Skinflint

Frequently gracing the pages of the industry’s most beautiful interior magazines, Cornwall based company Skinflint are fast making a name for themselves as a key player in the restoration game with their characterful salvaged and rare vintage light fixtures.

I’m always inspired by the progress of small businesses especially a husband and wife team – because working together can be hard! Chris and Sophie Miller relocated to Cornwall from London in 2006 – Chris with a background as a lighting and product designer and Sophie’s in fine art and as an Art Director and stylist.

With a flourishing retail business, great interior clients and a consultancy that started it all – today we find out more about the inspiring business that is Skinflint.

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What did you do before Skinflint? Why did you decide to start the business? Skinflint was born of our mutual passion for the environment and our love of beautiful objects. We have both always loved trawling salvage yards, sneaking off to auction houses in the middle of nowhere and hunting out those unexpected finds.

We decided to start the business because we wanted to find something to satisfy our desire to use our shared knowledge and experience, to make an environmental difference (we are effectively re-cycling and all our processes for restoration are as environmentally friendly as is possible, its’ not something we shout about because it’s part of our fabric- an it’s how every business should be) to tell stories (we research the histories of our products and try wherever we can to link the narrative to the light) and to work with fantastic design- all our lights were manufactured in a time before ‘planned obsolescence’ they are beautiful pieces of design.

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Why the name Skinfint? A Skinflint refers to a person, who is overly careful with her or his chattels, a person so careful they will even use the shavings of a flint. We believe in reducing and reusing as much as possible, our products are expensive compared to some but that reflects the craft and effort that has gone into their restoration. We are Skinflints because we don’t like waste and nor do our clients. We believe in doing something once and doing it right.

What was your vision for Skinflint? For the future, we intend to continue doing what we love: sourcing and restoring beautiful and unexpected finds from the UK and Europe, contributing to the local economy by keeping all the restoration work within a 5 mile radius of our studios and researching and documenting the histories of our lights.

Tell us about your set up, what are the logistics of running a sourcing and restoration business like yours? We have several warehouses where our products are stored, a large open studio, photography areas and meeting rooms; these spaces are where the day-to-day running of our business happens.

Our restoration and refurbishment works all happen within a 5 mile radius of the main studios where our subcontractors, who also work within the local maritime and industry, each undertake specific tasks depending on the requirements of that product. From polishing to powder-coating, angle-grinding, soda blasting and rewiring, each and every product has different needs and its path from arrival to finished state is painstakingly planned. As directors Chris and I also have any days away from the studios meeting new suppliers and exploring new lines.

Describe a day in your work life. There is no average day at Skinflint. A day here can be anything from travelling round a country in Eastern Europe and finding some incredible lighting in a disused factory, to a day in the van meeting with subcontractors and discussing the finer details of restoration, or even simply a quiet day planning in the studio.

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Where do you find your stock? Our stock is predominantly sourced from the UK and Eastern Europe: Our enamel shades frequently come from the now derelict, cavernous factories that once filled the industrial heartlands of England. The lights we source from Eastern Europe were often produced behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ and were standard communist issue in their factories and streets.

Tell us about some new finds? Our Spring Summer collection is released this week; a really lovely collection of work lights and some of the most fascinating products we have in it are the Horstmann Map Reading lights, of which we have three.

Although not immediately the most obvious of lights they are interesting pieces of history (and beautiful early counterbalance lights) we have managed to retain the original 1940’s paintwork of all three and two still have their map- enlarging lens. It’s a privilege to work with such lovely pieces of history, not only are they fascinating objects with a real story to tell but they are also pieces of our classic design heritage, these particular ones being the precursors to the more recognizable and classic Anglepoise and counterbalance lights of the 60’s

How has Skinflint evolved from launch till now? 

Skinflint was initially launched as a lighting design consultancy with the retail side of the business taking a back seat; however as time has gone on the business has evolved into our retail side becoming more important to the extent that we no longer operate as a consultancy (although we are still of course happy to draw on our experience and expertise and to advise our clients)

What is does living in Cornwall bring to your business?

Balance. I look out of my studio window and I can see boats, at the end of the day I can walk the dog on the beach. I have the space to think and it helps to keep work and life in perspective.

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CityBreak

I have just returned from a short but sweet first trip to a city that has experienced a renaissance in recent years.

Lisbon – Portugal’s capital city boasts a year round Mediterranean climate [it was a cat in the sun stretching 20 degrees this past weekend] old world European charm with cobbled streets and traditional shops plucked from the pages of Dickens, wooden trams and iron funiculars that still lurch and rumble their way amongst the city’s seven steep hills and a burgeoning hipster culture of bohemian bars and trendy eateries.

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The reason for the getaway was to celebrate the upcoming wedding of my oldest friend. The celebration comprised of a tiny but perfectly formed party of three girlfriends together since the age of eleven, and though having been on group holidays every year for the past few decades – this was the first time we found ourselves as a trio.

With under three days to pack as much as we could in, Lisbon was good to us – providing ample and inspiring cobbled streets and architecture to gaze upon,  quaint squares with dreamy trickling fountains to meander through and the hot lazy sun on our backs as we did what we do best which is laugh and bicker and talk nonsense to our hearts content.

We flew from London Stanstead to the heart of Lisbon in under three hours. Staying in Bairro Alto the city’s main party district, we set up camp in a cute and quiet Airbnb studio 15 minutes from the airport with our very own terrace and stunning views of the city.

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Day 1 The first day we took in the the lay of the land from our beautiful rooftop terrace, and indulged in our favourite thing to do on the first day of holiday, a lunch of fresh delicacies and wine from the local market. I feel this tradition always gives us the opportunity to quickly asses the neighbourhood whilst giving you time to wind down at home from an early morning flight.

We had a quick nap and then woke for an evening of bar crawling. We kicked off the night in a place I had read abut in my Wallpaper Guide ‘Park’ a converted car park rooftop with 180 degree view over the city.

The bar has an exciting clandestine feel accessed through the lift of a still working car park and that ‘is this it? no it can’t be.’ feeling that all the best finds have. The bar itself has a bohemian luxe aesthetic filled with wooden crate-like furniture and small potted trees to create the feeling of a garden. We sat in the enclosed but still panoramic indoor area – had giant glasses of wine and gin and tonics [they are generous with drinks in Lisbon] and ate their delicious gourmet burgers out of camping style tin bowls.

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The rest of the night was spent popping into bars we liked the look of and frankly all of them were good, with friendly bar staff, good large drinks, DJ’s playing eclectic jazz and to our pleasant surprise a fun-loving older crowd in their 50-60’s dancing and having a great time – a rarity in London bars.

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Day 2 This mainly consisted of a morning of long walks in the sun to walk off our hangover. We had scheduled in a brunch at one of Lisbon’s beautiful and oldest patisseries Pastelaria Padaria Sao Roque which provided much needed sustenance with it’s strong coffee and Pastel de Natas – or egg custard tarts. These custard tarts proceeded to be constant fuel for the rest of the trip!

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Next we walked and walked – took in the view at the ‘miradouros’ [view points], explored some great home-ware stores, sat and soaked up the sun in historic squares like the locals. We ate the most delicious lunch at Terra a vegetarian restaurant housed in an 18h century building and drank Sangria in the hush of their terrace garden.

We listened to bands playing in squares and bought a book from a travelling book store. Lisbon seems to have lots of these great surprise experiences dotted about that are vintage in aesthetic yet contemporary and fun and never seem to be trying too hard.

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One of the most distinctive things about the city was its stunning tile work on the buildings known as azulejos which provided us with hours of inspiration and conversation.

The tiles decorate everything from walls of churches and monasteries, to palaces, ordinary houses, park seats, fountains, shops, and railway stations, often portraying scenes from the history of the country, showing its landmarks, or simply serve as street signs, nameplates, or house numbers.

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A Vida Portuguesa was a store that was on my list from my Wallpaper Guide too – well worth a visit, it sells the most fabulous artisanal Portuguese products, from kitchenware to soaps, candles, books and wooden kids toys.

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That night we spent the evening in Lisbon’s trendy dockside area which houses venues fashioned out of the shells of former 19th-century warehouses.

Kais was a much talked about restaurant during my research and serves modern Portuguese cuisine. A cavernous restaurant originally a warehouse for Lisbon’s beautiful trams – the interior combines gothic grandeur and industrial elements – the size and design is jaw-dropping.

Short but ever so sweet – Lisbon left us with a taste for more. We will be back with more to explore and most importantly with a good pair of walking shoes!

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It’s been a pretty full on month in our home on all accounts, winter illnesses all round, lack of sleep, both of us feeling like we haven’t been able to come up for air with work or domestic life to enjoy much of either.

You know when you can’t tell anyone what you have been up to when they ask… or what you have achieved because you are just too burnt out to remember? Well that.

Now I’m not saying watching a video undid all that apathy but when they say its the small things that count. It really is. This evocative video from one of my favourite Indian home-ware brands Good Earth, just transported me away for a wonderful four minutes.

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The video highlights their philosophy of ‘Sustainable Luxury’ and shows the making of a block-printed, hand-stitched quilt or ‘razai’ and the delicate nuances that go into the creation of a hand-made item such as this. The measured techniques of the block printers, the steady hands of the sewers, the cathartic washing of the fabric in the shade of the afternoon sun and the visual poetry of an Indian textile studio left me calm and reflective.

Perhaps watching a video of someone making with their hands every day is the modern form of meditation? A virtual way of counting to ten and breathing… I know my creative friends would agree.

You can see other just as inspiring videos from Good Earth here.

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Last week I worked on styling a house shoot for the first time since I had Aarya. It was a beautiful family home in Shepherds Bush – a townhouse with stunning original Victorian features and striking modern updates by architects McLaren Excell. The style was bright, cosy and artistic and enhanced by the colourful toys, artwork and furnishings of the owner’s young children.

It was the first time I had really paid attention to how children’s spaces and belongings worked within an interior and made me look at a family home from a completely new perspective to before. The children’s areas coupled elegant wall colours with vintage furniture and eclectic vignettes of the toys, books and trinkets which tied all the many many things that kids accumulate together.

Because the homeowners gravitated towards vintage objects and wooden toys for the children, it created a cohesive aesthetic that worked beautifully even when kids items trickled over into adult spaces. It gave me a lot to think about and showed me that you could be playful but also grown up.

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Tying in with this new found longing for creating warm family spaces with longevity [shockingly I never really thought further than the nursery when I was pregnant] was the super exciting Smallable Spring Summer 2015 press release pinging dangerously into my inbox.

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Smallable is a French founded online kids ‘department store’ offering a selection of over 350 covetable designer fashion and homeware brands sourced from across the world like kitschy-cool Japanese American clothing label Atsuyo Akiko, lovely Nepalese home decor brand Mushkane and super pretty Danish tableware company Rice… and with an achingly styled online monthly magazine to accompany them all… I think I may have just crossed over to the dark side.

Consider this my very first foray into kids design blogging… watch this space, whilst I watch my bank balance!

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ByLoom

Kicking off the first in a series of posts from my trip to India, is a shop profile of a unique store nestled in a rambling mansion in the leafy alleyways of Kolkata [or Calcutta].

By Loom – run out of their family home by husband-and-wife team Rumi and Bappaditya Biswas is a treasure trove of intricately hand-woven textiles, handcrafted homeware and original fashion accessories. The couple work with weavers and crafters to marry Bengal’s rich craft heritage with contemporary design.

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With original patterned tiles and spacious marble staircases tying the space together, the ground floor is filled with hand-loomed scarves, embroidered soft furnishings, beautifully crafted children’s accessories and home-ware.

The upper floors are laid out like vast walk-in wardrobes, displaying rows and rows of lavish handmade saris, featuring intricate workmanship in a staggering array of colours and patterns.

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Since I visited the store four years ago, the store has become a hot spot for India’s design conscious and it has expanded with a bohemian cafe and courtyard serving delicate homemade Indian food.

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The spirit of By Loom is undeniably rooted in the building it inhabits and the locality – which retains the essence of an old Bengali neighbourhood. In the West, concept stores taking up premises of town houses and residential spaces to create intimate environments is a big retail trend – but rarely is it a natural evolution of the business.

Walking through the house is like visiting the artistic home of a Bengali relative. Old armoires are filled with handcrafted pottery and ceramics from makers all over the state and coffee tables groan with colourful heirloom-like textiles that look like they have just been taken out of closets for sorting.

The new courtyard, an overspill of the cafe is prepped for whiling away cool afternoons and balmy nights.

By Loom
58-B, Hindustan Park
Kalighat, Kolkata

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