Husband and wife team Chris and Sophie Miller founded Skinflint in 2006 when they made the decision to transform their passion for antique shopping and auction house scouring into a family business. Specializing in lighting due to Chris’s background as a lighting designer, Skinflint sources and restores reclaimed lighting found throughout Europe and America in the most unlikely of places including hospitals, factories, theaters and even airfields. Once returned to the UK, the lights are carefully restored using a variety of techniques with each design’s story documented for authenticity. Sophie talks to The LuxPad about what they look for on their buying trips and how the extensive restoration process is carried out…
How do you source the lights & fixtures – how do you know where to start looking?
Sourcing our lights is an ongoing journey for us. Over the years we have built up a large number of contacts who assist us with sourcing new stock both in the UK and abroad. Wherever possible we try and find out as much information as possible about the original narrative behind the lights, sometimes photographing them in their original settings. We have found ourselves being shown through derelict hospitals with demolition experts, scrambling round old aircraft at breakers yards and photographing vast halls which once hummed with industry of now to be defunct factories. We are also occasionally approached by people who have found an interesting or unusual light in their attic and wish to sell it which we are always happy to discuss and that can lead to interesting stories emerging.
What do you look for on your buying trips?
We have a very diverse range of lights but all of our products share a simplicity and elegance, so on buying trips we look for lights that will complement our existing collection. We are also, as you know, always on the hunt for lighting with a story so we endeavor to source items where we can find out as much about their individual history as possible. Personally I’m particularly excited to find products which, whilst complementing our collection also add diversity to it, such as our recent collection of new glassware which has a more delicate feel to it than the industrial look for which we are widely known.
What first inspired you to start restoring reclaimed lighting – how did you turn the idea into the successful business you have today?
Chris’s background as a lighting designer and mine as an art director and stylist combined with a shared love of trawling out-of-the-way auction houses and unusual buildings made starting Skinflint a natural progression for us professionally. I think the business has been successful because we buy products we love the look of and we both have a real faith in our brand. Added to that the lights are simply lovely, look great in a wide range of interiors, and people are far more aware of lighting as a finishing touch rather than an afterthought, so are more likely to opt for a beautiful investment piece rather than a throwaway item.
Can you give us an insight into the restoration process?
On arrival all products are assessed in our warehouses. The first stage in restoration all our lights go through is disassembly which is when any anomalies or quirks are picked up and planned for. We may have purchased what initially appear to be 200 identical lights from a single site which at this stage turn out to contain 4 or 5 different but similar styles each of which requiring their own line and their own bespoke restoration process. The individual components then go out to our subcontractors and undergo a variety of processes including, soda-blasting, polishing, lacquering and rewiring. Once each component has been refurbished or replaced they all come back to the studio where they are reassembled and then photographed ready for the website.
Where is the most unusual place you have found a light to be brought back & restored in the studio?
Oh we have so many! From tanks and fire-engines to oil-rigs and divers lights! For me though, I think that must be between our helipad landing lights which were originally set into the Tarmac of a helipad and all the lights from our Pyestock collection a few seasons ago. Pyestock was where the jet engine was developed and we were lucky to reclaim the entire site, managing to even secure lights from the turbine halls where Concorde’s engines were tested!
You aim to include a detailed history of every light you sell, how do you discover every piece’s history?
It’s an ongoing process. Whenever we purchase a light we try and gather as much information as possible at the source about the history and life of the product or style. In addition we use manufacturers plates, and our own archive of original literature related to the products including catalogues, adverts & manuals. We try and follow ever single lead we can get, just this last week I was in conversation with the Science Museum regarding what I think might be an old portable XRay lamp! We do try and build contacts with existing museums and other archives wherever possible too. It’s a bit like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, you are forever hunting pieces and clues!
You have recently moved your studio in Cornwall, what were your reasons for relocating & what made you choose the new space?
Primarily our reasons for relocating were to give us more space and to consolidate our day to day operations onto a single site. We were also keen to move into the ‘right’ space and had been on the hunt for a suitable property for a number of years so when the Victorian waterside Warehouse in Penryn became available we knew it was right for us. One of our core values as a business is generating work within our local economy and ensuring that all our subcontractors are within a 5 mile radius of our studios and this space was perfect for that.
How have you infused the new studio with the Skinflint signature style?
It’s a great space, lovely light, big windows over the water so we had a fabulous ‘blank canvas’ to work with. Over the years we have collected a number of special lighting pieces which we have been finally able to display alongside furniture and a growing clock collection. It’s a wonderful process.
Is it just lighting, or does your passion for restoration extend to other areas of the home?
As this is more of a passion than just a business, our restoration and reclamation extends beyond our lighting and to other areas of the home. A mutual love of classic design and an eye for the unusual definitely give us the desire to create interesting interiors using vintage items. It’s a mix though, classic designs of today and A rated white goods are just as important to us visually, environmentally and ethically.
Do you incorporate reclaimed items found on your buying trips into your family home to create a bespoke feel?
We certainly do, there’s a fluidity between work space and home too, so an item of furniture or an interesting object might be currently in the studios and will move to the home when the right space opens up for it and vice-versa. In fact just this weekend we took delivery of original teak gym flooring that, after restoration, will form our kitchen floor.
Skinflint’s uniquely vintage lighting designs can be found on their website, with each piece lovingly restored to its full potential by hand by Sophie, Chris and the rest of the Skinflint team.