How art, the decorative arts and the world of antiques shaped the lighting, furniture and sculptural forms of Cox London.
by Cheryl Knorr.
I remember visiting your workshop in Tottenham many years ago. The rumour was that antique dealers sought Cox London out to make copies of period chandeliers, which were indistinguishable from the originals. I was fascinated to see the variety of craftsmen you employed – from metalworkers to glass blowers. And I was so impressed by your passion and knowledge. It was an introduction to an inspirational workplace in which the highest standards of craftsmanship reigned.
Tell us about your background and how you became involved with the antique community.
I was born into a third generation of antique dealers. Twelve members of the family dealt in everything from art and antiquities to English and continental furniture and jewellery. I didn’t know about anything else, but I remember thinking that I was doing something different by wanting to become an artist. From an early age, I earned pocket money by working on antiques, stripping gloss paint back to original polychrome, shifting or waxing furniture. My brother and I were exposed to endless antique fairs and auction houses and we were party to many discussions about why something was rare, desirable and valuable. When I left art college I was fortunate to get a job in the East End for the brilliant metalwork restorer, David Turner. He and his uncle Philip, a dealer from the 50s like my grandfather, taught me so many traditional skills. I was in heaven! They introduced me to the London trade, many of whom had bought from our family business over the years. It all felt very familiar. Within a couple of months, I’d made my first chandelier from scratch. I was interested in everything we restored.
How did you meet one another?
Nicky and I met in the early 90s at art school in London. We were both studying fine art sculpture. After college – we were a year apart – Nicky made a long overdue return visit to her native New Zealand. I eventually followed and we spent a year there together. Nicky worked for a bronze foundry as well as for a glass casting artist and a gallery, and I knocked on the door of the best antique dealer locally and got a job doing everything and anything for him. He is still a great friend to this day!
Why did you decide to venture into designing your own range?
This happened slowly and naturally from around 1997 to 2005. By day I was restoring metalwork: chandeliers, tables, chairs – anything in metal and Nicky had a job in the London Docklands in a foundry casting art bronzes. At home, we worked on our own pieces: sculpture, lighting, furniture – and we bought and sold antiques on the side. We did a bit of everything and that meant making aesthetic decisions, honing our skills and a total immersion in art, the decorative arts, craft and design. We engaged with it all without even thinking about it. It’s just what we did.
Do you have a favourite piece that you’ve created?
I’m quite proud of my Siren Chair and I adore Nicky’s Voyager Chair. A pair of each went to Chatsworth last year and for us that was the pinnacle of success: having our work displayed in a celebrated contemporary collection housed in one of Britain’s best known period houses. Curiously, all our worlds collide here.
Your designs are incredible and original. How do you find inspiration for new designs?
That’s very kind. Growing up we both loved nature and it has been one of our main sources of inspiration.
How do you design – individually or together?
Both; some of our designs are worked on together from concept to completion, whereas others are born out of an idea one of us has when working on our own, but we nearly always critique and edit each other’s pieces as designs develop.
Has the workshop expanded to meet the challenges of new product development?
Our design team, who are responsible for refining and defining pieces through CAD and documenting all the manufacturing processes, material acquisition and pricing has doubled in size over the past two years.
One of my favourite items in your collection is the Rope Twist Console. You mention that it is inspired by the work of Gilbert Poillerat. Who is he and why is he an inspiration to you?
Gilbert Poillerat was a 20th century designer working specifically in ironwork furniture, lighting and architectural elements. He studied under another metalwork giant in design and production, Edgar Brandt. His classical designs identified with the neo-Baroque movement and are immediately identifiable as his. As designer-makers ourselves, we have massive respect for designers who have ‘done their time at the bench’. It always shows in their work and the design decisions they make. Poillerat knew his stuff inside out and was prolific throughout most of the 20th century.
Are you still designing special items to commission?
Yes, we are. We have nearly 200 designs in prototype and clients inevitably want to make an alteration in one direction or another. In that respect, we barely make the identical piece twice and nearly everything we do can be described as custom work. The best bespoke designs come about when clients get what we do and play to our strengths and enthusiasm. We’ve made some seriously ambitious pieces recently, many of which will never be photographed nor seen publicly.
The new showroom is stunning! I visited the other day and seeing all the beautiful furniture, étagère, lighting and mirrors on display was an inspiration to me. Tell us the story behind the new showroom.
We’re extremely fortunate to have a much larger showroom than our first on Ebury Street. Space brings with it a great freedom, but also many more options. High up on our agenda was to be able to display larger pieces that have never been in a public gallery before and to show our breadth of work. We loosely broke the space up into room sets: a dining area, a meeting room, a library area, a dressing room, a sitting room. And we made a dinky kitchen and bathroom to show how Cox might contribute to the design of the entire house. We wanted the meeting room to allow for privacy, but without blocking off the space, so gilded Crittall™ style screens with sliding doors have been installed – an ode to Chatsworth or to Carlo Scarpa perhaps? And of course, the double sized shop front windows do great justice to our collection, or at least, we hope so!
Cox London is at the forefront of the current renaissance in craftsmanship and appreciation of the handmade, capturing the imagination of design enthusiasts worldwide. It’s a rare few that share Cox London’s creativity, level of skill and passion for design. Talent and commitment have been honed over years developing an eye for design and culminating in nearly 200 pieces that can be adapted to clients’ personal taste and space. The new showroom is a celebration of all they have achieved and aspire to in future and is a destination which is a must for anyone interested in the finest designer makers working in the UK today.
Cox London, 46 Pimlico Road, London SW1W 8LP
Tel: 020-3328 9506
Living With Art We Love
An exhibition presented by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire
Derbyshire DE45 1PP
Exhibition dates: 26 March – 9 October 2022
Book your tickets here.