“I’m always looking in scrap yards,” says super-salvager and company director Paul Firbank. “Salvaging historic parts and saving them from the melting pot is really important to me.”
Such passion for provenance and sustainability is the reason demand is soaring for the innovative lighting, furniture and home accessories that Firbank fashions from vintage machinery, vehicle parts and miscellaneous scrap materials. Many chic restaurants were early adopters of designs crafted by Firbank’s three-year-old company, The Rag and Bone Man – such as Jason Atherton’s Esquina in Singapore, which has pieces including height-adjustable, swivelling Tractor Seat stools (£490 each, second picture). And now private homeowners are beating a path to his studio in Margate to snap up highly unusual, bespoke pieces, each of which bears a tag with a hand-stamped serial number and completion date.
“For me, the components are like a giant Lego kit,” Firbank says. “Although people bring in unwanted parts and ask me to turn them into lights or furniture, I prefer working to an open brief because the components themselves often dictate a design’s style and finish.”
Desk lamps (from £590, first picture) are particularly popular. Using traditional metalworking techniques, Firbank crafts these mainly from vintage car jacks with motorcycle-engine-cover shades. Height-adjustability is provided by old drill or milling-machine handles. Among other recently created eye-catchers are a dramatic chandelier (from £18,000) incorporating a 1940s bi-plane’s radial engines, and a highly polished, aluminium wall lamp (£370) that combines a vintage motorcycle-engine-cover backplate with a fire-extinguisher shade welded to a small motorcycle manifold.
Key components from A320 aircraft seats are reworked into Firbank’s Aviation lamp (£800; limited edition of 100 pieces), whose shade redeploys aluminium fire-extinguisher parts. An oversized, arching floor-lamp (£9,000) is also made from components derived from A320s. Torsion bars from the plane’s tail create the arch, while the base is made from a section of the aircraft’s pressure bulkhead.
Firbank performs similar miracles of reinvention with furniture. Without close inspection, you might not see that the elegant Twin occasional tables (pair, £1,600, third picture) employ bases made from Land Rover brake discs and camshafts, while their tops are meticulously created by stacking, joining and reshaping layers of timber off-cuts.
Nor would you guess that the components of the Leaf Spring easy chair (£2,500) are redundant parts from cars and taxis – with saddle-leather supplied by leading leather specialist Bill Amberg. Home accessories, such as the Aviation clocks (from £310), made from fuselage and window-frames from a decommissioned Airbus, are similarly finding a place within contemporary interiors. Much more than conversation pieces, these designs are on-trend industrial chic at their authentic best.