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.
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.
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.
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.