Meet Graham Cresswell
I am Graham Cresswell, director of British tent design company LPM Bohemia, which I co-founded with my old school pals John and Charles Preston. We specialise in creating tents, marquees and entertainment spaces, with a head office in Kent and regional outlets across the country and in Ireland.
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Growing up in rural Kent and running wild and free amongst the farms with my friends (who have been my business partners for nearly 20 years), meant a fabulous childhood of endless den building and feral camping. This seemed to be the natural catalyst for crafting tents. Having travelled the world for 2 years before graduating from university with a degree in Marine Biology, I was keen to establish my own business. I enjoyed spending summer months working for various marquee firms but I always felt that so much more could be made of functional marquees. I have always been architecturally inspired and am creative and resourceful when designing interiors. I love a bit of hard graft and there’s nothing more satisfying than physically creating an incredible space for someone in their garden in a short period of time. I also love a party and so setting up beautiful venues at festivals and for celebrations does seem to come naturally.
Whilst establishing a tent hire business in London in 2001, I had a serendipitous reunion with the twins and it transpired that we were aligned on projects with a love for tents and had a similar outlook on the whole concept. Now with three creative heads together at the helm of LPM Bohemia, and a shared passion for architecturally inspired tented venues, we found ourselves pioneering beautiful new designs and fulfilling some really aesthetically exciting commissions.
A rapidly expanding design business meant relocating from our beloved, yet rather dilapidated, warehouse studio in East London, to a much more spacious rurality back in Kent. Now with room for a proper textiles workshop and wood and metal fabrication, we were really in a position to explore the possibilities of form and function in tent design. We are fortunate to have established a team of incredibly talented individuals along the way who all enjoy the logistical and design challenges. Co-founder Chaz Preston settled in Ireland and established our ethos and designs there and we service the whole of southern and Northern Ireland from the historic village of Slane.
Simultaneously the need to service a wider geographical demand in the UK was the natural progression to establishing regional outlets. The old fruit farm and original home of the founders in Kent continues to be the hub of the business alongside the main workshops, and now with various regional outlets we perform tent installations nationwide and across Europe.
There are only a handful of family-run traditional tent makers left in England and tent-making is in danger of becoming a lost art. Handling and setting up a really well made old-fashioned canvas tent is an inspiration itself – evocative of a bygone era while being intrinsically celebratory.
A love of nostalgia and ‘made to last’ ethos, coupled with the concept of ‘form and function’ whereby things that are made well, do generally look good, also play an important part. Much of the inspiration for our designs comes from a collective fascination of historically important architecture. The co-founders are all extensively travelled and whether it is the yurts of central Asia, Maharaja Palaces of Rajasthan, 17th century Palladian architecture in Europe or the works of the Victorian Great Exhibition, we are constantly looking at ways of celebrating notable architectural concepts within our tent designs.
The vivid colours and silk screening processes in Jaipur, India, continue to be a strong influence and we love to represent various art styles in our interiors and linings through these traditional methods. Tent design is a wonderful way to celebrate inspired art and architecture.
The making process is a great combination of various mediums including wood shaping, metal fabrication, textiles printing, canvas cutting and sewing, appliqué, and water-proofing. A project is usually sparked by an architecturally inspired concept, perhaps a seemingly far-fetched idea for a tent! Everyone on the team pools their design thoughts since there are a lot of considerations to make all the components transportable, modular, structurally sound, heard wearing, yet intricately refined. Designs are run by our structural engineers, budgeted and then the various departments get going. There’s lots of sharing ideas across processes and the team are well versed in maintaining beautiful attention to detail, often under time pressure.
The really fun part of course is setting up the new creation for the first time and admiring it. This is inevitably followed by further refinements before being carefully packaged up and delivered to its destination.
We make the most of summer daylight with an early start, needing a good 10 hours on site to make headway with an impressive tent – it’s usually 2-4 long days to set off a large tent install. As a director my day starts with checking in on co-directors and all the various divisions, invariably giving support to our incredible Operations Manager, ensuring he has sufficient crew and transport.
I will often be travelling to meet a new client, to discuss their requirements and asses the surroundings for the tent, or travelling to Ireland to work on our tented country house venue project. My time is preferably divided between researching and designing new tents and being on site with the lads throwing up canvas – somehow in between the usual administrative maelstrom of running a growing business. We love it and we are honoured to be surrounded by such a fun and creative team.
We’re gearing up towards a rebrand and upscale of our tent manufacturing operation to provide the very finest tent designs imaginable. We are drawing on all sorts of interesting historical perspectives and will be introducing a luxury retail range of canvas related apparel that go hand in hand with beautiful tents and sophisticated outdoor lifestyle.
Photography/ Alex Maguire