Galapagos Design is leading the way with upcycled furniture, turning vintage chairs into modern masterpieces using collaborations with fabric designers to create refreshed pieces without the usual environmental impact. Self-confessed design addict Lucy Mortimer founded the company in 2013, and cites the name as inspired by Charles Darwin’s journey to the Galapagos Islands where he discovered rare and unique species and thanks to her company representing the survival of the fittest in furniture designs. Lucy chats to The LuxPad about what led to the business’s inception and the importance of sourcing vintage designs…
After a career in finance and then environmental conservation what inspired you to leave those behind and begin Galapagos?
After working in the City for twelve years, I felt a strong need to put some of the experience I’d gained into action, and design has always been a part of my life. I grew up surrounded by designers and creatives, as my father worked for Herman Miller who were really at the forefront of mid-century design, and I trained to be an architect. I wanted to connect the idea of modern design with a more careful use of natural resources, and re-using what already exists seemed a good place to start. So, I bought a shipment of 1950s cocktail chairs and we’ve not looked back!
What was the hardest part of setting up your own business and what has been the biggest reward so far?
Being your own boss is liberating, but at the start while we were launching the business a whole lot of new skill sets were needing which I had to learn quickly!
Probably the most difficult thing for us has been having the confidence to know when to make the next step – we had to have confidence that the business would work, so we took out our first lease on an industrial unit in 2013, and now we are launching our first range of British made chairs and coffee tables, which is so exciting!
Why is sourcing vintage furniture so important to you and how do you select the pieces?
I’ve often been asked how we source so many chairs that look the same, but it’s just about choosing the type of chair – or any other product – carefully after a bit of research. We try to buy styles of chair that we know we can buy more of if they sell well, and for me mid-century style is what I love at the moment, which is handy because it seems others love it too! I’m sure in future years we will start to look more at the 1970s for inspiration too, but tapered legs with metal caps have a classic appeal that is hard to beat.
How do you find the designers you collaborate with on the fabric coverings for your chairs?
We’ve been very lucky to work with some fabulous British designers who understand what we’re trying to achieve at Galapagos, and many of our collections have grown organically out of introductions from friends. We met our Kirkby Design, the British fabric company behind the London Underground velvets, at our first show in 2013, and we found we really enjoyed working with them, so we’re launching our second range with them in September at Decorex!
If you could choose anyone, alive or dead, to create a fabric especially for your chairs who would it be and why?
I’d love to have the chance of working with fabric designer Lucienne Day, who captured he spirit of the 1950s so well in her off beat designs, but equally our furniture looks to the future, and Isabella Blow’s bold styling would I’m sure have brought some magnificent fabrics and embellishments to our chairs!
How would you describe your own home style?
Eclectic and evolving! We moved into a rambling Edwardian house last spring, and we’ve spent the past year removing walls, creating new spaces and learning how we use the space. I would love to say it’s finished, but with kids, animals and a business, it’s a work in progress. We like to mix ultra-modern with classic design – our walls are covered in street art we collected when we lived in London, and we’ve lots of fantastic mid-century finds! One of the great things of working with our suppliers is they come up with odd things every time we see them – we bought an antique taxidermy fox the other day, from a supplier in Germany who bought it from a school. He sits on top of the piano now to greet guests!
What is your most treasured possession?
I love my possessions as much as the next person, but if I had to take one thing with me in an emergency it would definitely be my hound, Darwin. He’s a constant source of amusement and love, and great company when I have to go to see suppliers and shows, I’d be lost without him!
Why do you think interior style is increasingly important to today’s consumer?
People have more access to things that can inspire them these days – our visual world is full of images of beautiful, creative spaces, and online stores and blogs in particular help to translate an idea or style into an achievable reality with their curated and styled selections. In the 1950s, households had a little more available money to spend, homes were being rebuilt after the war, and new materials – plastics, plywood, were becoming available. It caused a revolution in buying power and interest in interior style is an extension of that huge shift in society.
You’ve just discovered a time machine that can take you to either the past of the future, what year do you go to and why?
I would love to go back to 1951 and visit the Festival of Britain. The early 1950s were a period of real enthusiasm for new design, new technologies and materials, and people were genuinely interested in the prospects for the future – space travel, community living in the skies, television – all these things were on the cusp of being realised, and the Festival of Britain brought all these things together in an amazing setting on the Southbank. I’d love to share in that sense of hope and excitement for the future!
What’s next for Galapagos and where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
We are just about to start a new phase in Galapagos, with our first collection of newly made, mid-century furniture. We’ve made a name for ourselves selling beautiful, vintage furniture and we’ll be growing that side of the business over the next few years, but we’ve also been working with large projects in the past two years, such as the British Film Institute and the Brasserie Blanc chain of restaurants. The demand for classic, well made furniture for these hospitality projects is overwhelming, so we’ve designed our first range of furniture which is British made, and as environmentally aware as possible, so using European FSC timber, and reducing shipping distances wherever possible. We’re launching it at Decorex in September, as well as a brand new website, and a range of supercharged technology tables, so we’re keeping busy!
In five years’ time, I’d like to still be championing British design but perhaps taking a few days off as well – somewhere warm would be perfect!
Shop the Galapagos Designs range available now at Amara.