My inspiration friend - The Rat Man

Posted Tuesday 2nd June 2015   By Ericka Waller

I am very lucky to have some inspirational people in my life. People who do more than the average, who go above and beyond. People who get off their arse and decide to ‘be the change they want to see’. I’m honoured to call these people my friends. Over the next few weeks I'll be hanging out with them and blogging up some interview. Let's kick off with Woody.

Four things you need to know about Woody immediately

1: He once had a job as a whale-poo collector in the Indian Ocean
2: He had to self-publish his first novel, Kill All Men, after publishers deemed it too anti-feminist for main steam publication (I have some copies stashed away)
3: He scavenges around in skips in the dead of the night
4: He has three children

Woody is funny, practical and knows a bit about everything, but just don’t ask him about his fecking Achillies heel injury.  He’s cool honest. 

He was the first person in his family to make it into higher education (and still is) busting out of a small Durham mining village to the dizzying height of, er.. Middlesborough Polytechnic to study Interior Design.

Twelve years later, bored of corporate whoredom, he jacked in his design career to take up sailing. Enter Renx, his missus. He tells the kids that he rescued her from French pirates in Greece but in truth they weren’t pirates, just some amorous French sailors she was having a damned good time with.  Killjoy. Three kids and a sailing school later, they now live along the road from me and make amazing roast dinners.

Woody and I met at a writing club. We encouraged one another to finish our books. It both took up far too much of our time. My husband left me shortly after, chasing freedom, but Renx was way more practical and emotionally blackmailed him into practically re-building their house as payment.  And like a phoenix from the marital flames, his company, Rat and Pallet was born.

What gave you the idea of making a kitchen from scaffolding, rather then going to B&Q and buying one?

W: They say, ‘Poverty is the mother of invention.’ but that’s bollocks. Sitting in the middle of an ocean on a broken boat is the real mother of invention, but it’s just not a aphorism that trips off the tongue. 

My years on the sea taught me how to be resourceful with the materials I had to hand. As a Flotilla Skipper in Croatia and Greece we had little or no access to supplies and had to keep a fleet of boats going using, gaffa tape and beer bottles, the only material we had in abundance.  I loved the challenge of make do and mend.  It took me right back to my design days, thinking my way out of problems using creative thinking.

So you thought you’d bodge up your kitchen then?

W: Sort of.  When we first moved into the house it was inhabitable.  There were holes in the roof and rats under the floorboards.  I did the conversion design myself and a lot of the dirty work, but took a lot of inspiration from the builders and scaffolders.

Then last year I bought a few pieces of scaffolding with plans to build a dining table which quickly developed into an entire kitchen. As I was dong this, my son kept nicking pieces to play with and watching him, I realized there was so much more you could do with it.  He used it like a construction toy and in the end Santa had to bring him some for Christmas, so Daddy wouldn’t keep losing it.  And essentially that’s what scaffolding is.. Mechano for grown up kids.

I also started sniffing round skips for cast-off materials and spent hours in the garage with my grinder, emerging periodically with odd pieces of furniture.  When the car no longer fitted around my pallet pile, I decided it was time to set up an online shop and start selling the damned stuff.

What’s a Grinder? Isn’t that the gay version of Tinder?

W: The love between a man and his powertool is the love that dare not speak it’s name, so I guess it’s similar.

So talk me through the idea behind Rat and Pallet

W: I’ve fitted a few kitchens in my time and always been horrified at a., the price and b., the quality.  People drive past skips full of reusable materials every day, and usually on their way to (insert generic DIY store here) to buy over-priced MDF or chipboard crap which probably originating some country with lax health and safety laws and won’t even outlast the tin of mushroom toasty topper in the back of the cupboard.  Reduce that by about 50% if you have kids.  With a bit of resourcefulness and some help from YouTube you can more or less make anything from anything.

I’m pretty sure I could not make a kitchen out of the contents of a skip. I do love the Tommy Cooper joke though ‘So I phoned the local council, I said “I wanna skip outside my house” they said “I’m not stopping you”’.


W: I guess my design background and flotilla skippering helped, and the fact my Dad was a builder.  But it’s really only sticking stuff to other stuff and cutting bits off. For example, I’ve recently completed an entire roof terrace of chairs, tables and storage for an owner who had spent months trying to source furniture that could fit through his tiny roof hatch. I just slid a load of pallets through the access hatch and built it all in situ.

Cool, how did he find you?

W: I did an Open House exhibition (Brighton blurb for Art Gallery) to showcase some of my furniture. He wanted to buy a sofa but the sale quickly morphed into an entire roof terrace full of pallet and scaffold furniture, including the lighting which I designed specifically for the job.

So you can design and make anything for anyone?

W: Yes, if there are enough skips in the vicinity.

For more of his excellence, check out the site