The Scape Story
As Scape-west turns 10, I interview business owner, Justin Brandon on the origins of this independent furniture retailer and discuss what they have in-store next.
How did Scape come about?
Scape first came about when I was travelling through India with my father back in 2001. We were doing some work with an orphanage there called El Shaddai, to which my father became treasurer of. El Shaddai was the first ever orphanage to be set up in the Indian subcontinent. There were a lot of kids on the streets that had been abandoned as new born babies or young children – most of them would die of malnutrition before the age of 10. My father’s heart went out to those kids who were rummaging around on waste sites with open sewers, eating whatever they could find. They were treated like rats by the local population; people would shew them off and treat these young orphan kids like vermin. After witnessing that, my father became involved with El Shaddai and, together with a lady called Anita Churchwood, helped set up orphanages for the homeless street kids. They took these kids off the street, gave them a safe environment, educated them, clothed them, fed them, and gave them love – something which they hadn’t received from anyone before. The charity has since built orphanages all over India and is now one of the leading charities worldwide.
It was during this time, when he was helping these children, that we traveled across the Indian continent and saw these artisans constructing furniture out of hardwood.
The master carpentry techniques they were employing were very impressive, so we started to ask questions and eventually made a visit to one of the factories in Jaipur, which is near Jodhpur. It’s the main area of India where they predominantly produce furniture and have been doing so now for, probably, over 250 years.
Now, what we saw was a very skilled work force that was producing furniture. We decided to get involved and help them because their designs were different, and they wanted to export to the European market. However, they didn’t know what the European market wanted. At the time [in 2002] they were exporting a lot of furniture with a lot of metal work on it, heavy brackets hanging off it, oversized hinges, like the type you get on a shed door, and also a lot of iron work, because that’s what the Indian people liked. So, we sat beside them, and we worked with them for a number of years to produce a contemporary range of furniture in various finishes to cater for the European market.
Some of this furniture was basically cubed designed, straight lines and very simplified. We got rid of all the iron work and just did it in different finishes. We ended up with a light wood, a dark wood, and a medium grained finished wood to fit with any home environment. We have spent the last ten years developing furniture and we’ve brought out loads of different ranges that we’ve imported into the UK.
What is Scape doing at present?
So, what we are doing at the moment is we’re working to bring in an urban industrial range of furniture, combining wood with metal, that looks good in very small environments. We are doing this because people’s living spaces are being squeezed ever smaller and smaller, brought on by the country’s housing crisis. We are finding that there are a lot of people now that are living in convert warehouses, converted barns, converted lofts. Particularly in London, every available space is being used. The designs we are coming up with are made to reflect this urban living scenario. So, you got the beauty of natural wood combined with the elements of solid iron, or marble combined with iron. People now find that chunky, heavy legs that we use to bring back in the day, in 2008 to 2010, look too big for the size of the room that they now got to live with. So, what we are doing now is natural wood tops, but with a solid durable metal frame for the construction. So, the integrity and strength isn’t compromised – it’s still there, but it’s not looking so thick and chunky. So basically, the legs are very, very thin, but still just as strong. It’s a thin piece of metal but just as strong as a thick piece of wood and it creates the sense of space. So, you still have the same surface area of the table, but when you look underneath it, it looks airy and it gives the illusion that there is more space than there really is.
We are also working on very intricate hand-carved designs, in regard to the panels in the front of the furniture and in the doors and side panels. Some of these designs are inspired by a place called Hampi, which is a very ancient international heritage site in southern India with huge temple complexes that date back, they reckon, 10,000 years. It’s a remarkable place and it’s held sacred in the Indian subcontinent, and people pilgrimage there to see and spend time with these beautiful temples. On these temples, there are some very ancient, intricate designs, holographic designs – wordings, descriptions. We’ve incorporated some of those into the furniture we are now producing. It really gives an inanimate object a life force.
We are also working with angles as well. Angling some of the wood on the front panels, so when it’s in a room with direct sunlight, coming upon it, as the sun passes through the sky throughout the day, it changes. It casts shadows at the different times of the day across the front of the furniture, so again brings an inanimate object to life. It gives it a beauty that is quite unique, which hasn’t been done before. This is all new, and being launched this year in 2018 and the latter part of last year. The furniture industry is evolving, and we are at the forefront of that with our designs.
In addition to this, we’re also upcycling furniture into mechanical objects. We’re getting decommissioned vespers and motorcycles from all over the world, reimporting them into India and making them into furniture. So, you have a motorcycle which is now a wine rack, you have a vesper which is now a coffee table. Check out the bike table and motorbike bar table / wine rack which we have also on our shop floor.
They are unique design concepts and recycling is a big part of our business now. Rather than just throw away old things and cut down new trees, it’s good to make the most of what you already have.
Love from Carl @ Scape