream or on the beach and just look around, thinking about how I can transform this experience into something for the home.’

The county also provides the raw materials for Liv’s work, which starts with accessible earrings costing £8 and includes the novel £550 oak wine o-clock wine rack clock which holds 12 bottles.

Great British Life: Her dog Lola is a permanent fixture with her at the studioHer dog Lola is a permanent fixture with her at the studio

‘My favourite place to get wood is English Woodlands Timber near Midhurst, where they know where every piece of wood comes from, including some from local forests,’ says Liv. ‘They are very friendly and take me, my template and Lola around to help find the perfect pieces of wood for what I need. I usually work with oak, walnut and ash because of the natural properties, lovely grain and the fact they will go with what people usually already have in their homes.’

Her eye-catching designs include the £3,200 Low Tide table which emulates the curves of waves.

‘After many hours watching the sea and waves at low tide and taking photos from all angles to get inspiration, I eventually thought of how I could transform the natural experience into a piece of beautiful furniture,’ Says Liv. ‘I first sketched what was in my mind, and then drew it with computer-aided design and made templates. I carefully carve into four layers of ash, forming eight smooth waves flowing down to just one. The waves are captured in an oval form that is mirrored in the U-shaped legs, each with their own little wave at the base.’

Liv’s designs are made to order from her website livcornall.com with furniture taking around six weeks to complete.

Great British Life: Flat bud vases are beautiful as well as functionalFlat bud vases are beautiful as well as functional

‘I’m still a bit nervous to ship my furniture, but I have sent a few to places far away, including New York, Denmark and Australia,’ says Liv. ‘I prefer to keep things nationwide. If it’s a few hours away I like to take the day off to deliver it myself so I can explore the country with my dog, as well as get to meet my customers and see where the pieces I’ve made are going to live.’

Her work has been recognised through awards including being three times winner of the SME UK Enterprise Award for Most Innovative Furniture Designer and twice winning the South England Prestige Award for Furniture Designer of the Year. Liv has also been shortlisted as the 2023 South East Great British Entrepreneur Award for Maker & Creator of the Year.

Recently Liv teamed up with fellow craftsmen, a move which has enabled her business to move to the next phase.

‘It had been my goal since I started to have my orders made while I create new designs, but I had to build up and do everything myself first,’ she says. ‘I wasn’t expecting to do it yet but the people were in my shared workshop and recently moved to a bigger workshop down the road. It is perfect because it’s in the countryside where I take Lola for walks near my workshop. They’re great cabinet makers that I already know and who love my designs. It’s a very exciting time.’

Great British Life: Flow lights are pieces of art. PicasaFlow lights are pieces of art. Picasa

The collaboration enabled Liv to complete her first-ever upholstered armchair which she displayed at September’s London Design Fair.

In addition to expanding her business Liv is planning to run workshops to make woodwork more accessible to women. She is also looking at starting a charity to enable people to connect to nature and take part in crafts to boost wellbeing and help combat mental health issues.

Through her work Liv says she aims to bring the calm of the natural world into people’s homes through objects that will last a lifetime.

‘I actually wrote my dissertation about comparing handmade wood products with machine-made and the concept of fast fashion in furniture,’ she says. ‘Although mass produced products can be inexpensive they lack personality. People are more connected to handmade items because they know that a skilled person took the time to make each thing. Even small defects don’t matter because they tell the story of how it was made. Although a handmade item can be more expensive, people are more likely to keep it forever because of the personal story behind it and they know that it will last, which also means less waste.’