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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I spend my life trawling beautifully designed sites packed with a plethora of covetable products – but sometimes the sheer volume of options is overwhelming. Once in a while I come across a store that captures my attention with its quiet confidence. I have been an admirer of Scottish homeware brand Sparrow and Co. for years – with a handful of original and beautifully made items to choose from – hand-painted tableware, simple but exquisitely patterned textiles and new Ash wood furniture – each one has the essence of a future heirloom.

I spoke to the brand founder Samuel Sparrow about running a small but perfectly formed business.

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Tell us about yourself.

I’m Samuel Sparrow, owner and creative director at Sparrow and Co. – a British homeware brand based in Scotland.
I live and work in Glasgow with my wife Laura and our two sons, Rowan (2 years old) and Elliot (3 months old).

What did you do before Sparrow and Co? Why did you decide to start the business? 

After graduating from the Glasgow School of Art I cut my teeth in London working for homeware companies Habitat and Ikea.

Working for Ikea taught me the importance of commerciality – a balance between functionality, aesthetics, availability and pricing.

However, I soon grew dissatisfied with the throw away culture synonymous with brands like Ikea. I was uneasy with the ‘out with the old – in with the new’ attitude and the notion that one would want to simply throw everything away and start again. Of course, I’m not opposed to newness or reinvention; I’m just more comfortable with the adage ‘things grow better with time’ – if given the opportunity.

With this in mind I decided to carve a path based on my own design principles – creating my own brand; one that I would be proud to put my name on.

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What was your vision for Sparrow and Co?

Our vision at Sparrow and Co. is to design and source products that will stand the test of time, products that are not designed to fit a passing fashion. We are the antithesis of mass produced products and we are proud of it.

At Sparrow and Co. we celebrate the imperfect and inherent beauty that comes with functional, handmade products.
Our products need to have provenance – a story to tell and share.

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Tell us about your set up, what are the logistics of running an online store? Do you work out of your home?

As my wife will testify I am a perfectionist and work hard to ensure what we are doing is consistent and adheres to the values we believe in.

However, as the business has grown I have had to learn that there are certain jobs that require other peoples help.
While I understand that it is important to have a grasp of all the responsibilities associated with running a business – I simply would not have a business if my time was focused on every task.

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What is a typical day in your work life?

As anyone with young children will know, the day usually starts early! Once the boys are organised I will usually be found at my desk with a cup of coffee!

We are about to launch our new website. Therefore, a lot of my time is taken up tweaking the layout, photographing new products, updating the journal or finalising product descriptions.

My afternoons are usually spent packaging up orders for delivery. Today I will be replying to a press loan request and answering questions for this feature!

Evenings are spent on design and product development – often into the wee small hours.

Of course, Laura and the boys always provide a welcome distraction…

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The visuals on your site are beautiful. Who shoots and styles these?

We work really hard to try and keep the same handwriting flowing through all our branding and photography – all of which is done in house. I would love to say we fly a team of stylists and photographers around the world to a hacienda in Mexico to shoot the collection. We are still small so photography and styling are usually done on our kitchen table; with a little help from our two year old son, Rowan!

Having said that, we do have some exciting photography collaborations planned for Winter 2014.

Where do you find your stock? How do you plan your collections?

We plan our collection around three main season launches – Spring/Summer, Autumn/Winter and Christmas – with each product designed or carefully sourced around our values; quality and sustainability.

We have had the opportunity to meet and work with some of the most talented makers’ around the world – from countries including Morocco, India, Central America, England, Wales and of course Scotland.

Our collection is small – but perfectly formed.

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Tell us about some new finds.

Native Stool – they’re sturdy and unashamedly utilitarian. Each one is made by hand in Wales from native ash.

Bandhini Cushion – Intricately made using India’s finest tie-dye technique; grains of rice are tied into the cloth to build up a pattern of dots and circles. The cloth is dyed, dried and then carefully pulled to release each thread and reveal the pattern.

How has Sparrow and Co evolved from launch till now?

Sparrow and Co. launched in November 2011 – the same month our son Rowan was born – with our own range of candles.
The response was good. A buyer from America noticed them and suddenly we were selling through the company that owns Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters; they bought the entire collection and stocked them in US garden/home store Terrain.

Our first year in business was spent around our kitchen table labelling, boxing and wrapping thousands of candles to be shipped across the Atlantic.

Keen to grow we expanded the business with a small, curated homeware range with products we had designed and sourced, including; hand knitted throws from Wales, tin lanterns from Morroco and rare breed sheepskin rugs from Scotland.

Recently we opened a Pop Up shop in Glasgow – it gave us the opportunity to meet our customers and share the story behind each product face to face – the shop was temporary, however, it made me realise that one day I would like to open a bricks and mortar SPARROW AND CO. store.

In 2013 The Sunday Times listed us in their Top 10 online home stores – a very proud moment and one that has driven us to continue building a brand we would be proud to pass on.

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RE

Re-Found Corbridge

Re-Found Objects  founded by Simon Young and Jenny Vaughan is a business I have watched grow from a small mail order company in rural Northumbria to a much sought after design brand featured regularly in top design magazines, establishing pop-ups in London and over a year-long concession at Liberty. I remember interning at Elle Decoration many many years ago now when the brand had just launched and calling in their much sought after oversized cardboard letters for shoots time after time – as everyone wanted to feature them!

Since then they have gone on to establish a name for themselves as purveyors of the unusual, recycled and re-invented from plaster Virgin Mary’s to pressed metal decorations and vintage trophies – and in my opinion one of the first companies to begin changing the landscape of high street design.

I spoke with Simon and Jenny about their path to success.

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What did you do before RE?
We were both fashion designers, Simon worked for Betty Jackson in the 1980’s and Jenny worked for Quorum in the 70’s. We met teaching fashion at Newcastle Polytechnic (now Northumbria University) and went on to work for Dewhirst (large M&S manufacturers) in the Corporatewear division. We both left in 2003 to set up RE.

How far do you live from the store?
About 6 miles south of Corbridge and 2 fields away from each other! Simon lives in an old stone quarry masters house circa late 18thC. Jenny lives in an old stone cottage of a similar age.

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RE-Found Corbridge

Describe a day in your life.
If it’s a typical day at work we lift share in our white van and get to work about 8.45am. The store opens at 10am but there’s always lots of emails, orders, admin, press requests, customer enquiries etc. to deal with. We have a small team of 5 full time and a couple of part time staff so that gives us the opportunity to plan ahead designing our own “REgd” [stands for Registered] products, planning photo shoots, buying trips etc

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Where do you find your stock?
All over the place! We buy new products from around the world – UK, Europe, Eastern Europe, USA, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, Morocco, Senegal, China, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, India & Vietnam amongst others.

With the REgd. products we try to manufacture as much as possible in the UK. The 2nd hand items come from flea markets and antique fairs and we also have a network of dealers who scout for us.

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Tell us about some new finds?
Wirework frames based on an old broken Hungarian item found at a flea market. We have had them remade in India and have designed some new tea plates, and collected vintage plates too, that fit into the wire holder. The perfect example of a combination of old, new, designed and found!

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Some of our new plates are inspired by a collection of fabulous vintage marbled papers loaned to us by a local bookbinder. We have re-coloured them and we’ve had them produced in Stoke on Trent.

We have new designs of Memento cushions which are in the style of vintage souvenir scarves that we have collected over the years. The new designs, printed on silk, include Venice and Folkart – printed in the UK and manufactured in Northumberland.

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How has Rchanged from 2003 to now? You have had a lot of success online and in Liberty – was this path always a part of the plan?
The overall concept and principals remain the same. We always thought mail order was the growth area of the business with the store being our showcase. We never considered another store but when Liberty approached us to do the pop up followed by the concession  we couldn’t say no! As we have grown we have broadened the range of products that we sell particularly the REgd. own brand

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What do you feel was the turning point for your success?
Press coverage played a major part in our success and continues to do so. Starting off with an unknown shop which is tucked behind a petrol station in a rural Northumbrian village didn’t spell success but it has worked to our advantage. Picked up by the press customers began to ‘discover’ us – we were so different to the familiarity and repetition of the high street, also establishing the REgd. brand (exclusively designed and made by us) brought individuality to our offer which really helped differentiate us.

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Tell us about the collaboration with Liberty
We had a 4 month pop up in 2011 and then opened a concession in 2012 which has just finished this month. The project was a great success for both parties and as a result we have designed an exclusive range RE@Liberty launching this October. The range includes bone china plates, glasses, baskets, cushions, vintage textiles, throws and other unique items. We are really looking forward to the collection being in store  – Liberty is a perfect partner for us.

What’s in the pipeline for RE?
More exclusive designs and hopefully other collaborations and maybe a book we have a blueprint in mind!!

RE

 

KneelandCo4

LA based tastemaker Joanna Williams frequently graces the hot lists of my favourite West Coast design blogs so I am beyond ecstatic to be interviewing her on mine today!

Joanna, an ex-trend forecaster probably has one of the most inspiring jobs I have come across – she operates Kneeland Co. a vintage textile studio from her base in Silver Lake where she travels the world sourcing exquisite textiles and selling them to designers in the in fashion, interiors and beauty industry to be used as product development inspiration.

She also has a really great Pinterest that channels her unique style. Love.

Hi Joanna, tell us about yourself.

I live in Silver Lake, the east side of Los Angeles. My neighbourhood is a wonderful community of creatives that is very supportive and nurturing. I have lived in LA for 9 years, but I’m originally from Houston, Texas.

Why did you move to LA?

I graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in Public Relations, thinking that I wanted to work in fashion PR. I always knew that I would leave Texas because it’s not really a place that offers many fashion opportunities, so I eventually came to LA and started working in advertising for an apparel trade publication. I realised that wasn’t the route I wanted to take, so I started exploring the world of trend forecasting and got a job with Stylesight where I worked for 3 years as the West Coast Trend Correspondent. I left Stylesight and started to work as a freelance trend consultant for different brands and also started to write for various fashion and lifestyle publications. After doing that for about 2 or 3 years, I launched Kneeland Co.

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Tell us about Kneeland Co. What kind of services do you provide?

Kneeland Co. operates as Vintage Textile Studio for clients in fashion, interiors and beauty. I source textiles and sell them to designers to be used as product development inspiration. I also design a line of embellishments that are sold for inspiration as well.

The second part of my business which launched in October 2012 is an online marketplace, Kneeland Mercado, that focuses on handmade goods and accessories from around the world. In addition, I do creative consulting for different brands in fashion and home.

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How did you start Kneeland Co. and why? Where does the name come from?

I started Kneeland Co. while I was doing trend consulting for an accessories company. Print studios would come and show us their new prints for the season and I was always very inspired by it and thought I could do something similar, in my own style.

The name is Irish and it is my mother’s maiden name. My grandfather, Russell Kneeland, was an adventurer, explorer and businessman who built an 86-foot schooner and sailed all over the world. He really instilled a sense of adventure and sense of self in my family, and that had a big impact on me.

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What are you currently working on?

I recently finished a line of vintage scarves with my embellishment and embroidery designs for Anthropologie that will be available online and in stores. I am also collaborating with a couple of home brands – one in Morocco and one in LA – on a small collection of goods for Kneeland Mercado. Coming soon!

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Where do you source your pieces? What kind of things do you look for?

I source my pieces from all over the world. I look for things that really speak to me. I don’t really shop by trend; I look for pieces that are interesting in some aspect and that stand out.

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As you mentioned you used to work as a trend-forecaster – forecasters typically tend not to follow trends themselves but your style of modern vintage craft pieces are very popular at the moment. What kind of details do you think people are excited about and what do you try and pick up on when you are sourcing?

I think we’re so bombarded with images because of the internet and the various forms of social media, so it’s easy to get bored. I think it’s important to keep things fresh and exciting, while staying true to your aesthetic and interests.

I think people like to see things that are unexpected but familiar. Sourcing for the textile studio and sourcing for the store and two completely different things, although I do like to look for unusual things for both. But I do have to keep my clients in mind a little more when I’m looking for textiles. There’s a lot of room for creativity, of course, but sourcing for the store is a little more personal.

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What kind of places do you travel to and where in the world are your favourite markets?

I travel all over – Paris, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Austin, Houston, San Francisco, Portland, etc. I’m dying to go to India, which will be in October. I adore the Clignancourt Flea Market in Paris and many of the tiny villages in cities throughout the world.

Turkey is one of my favorite places to shop.

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Books

I met Ruth Collingwood for the first time at a mutual friend’s birthday dinner earlier this year. We all went through the whole meal chatting excitedly, drinks were flowing and Burger and Lobster was eaten. Then towards the end of the meal my friend who organised the evening said ‘Hey Roh, so Ruth is a Librarian!’ I literally choked on my chips – ‘What?! WHAT!?!!!!’ I said. ‘A Librarian!?!?’ proceeding to monopolise the rest of the evening by quizzing poor Ruth about every detail of her job.

For someone who loves books as I do, I could not fathom getting to spend my working days in a Library. In some way I had imagined that a job role like Ruth’s was unattainable, reserved only for certain members of society I would never cross paths with. Also what threw me was that Ruth didn’t fit my idea of what a Librarian might look like!

Something that stuck with me from that dinner was the simplicity of Ruth’s answer to my question – “How did you find yourself in this role” she said “I loved being around books and I wanted to be a Librarian – so I trained” it’s strikes me that all dreams should be that simple, you want something, the only way to achieve it is to just go and do it. You want to be an Elephant Trainer – go be an elephant trainer! : )

Ruth works as an Academic Librarian at the London College of Communication, part of the University of the Arts London. She was kind enough to let me share her answers here with you. Thanks Ruth!

Ruth

So you are a Librarian! How does someone become a Librarian?
Librarians work in a variety of sectors and there are a number of routes into the job, but most common is to do a BA degree followed by an MA in Librarianship or Information Studies.

I started as a graduate trainee at the University for the Creative Arts, which allowed me to gain some library experience alongside the opportunity to attend relevant training and visit other art libraries. I was then lucky enough to stay on at the university as a library assistant whilst I studied part-time for the MA at the University of Brighton. Once I’d qualified, I was able to apply for professional librarian posts.

What does the course involve?
The MA at Brighton covers the more traditional aspects of librarianship (collection development, cataloguing and classification) alongside units which examine the changing role of the information professional in society, and issues relating to the social context of information in the digital age.

Students also study information architecture, web design and information services management. Research is also a huge part of the librarian’s role, so the MA allows for the development of research and enquiry handling skills, followed by a placement project and dissertation which provides the opportunity to gain experience and apply these skills in a real-world setting.

Stamp

“I find seeing the date stamps in books or flicking through an old journal really comforting because in a strange way in puts things into perspective.”


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