MORE and more of us are choosing to go out in a splash of colour, according to Oxford company Colourful Coffins.

The family firm in Cowley made national news after designing a Costa Coffee coffin for a Swindon woman who was loyal to the chain.

But they have made caskets decorated as wheelie bins, encrusted with 6,000 crystals and in rainbow colours.

Director and mum-of-two Mary Tomes, who has lived in Oxford her whole life, says they are now making 300 bespoke coffins to order each month.

Mrs Tomes, 68, who runs the business with husband Kevin, 64, said: “It sounds tacky but they are so tactile.

“Often the vicar at the funeral will say to people: ‘come up and look’.

“One lady from Newbury had a crossword on her coffins and people came up and filled it in.”

She said that more and more people are now designing their own coffins as a surprise for their families on the big day.

Mrs Tomes said: “It is all about the individual. The coffin should be as individual as they are. We were the first ones to do it in the UK, but just in the last two years it has really taken off.

“We follow fashion, colour and the seasons, so now we’ll be just starting to do things like snowdrops, and we do poppies in November.

“Among the designs are pictures of people’s pets, their horses, dogs or cats – some people even have their tattoos on them.”

The couple employs 10 people at their Crescent Road plant, including children Bob, 47, and 37-year-old Kate.

Mrs Tomes’ ‘eureka moment’ came in 1994.

She was working in printing at the time, and had also begun thinking about how she might like to go when her time came.

She said: “I was thinking that I want to be buried in a yellow coffin. My husband thought I was bonkers.”

Then, at a printing convention in Birmingham, she saw a huge printing press, big enough to print on to the panels of a coffin, and realised the possibilities in a flash.

She said, “And obviously I wasn’t the only one who wanted one.

“Growth has been phenomenal, business is great, but it isn’t about money, it is about the families.

“It is a rotten day, and if you can do anything to lift that gloom, it is a good thing.”

All the coffins are made of wood. Colourful Coffins only sells its caskets to funeral directors, and different directors are at liberty to charge different retail prices for the coffins. So, to keep them on side, she says she will never reveal the cost.

To begin designing your own designer death bed, go to


  • Max Mason, owner of the Big Bang restaurant: “I would love to be buried in an old red MG car – the original Oxford banger.”
  • Transpersonal artist and therapist Jaimie Cahlil: “I would like to be buried in a huge old walking boot with fluorescent orange laces. Years ago, I made a walking boot hat for a wacky hat contest and won.”
  • Sculptor Teddy Hutton, who made a fleet of penguins for his East Oxford roof: “I’d like to be burnt, either in a brown paper bag or wrapped up in copies of the Oxford Mail.”
  • Maegan Reed, in the running to join a one-way mission to Mars in 2024: “If I were the first human ever buried on Mars I would go with a space theme and be buried in a copy of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation.”