Sharon Martin talks to a couple who setup their own business producing beautiful handcrafted contemporary lighting.
When you combine beautiful design and precision engineering fused with handcrafted manufacture you get innovative, contemporary lighting that is much more than that, it’s functional art.
ARCFORM was setup by husband and wife team, Steve and Jenny Hughes who both had been economic casualties of the pandemic.
Jenny lost her job and Steve’s hours were significantly reduced, so they decided to take matters into their own hands and carve out a new path which was influenced by their shared passion for art and design.
“It seemed like the perfect time (in a strange way) to start our own business. So, we launched our first collection #03 Pendant and Wall Lights through our own website in mid 2020. We did everything ourselves, from the design, production, photography, website in about 3 months in the first lockdown (whilst home-schooling two children) – it was really hard work!” said Jen.
Steve designs all of the products and leads the production side of the business, while Jen takes control of all the sales, marketing and customer care. Steve’s background is in automotive engineering and he worked at an engineering consultancy which allowed him to work on a wide range of projects from cars to motorbikes to tractors to supercars.
“I was part of a small team that developed and designed the gearbox for the original Bugatti Veyron – the first ever production car faster than 250mph, which was an amazing feat if design and precision manufacturing. I subsequently worked at Jaguar Landrover, and then held senior roles at JCB and several small engineering technology start-ups. So, I’ve pretty much worked on anything with wheels from scooters to 10-tonne tractors!” said Steve.
Both Steve and Jen have a love for product design, interiors and architecture.
“We have both renovated many houses over the years. Steve had a difficult choice between studying architecture or engineering at university, but went down the engineering route,” said Jenny.
Steve adds: “Being an engineer has been amazing and hugely rewarding, but we have always had a dream to have our own product company. Engineering design tends to be very functional, whereas designing lighting is a much more creative process with a lot more freedom. We have always loved lighting and have invested in lighting for our own home over the years.”
Inspiration comes in many forms for Steve when creating a new collection. “I’ve always been fascinated by organic, free-flowing shapes and always look to bring them into our designs – the perfect antidote to the regular geometric shapes of my engineering background. I also love sculpture and much inspiration comes from sculptures who work with similar materials and processes (especially Martha Sturdy and Richard Serra). The form of our fist table lamp is a flowing, ribbon-like curve. Each one is handmade and every one is subtly unique.”
Sheet metal and brass are materials which feature prominently in Steve’s work. “Brass in particular, is a beautiful material which lends itself to many different finishes and colours. It’s great to work with and perfect for forming into our curved products.”
The current collection includes an asymmetric light created by rolling a rectangular piece of brass using an innovative slip rolling technique until it forms a beautiful organic shape with a brushed brass interior and contrasting matt black or white exterior. It comes in a variety of types – hanging pendants, wall lights, clusters – and in a number of different finishes. One of the most extravagant projects Steve has been commissioned to do was a 25-pendant chandelier. “We were commissioned by an interior designer and it is being installed this month. It is going to be a stunning, statement centrepiece for the room.”
As a small business, the most challenging part, Jenny tells me, is balancing all the different aspects of the business.
“Sales, marketing, new product design, making products, customer care as well as home-schooling two children has been a particular challenge in the past year. However, the rewards more than compensate. We have been lucky to have received some really wonderful feedback and it is so amazing to see our ethos and values recognised.”
The industry has also recognised their efforts which culminated in ARCFORM winning a coveted SBS business award last year, set up by former Dragons’ Den star Theo Paphitis to reward and promote business entrepreneurs. Being a completely British business is something Steve and Jenny are exceptionally proud of.
“I read a great quote somewhere recently about bring British not Brit-ish! Our products are designed and made in the UK. We are based in the Midlands and most of our suppliers are within 25 miles of our workshop,” says Steve.
“We are proud to support the local economy and British manufacturing. Our attention to detail and our high standards of finish combined with the advantage of being part of the whole process from start to finish and knowing our suppliers really well is a real point of difference.”
The company tagline is “beautiful British lighting”, and that’s exactly what ARCFORM provide; beautifully designed, flowing, organic products expertly crafted. The products are as unique as the way they approach design.