One of our biggest lessons, in our eleven years working with Midcentury dealers, has been finding out how much time they put into restorative work and the passion they have for their own pieces. When we hear the occasional mid-century fan grumbling about the price we think of the patina built up over years of family treasuring and polishing that can never be replicated in something new. We think of the great stories behind the furniture and all the free hours dealers put into their work that never make up the profit earned. Our industrial expert Saxon of Metro Retro’s hands are black and worked to the nub from all the metal polishing he has done over the years. Vintage Unit’s pieces gleam after weeks (not days) of polishing. None of them are rich and living in castles like the people who own the production lines, the families and CEOs of Carl and Fritz Hansen.
Some of our hardest workers are the team behind Skinflint Design who sent in this lovely story from their blog about their latest salvage job, after sourcing the majority of lights from the former Modernist power station built by RMGM architects during the dawning of the Sixties at Cockenzie in East Lothian, Scotland. Often when you know they stories behind the pieces you see at our Midcentury Modern and Midcentury shows it gives them more value, helping them to rise above the label of ‘vintage’ and become ‘the new antique’. I encourage anyone selling midcentury not to let stories get lost when you buy your pieces. Find out everything about the chair or sideboard you hope to buy and ship to sell in your shops and on your websites. Ask for the original (or failing that a copy) of family receipts, and photos, papers and memories. The story is so important when it comes to selling these days.
Sophie Miller, one of Skinflint Design’s directors, is a past master at telling a story. Her brilliant website has beautiful photographs of each product and documents the history of each piece. She tells the story of the Cockenzie light haul here:
“Many well known lighting brands such as Benjamin, Lacent and Holophane were installed to illuminate cavernous halls that once echoed with the roar of turbines powered by coal fired furnaces.”
British Industrial Prismatic Pendants by Holophane, c 1960
“This heroic modernist structure, which began generating electricity by burning finely ground coal in 1968, was designed in 1959 by architectural practise RMJM. Although Sir Robert Matthew’s firm was probably more well known for London’s Royal Festival Hall, the power station is no less a fine example of modernism.”
“Since construction its landmark twin chimneys have towered over the Firth of Forth, dominating the landscape like a monument to industrial power. A cathedral built to worship the gods of fossil fuels and electricity. But these are inefficient gods, in it’s heyday Cockenzie burned 1,500,000 tons of coal in a single year, that’s quite a largecarbon footprint by any standard.”
“Personally I’m a big fan of industrial architecture and I love this building, winding flues, staircases, it’s two huge chimneys, glass and tunnels hiding a multitude of cathedralesque halls, housing mysterious machines. It’s beautiful.”
Imposing power station Holophane pendants c 1960
“The building is sadly set to be dismantled over the coming years, and whilst we are happy to be able to revive the lighting and to retain its history, it’s not without a sense of sadness that the architecture of these incredible structures cannot be preserved for posterity.”
Find Skinflint and a hundred other of our favourite dealers and designers in The Modern Marketplace. To join contact firstname.lastname@example.org
For more on Cockenzie read this great piece by Fraser Macdonald in The Guardian
Thank you to photographer Alex Hewitt for his kind permission to use these stunning photographs. Photographs can viewed and bought directly from the library of