From oil rig workers in Africa to designers in Nelson, B.C., the Bibbys are ultimate entrepreneurs

“Considerable time and effort goes into our design. We aim to create the perfect look for our clients.” — Mike Bibby

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Charmain Bibby smiles, wearing glasses and a blue shirt with red flowers. Mike Bibby carves into a piece of wood on a work bench.

Husband and wife Mike and Charmain Bibby did a 180 when they gave up working on oil rigs on the other side of the world to help people design their perfect home and work space. — Photo courtesy Charmain Bibby

We’ve all heard the story of boy meets girl, they fall in love, and then sail off into the sunset together. But this tale isn’t just some fantasy. It’s an entrepreneurial adventure that spans the globe and culminates in a happily ever after in the Kootenays.

So, how did two geologists from the United Kingdom and South Africa meet, sail around the world and choose Nelson, B.C., as the location to start their own respective creative businesses, Bibby Fine Interiors and Bibby Fine Furniture?

The husband and wife team of Mike and Charmain Bibby didn’t originally plan on being a fine furniture maker and interior designer, respectively. The couple met on an oil rig outside of South Africa, and that was the beginning of a special relationship and, sometime later, a business partnership.

“South Africa's national oil company had a student scholarship program at that time, and one of their fresh young geology graduates, Charmain, was sent out to the rig for work experience,” said Mike. “She was shy and nervous in her first job, especially at a job location where she was one of only three women, so I thought I’d better take her under my wing.”

Two years later, Mike’s application for Canadian residence was finalized so he and Charmain made the trek to Canada, where they journeyed to B.C., Alberta, and then the East Coast.

“We had this idea that before we settled down and did the family thing we would like to go travelling for a bit,” said Mike. “We ended up buying a boat in Nova Scotia and going off on a round-the-world-trip.”

There and back again

Seven years later, the Bibby’s wound up back in South Africa, where they stayed for a few years in close proximity to Charmain's family. During that time, Charmain had baby twins, and Mike was working away from their African home for much of the time. That’s when they decided it was time to make their way back to the Great White North.

“We always wanted to return to Canada, so we came up with this idea of returning to B.C. to embark on a second career doing something creative,” said Mike. “The reason we chose Nelson was because of the Fine Woodworking program at Selkirk College. It turned out that the Nelson area was pretty cool so we decided to stay. Our quiet corner of B.C. here certainly ticks a lot of boxes. Our kids love it too and enjoy a freedom they could never have in South Africa. This is a country full of opportunities for when they grow up.”

A curvy light brown coffee table has a green plant and beads on top of it.

To stand out from the competition, Bibby Fine Furniture focuses on challenging, curvy designs. — Photo courtesy Charmain Bibby

Despite being scientists at heart and working in analytics for many years, the Bibby’s priorities changed as their twins continued to grow.

“We wanted to be parents who were home every day to give our children the best family life they deserved, so we changed our hobbies into careers,” Mike said.

Charmain started doing interior design when the twins went to pre-school and Mike joined the creative team a few years later. Both businesses—Bibby Fine Interiors and Bibby Fine Furniture—are run separately, but work in tandem together. Charmain is the visionary (read her insightful decorating tips below) and Mike can make just about anything—with the correct dimensions, perfect finish and detail to complement the entire room.

“As an interior designer, there are often compromises when it comes to sourcing the perfect furniture item from mainstream stores,” said Mike. “Sometimes the size isn't ideal or the finish isn't perfect and that is where we complement each other so well. Considerable time and effort goes into our design. We aim to create the perfect look for our clients. We collaborate and we offer a quality service. Our furniture is made to order. There is no production line. We care about the details and we go the extra mile.”

Besides the curvaceous aesthetic, Mike’s carpentry also features a buzz-worthy insignia.

Besides the curvaceous aesthetic, Mike’s carpentry also features a buzz-worthy insignia. — Photo courtesy Charmain Bibby

To stand out from the competition, Bibby Fine Furniture focuses on challenging, curvy designs.

“It's hard to get the balance between an eye-catching, original design and a product that can be built in a time frame that allows us to price it at a level where it will actually sell,” Mike said. “We have a range of white oak round tables with nice curves and tapers that are our current number one.”

Putting the “B” in Bibby Fine Furniture

Besides the curvaceous aesthetic, Mike’s carpentry also features a buzz-worthy insignia. 

“I grew up in rural Yorkshire in the UK where there is a strong tradition of oak furniture making,” said Mike. “All the furniture makers there put a personal stamp on their work by carving their little logo—usually an animal. There are mice, swans, knights—you name it. We decided on a bee. The bee ties in nicely with the Bibby ‘B’ on our original logo.”

Anyway you look at it, Mike and Charmain Bibby’s entrepreneurial globetrot has been anything but ordinary, and their varied backgrounds have only enhanced their distinctive brand. 

“Having sailed around the world and having lived on several continents, we bring a global perspective to our design styles,” said Mike. “We can connect to people from all walks of life and backgrounds.”

Kyle Born

Kyle Born is a writer for Kootenay Business and his initials match that of the magazine—it must be fate that brought them together. View all of Kyle Born’s articles

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