With ‘the bed’ continuing to be the first and arguably most important furniture element to get right when designing any hotel experience, editor Hamish Kilburn sits down with Mark Tremlett, co-founder of Naturalmat, to understand how it has uniquely become one of the world’s leading bed and mattress manufacturers for the hotel industry…
20 years ago, when Britney Spears, Steps and Ricky Martin were dominating the UK pop charts, Naturalmat’s interesting narrative began in rural Devon, where its headquarters remains to this day.
And like all great manufacturing stories, it started with a family business. Mark Tremlett and his father were boat builders, working to design luxury superyachts at their base in Topsham, on the picturesque banks of the River Exe.
Despite consumers investing a lot of money in high-quality interiors, using bespoke fixtures and fittings, let alone the cost of each vessel, the father-and-son duo saw a fundamental issue with the conventional beds that were being specified in the marine industry. “I saw that people were still sleeping on poor quality polyurethane foam mattresses underneath it all,” explains Tremlett, the co-founder of Naturalmat. “This is not a great material to use on a boat (or any bed) as it’s not breathable, leading to issues of damp and mould, and doesn’t give the most comfortable experience.”
Fine-tuning his entrepreneurial skills, Tremlett teamed up with Peter Tindall to develop a mattress that made full use of the organic sheeps’ wool that was naturally in thick supply in the West Country, combined with coconut fibre and natural latex. “This made for a superior night’s sleep, greater longevity and an all-round more comfortable experience for the owner,” he adds.
Following success in the marine industry with the innovative and practical bed solution, Tremlett settled down and began a new journey, fatherhood, which inspired the next branch of Naturalmat’s portfolio to grow.
In 2001, after noticing the lack of sustainable, durable and functional materials on offer when searching for an appropriate cot for his new-born baby, Naturalmat Nursery was formed. “Materials wise,” Tremlett explains, “we have not changed that much for the mattresses. The core organic and natural fibres that you find in our marine mattresses will also be found in our nursery, domestic and hotel mattresses.” The result was a breathable, organic and comfortable mattress for a market that was, prior to Naturalmat’s entrance, screaming out for innovation.
The next turn in the story came in 2008 when Tremlett was approached by Simon Woodroffe who was developing the YOTEL concept. With smaller sized rooms, which the hotel brand refers to as cabins, the stars aligned, which led to Naturalmat further expanding globally and entering what is now its largest market; the international hotel industry. “Simon was looking for a sustainable, organic sleep solution that worked in his compact spaces, but didn’t cut corners on comfort,” explains Tremlett. “We worked together and became the bed consultants for his business.” Following the milestone partnership, more opportunities emerged, such as working with Qbic, Six Senses Resorts, Z Hotels, Hoxton Hotels and more.
Each and every Naturalmat mattress and bed is made by hand in the company’s purpose- built factory in the same site where Tremlett began his venture in 1999. “We believe that people, not machines, make a superior, longer lasting product,” he adds. “Our team ensure every stitch, every fibre, every tufting button and every cover is painstakingly created, teased and checked.”
“When we started, I was making mattresses on my old table tennis table in a small corner of our boatyard.” – Mark Tremlett, co-founder of Naturalmat.
With demand at an all-time high, the company’s British infrastructure also had to grow. “What has changed is the size and space that we need to make all our ranges,” says Tremlett. “When we started, I was making mattresses on my old table tennis table in a small corner of our boatyard. We now have almost 40,000 sq/ft of dedicated space and are
building another new 25,000 sq/ft. We also now design and make a full range bed bases and headboards so our upholstery skill set and our knowledge of fabrics has had to develop to achieve this.
Another unique strand to the fabrics of the company is the method of sourcing its materials. “Our organic lambswool comes from Soil Association certified farms in Devon, Dorset and Somerset,” says Tremlett. “We buy direct from organic farmers, to ensure the highest quality. Buying direct also gives the farmers a better return than taking it to market, so we are supporting our local farming community.”
By keeping a close eye on its supply chain and manufacturing, all the way to delivery, Naturalmat is able to guarantee a great quality product every time, and also meet the needs of hoteliers who have specific requirements. “When a mattress leaves our factory, we are confident it will give years of long lasting comfort,” adds Tremlett.
While the industry is slowly starting to design more consciously and responsibly around the environment, with thanks to a number of catalysts – the obvious being the David Attenborough effect – Naturalmat’s core DNA is, and has always been, to create sustainable and comfortable products. Largely, if not wholly, as result of the company remaining firm in its eco and quality ethos, Naturalmat has become a market-leader in several sectors. “I think that everybody is very conservative at heart and changes just take time to come about,” adds Tremlett. “Also the price initially would have put people off, but now the value of making a sustainable product is much more important in the buying decision than it ever used to be.”
Hamish Kilburn: On a scale of one to 10, how eco-friendly do you consider your lifestyle to be?
Mark Tremlett: A solid 8/10
HK: Where do your product development ideas usually come from?
MT: Our products are created in answer to two big problems that are universal issues. 1) How do we live more sustainably? 2) And how do I get better sleep?
HK: What other eco products on the market are you impressed by at the moment?
MT: We are always keeping an eye on the latest eco technologies and considering how they could be applied to our products. I have been very impressed with some of the emerging fibres and fabrics that we have seen at design and trade shows. We have been playing around with Pinatex, a sustainable alternative to leather that’s made from pineapples. I could see that upholstering a stylish bed!
HK: Can you name one trend you wish never returns?
MT: Supermarket fruit and vegetable plastic packaging – please can we make this an endangered species.
HK: Becoming a parent inspired a new direction in your business. What do you hope your child/children learn from you?
MT: Try hard, work hard, have fun and it will all be ok in the end.
HK: Is the bed still the most important element of a hotel experience?
MT: If I said anything other than yes, I would by lying.
Through conversations that are happening at the moment on the international hotel design scene, the industry seems to be surfing on the crest of the wave when it comes actively designing eco-friendly hotels, but is the future landscape of international hotel design one that is layered with eco hotels? Tremlett seems to believe so. “Whereas for many years eco travel appealed to a niche consumer, it is now very much in the mainstream,” he explains. “The environment is a universal concern and increasing numbers of people are making positive changes to their everyday lives with this in mind, from choosing a reusable cup, to organic furnishings, to locally sourced restaurants, to an eco- friendly trip. It makes sense that the demand for eco hotels will only continue to grow, and that existing hotels will feel a pressure to make more environmentally friendly choices.
In regards to the future, as well as being specified for the Conscious Bedroom concept that Harris & Harris will be unveiling next month at the Independent Hotel Show London, Naturalmat continues to innovate its products to cater for growing and evolving demand. “Our customers have been asking us for better bedding, so we are about to launch our new range of 500 thread count GOTS certified organic cotton bedding,” Tremlett explains. “We are buying direct from source and have been very fussy about the level of what we want, it has taken ages but we will be launching this in the Autumn.”
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Main image credit: Naturalmat