Tony O’Donnell, founder of Kent-based luxury bathroom company Catchpole & Rye, believes in doing things himself. “The only thing we buy in is the ceramic,” he says. “Everything else we make ourselves.” The cast-iron baths and aluminium cisterns are sand-cast at local foundries (iron in Ashford, aluminium in Sittingbourne) and the brass components are cut, polished and plated at the company’s own electroplating facility.
Flexibility is one of the big advantages of such a hands-on approach, and although Catchpole & Rye has an extensive catalogue of off-the-shelf products, many clients prefer to commission their own variations. Recent requests have included a hammered-copper and brass bath inspired by the Arts and Crafts style of lighting designer WAS Benson, and another adorned with a spectacular coat of arms destined for a palace in Venice. “The palace had been a haunt of Lord Byron’s while he was on the run from scandals in England,” says O’Donnell, “and the owners wanted to combine the villa’s Venetian heritage with their own family insignia. The final design includes the famous Doge’s cap, a heraldic shield and a pair of lions.”
Indeed, Catchpole & Rye does brisk business in family crests and personal signatures. But while some choose to personalise their baths (from £12,000), most clients, somewhat surprisingly, have their insignia placed on one of the company’s cast-aluminium cisterns (from £2,400). Each design is hand-carved and cast along with the cistern, and the only limitation is size – to fit comfortably on the cistern the designs must be no more than 20cm high and 40cm wide.
Bespoke projects take between eight and 10 weeks to complete, and past commissions include a white-painted Deluge cistern bearing the name and grape-emblazoned crest of Sussex sparkling wine estate Rathfinny, and a raw-metal cistern decorated with the entwined initials of Lady Victoria Pembroke and her husband the Earl of Pembroke. “Clients like to put these personalised cisterns in the downstairs cloakroom to entertain their guests,” O’Donnell explains. It’s certainly more original than books of cartoons.